Lionel Messi. He’s kind of good. In fact, he’s probably the best player to ever lace up a pair of boots and kick a ball about. And Liverpool need to figure out a way to stop him to have a chance at advance to the finals of the Champions League.
It’s a tough ask, one that very few people have managed to pull off over the years Messi has been established at the pinnacle of the game. And the only answer, says Virgil van Dijk, is the team and in a strong collective effort by the Reds defensively.
“It’s going to be a great match-up,” said Van Dijk, who true his insistence that he’s never afraid on the pitch says he’s looking forward to Messi’s challenge. “It’s about doing it all together, it’s never one-v-one, it’s never just me against a particular striker.
“It’s always us [as a team] against everyone, and I think that’s the only way we can defend [Messi] well. It’s going to be very hard. I think he’s the best player in the world. But we’ll see. We’re very happy to be in the semi-final again.”
Happy and, according to the number crunchers at least, very slight favourites. And when it comes to stopping Messi, he may be the game’s best ever player, but currently Liverpool have arguably the game’s top defensive unit.
No longer are Liverpool a side who are shaky at the back, with fewer goals conceded than any other side in Europe’s top four leagues. A lot of that is thanks to Van Dijk, arguably the game’s best centre half on form, but it’s also thanks to the collective.
Liverpool have been superb defensively this season, and while that doesn’t mean they will be able to shut down Messi, it does mean that they might have a shot at it in a way the likes of Manchester United and Lyon did not.
And whatever happens, this is a semi-final that indeed does look to be shaping up to be a great match-up and a great pair of matches, the sort of heavyweight battle that makes the Champions League worthwhile.