LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 23, 2023: Liverpool's captain Virgil van Dijk during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Virgil van Dijk not focused on title rivals at Christmas – “I didn’t even watch football”

Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk says he has paid little attention to how their Premier League title rivals have done over the festive period.

After going top of the table with a win at Burnley on Boxing Day, manager Jurgen Klopp afforded the players the luxury of two days off in a five-day spell with no game before Monday’s visit of Newcastle.

In that time, newly crowned Club World Cup champions Manchester City won twice, at Everton and home to Sheffield United, while Arsenal lost against West Ham.

“We’ve had a couple of days to spend with our families before we focus on another big game on New Year’s Day,” Van Dijk said.

Asked if he paid any attention to their rivals, he said: “Not at all. I didn’t even watch football. I was spending time with my family. We’ve been away so much recently.”

On the title race, he continued: “I don’t speak about winning the league at this point. I don’t think anyone in this team will do that because we know from experience that anything can happen.

“What we are striving for is consistency and just winning the game ahead of us, which has been key to our success previously.”

The Dutchman partnered the impressive 20-year-old Jarell Quansah in central defence at Turf Moor but Klopp’s rotation policy is likely to see Ibrahima Konate return to face Newcastle on Monday evening.

Van Dijk has been impressed by Quansah in his breakthrough season, in which he has already made 14 appearances.

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 26, 2023: Liverpool's captain Virgil van Dijk applauds the supporters after the FA Premier League match between Burnley FC and Liverpool FC at Turf Moor. Liverpool won 2-0. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

That has eased some of the pressure caused by Joel Matip’s ACL injury which is likely to rule him out for the remainder of the campaign and would have left Klopp with just three centre-backs.

“I think every challenge which came his way so far he has dealt with it outstandingly in my opinion,” the Netherlands captain said.

“He’s 20 years old and is still growing. As a centre-half you get better with experience and I was never this far as Ibou [Konate] and Jarell when I was that young, doing it consistently.

“He just has to keep going as there are going to be times when it is going to be tough and that’s absolutely normal and it’s how you deal with it.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 20, 2023: Liverpool's Jarell Quansah during the Football League Cup Quarter-Final match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“He’s learning and he’s a good boy and mentally in the right frame of mind and that’s a good start. I’ll be there for him whenever he needs but at the end of the day he will be just fine.”

Quansah’s self-confidence was evident in a television interview he did after the Europa League game against USG in which he sympathised with Matip’s situation but said his plan was always to get ahead of the 32-year-old in the pecking order.

“I think it came across not in the right way but it’s good that he thinks like this,” Van Dijk said.

“I don’t think he meant it in that way. Still, when I was 20 maybe I would say these sort of things but I totally understand where he is coming from.

“But he should not forget what Joel has meant for this club and the success we had.”