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Virgil van Dijk warns Chelsea not to underestimate Liverpool without stars

SoccerNews in English Premier League 23 Feb 2024

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Virgil van Dijk has warned Chelsea it would not be wise to underestimate a Liverpool team without Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez.

Jurgen Klopp’s side proved in midweek, when they came from behind to beat Luton 4-1 with an impressive second-half performance, they are capable of scoring goals without two of their major stars.

Both face late fitness tests ahead of Sunday’s Carabao Cup final after Salah suffered fatigue in his first match back at Brentford last weekend after a month out with a hamstring injury and Nunez was replaced at half-time in the same game as a precaution.

With Diogo Jota, their second-highest scorer this season, already ruled out it leaves Liverpool looking less threatening up front even though Cody Gakpo and Luis Diaz both have reached double figures.

But Van Dijk said that did not mean Chelsea should view it as an easier task as they seek to avenge their League Cup final defeat on penalties of two years ago.

“If they take us lightly then that’s their problem. That fear factor, we don’t have influence on that,” said the Netherlands captain.

“I think the players coming in then have to step up and show they’re wrong. I think that’s the only way to do it.

“I think we have enough quality to read the opponents. Players who come in have to show that.

“Everyone has to step up and the ones that play have to deliver to get results.
“I think if you play for Liverpool, you’re quite a good player already, so go out there and make everyone proud.”

Van Dijk assumed the captaincy in the summer after Jordan Henderson’s departure, so this is the first opportunity for him to lift a trophy having watched his predecessor celebrate with the Premier League, Champions League, League and FA Cup and Club World Cup.

“It’s important, but the most important thing is to try and win the game, and then we’ll see what happens after,” added the Dutchman, who accepts Chelsea are a different prospect from the one beaten 4-1 at Anfield a month ago.

“I visualise myself leading the boys out, but I don’t think about me lifting anything.

“I try to lead out the boys as good as possible, on and off the pitch, be their leader and so far, so good.

“So I’m thinking about a big challenge ahead of us. Hopefully we can make it an amazing afternoon on Sunday.”

In terms of whether victory at Wembley can provide a springboard for more silverware – Liverpool are still fighting on three other fronts – Van Dijk said: “We’ll focus on trying to win the game and then we’ll see.

“You know we can’t think about what’s coming next, we have to think about what’s ahead of us and that’s Chelsea at this stage.

“It’ll be a very difficult game, an interesting game as well. We have to be very good to do that, but let’s go for it.”

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