Klopp makes van Dijk demand of Liverpool stars in Dutchman’s absence

As their devastating forward line proved in Italy, Liverpool are perhaps more potent that even during their remarkable title winning season.

Yet the question for their manager Jurgen Klopp, as he returns to the most searing of Premier League spotlights with a pivotal visit to Manchester City, is not how many they can score, but how many clean sheets are possible without Virgil van Dijk.

In Europe, it has been relatively simple with their icon.

Three wins in his absence, three shuts outs, and a position in their group that almost guarantees qualification already.

Domestically though, it is far more complex. Since the Dutchman has been injured, there have been no clean sheets, though a clean sweep of wins have given heart.

Liverpool in fact, have stopped the opposition from scoring in the league only once all season, and have conceded a staggering 15 goals in their seven games, despite being top.

For Klopp, the answer is obvious.

The younger players in his defence must now step up and take the responsibility usually assumed by van Dijk.

“Everybody has to step up now, because Robbo (Andy Robertson), Joe (Gomez) and Trent (Alexander-Arnold) are now in charge,” he explained.

“They are the most experienced now and they have to demand and command the things in that line. We had to change obviously because Virg is not there anymore and so that means if you share that responsibility now.

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It's been an extremely interesting start to the season for Jurgen Klopp's men.

They got their title defence off to a shaky start as they edged out a seven-goal thriller against Leeds, before going on to conceded seven in a hammering by Aston Villa.

Virgil van Dijk's season was ended by injury in the 2-2 draw at Everton, leaving the title favourites looking far less secure at the back – especially with Alisson's injury worries too.

But there's no slowing down in what is going to be a busy campaign – with Klopp ensuring his men continue at full pace as they bid for more title glory.

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“If you put it on 10 shoulders instead of on one, then it can work out. The game against Atalanta, it was incredibly good what the last line did, supported by all the others.”

Champions League match-winner Diogo Jota put it rather more simply than his manager. To win at the Etihad at the weekend, he said, one thing was required.

“If we keep a clean sheet against Manchester City, I’m pretty sure we win the game.”

The focus may be on Gomez in particular, to stand up and lead younger central defensive partners such as 19 year old Rhys Williams, who played alongside him in Italy.

But keeper Alisson will also play a huge role in the coming weeks, and said Liverpool made a statement with their win in Bergamo, and in particular, shutting out a free-scoring side like Atalanta.

“I think it was the right time for the team and for me,” he said of the clean sheet. “Not that we have been playing bad, but we have had tough matches that we have played against tough opponents that make our job really difficult on the pitch.

“Obviously when we had the chances up front we scored the goals and then we kept the clean sheet and that was also our goal here: three points and a clean sheet. We know how important that is.”

Alisson knows van Dijk is a huge loss, but the performances in Europe show Liverpool still have a deadly quality, and he expects others to step up.

“The last weeks have been difficult times because we have lost some important players in our team, but now we have many coming back as well.

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“Joel Matip was here as well and he is a player we need on the pitch. We need everybody fit. Naby Keita coming back as well, I told him: ‘Holidays are off now for you, Naby!’ It’s good to have the boys back.

“The others have done well. Rhys is a really good lad. He is always asking me to speak with him and talk with him on the pitch, so he is humble. He works hard and this helped him a lot.

"And I’m really happy for the way Nat (Phillips) played last Saturday. He grabbed it with both hands.

“I’m happy for him, happy for the team with what we have in front of us. We have a big challenge now, but I’m really happy with what we are doing on the pitch.”

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