Liverpool’s Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk (L) and teammates take part in a team training session at the AXA Training Centre in Liverpool, north-west England on February 20, 2023, on the eve of the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg football match against Real Madrid. (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby / AFP)
Virgil van Dijk admits Liverpool face an “almost impossible” task to keep their Champions League hopes alive after a 5-2 hammering in the first leg of their last-16 tie against ruthless Real Madrid.
Jurgen Klopp’s men raced into a 2-0 lead at Anfield on Tuesday but then conceded five times in the clash against the 14-time champions, collapsing to their heaviest loss at home in Europe.
“We have almost an impossible job in Madrid in three weeks’ time, but when the time is right, we’ll focus and we’ll give everything to represent the club as good as we can,” said defender Van Dijk.
“The only thing we can do is watch it, learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen in the next game we play, which is Crystal Palace (on Saturday). It sounds pretty easy but it isn’t — that’s the hard reality.
“If you look back in the last two games, we played well (beating Everton and Newcastle) and that’s something we should focus on as well and don’t be in a panic.”
Liverpool made a dream start on Tuesday, with Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah putting the home side 2-0 up within a quarter of an hour as Klopp’s side sought revenge for their defeat by Real in last season’s final in Paris.
But Vinicius Junior scored twice to make it 2-2 at half-time and Klopp’s men collapsed after the break. Eder Militao put the visitors ahead and two goals from Karim Benzema made it a rout.
“They have quality players all over the team, they can punish you and punish mistakes that you make and that’s what they did, especially in the second half,” said Netherlands captain Van Dijk.
“It’s pretty clear to see (we made) mistakes that we shouldn’t make but it happens in football. We’re not robots.”
The punishing defeat compounds a miserable season for Liverpool, who are out of both domestic cup competitions and are languishing in eighth place in the Premier League.
They have now conceded three or more goals eight times this season and their defensive problems were not helped by a potential injury to Joe Gomez, who was withdrawn as a precaution.
But they are only seven points behind fourth-placed Tottenham in the Premier League, with two matches in hand, and have 16 games remaining to salvage their season by qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
Van Dijk said the only way out of Liverpool’s crisis was to “stick together”.
“Everyone is angry, everyone is obviously disappointed but the next game is in four days (at Palace), so if we want to perform there we have to quickly change the switch and that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.
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