Van Dijk revels in pressure of Liverpool’s enduring feud with Man Utd

Virgil van Dijk says the intensity of Liverpool’s bitter rivalry with Manchester United will make Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final a major test for his quadruple chasers.

Liverpool head to Old Trafford looking to move a step closer to the second trophy of manager Jurgen Klopp’s farewell season.

Having beaten Chelsea in the League Cup final, Klopp’s side are embroiled in a gripping Premier League title race with Arsenal and Manchester City, and also face Atalanta in the Europa League quarter-finals.

With Liverpool targeting a trophy clean-sweep and United hoping to preserve their last chance of silverware this season, the stage is set for the latest chapter in English football’s most historic feud.

Separated by just 30 miles, the cities of Liverpool and Manchester have been united in mutual loathing since the Industrial Revolution, competing for bragging rights in football, music, fashion and numerous other domestic squabbles.

On the pitch, Liverpool and United have produced countless classic encounters.

But the rivalry turned ugly in the 1970s and ’80s when bloody battles between hooligan gangs made the fixture one of the most vicious on the domestic calendar.

While violence in the stands is less prevalent these days, police will be on red alert on Sunday when 9,000 Liverpool fans descend on Old Trafford.

United have a record 20 English titles, but Liverpool, who have six European Cups to their rivals’ three, hope to equal that feat this season.

In recent years, Manchester City have emerged as Liverpool’s closest challengers in a series of heavyweight fights for Premier League supremacy.

But despite that change in the balance of power, Liverpool captain Van Dijk believes meetings with United still require a unique level of commitment.

Asked to describe the experience of facing United, the Dutch centre-back said: “Intense. Not only the actual game but the whole build-up is a game on its own. I like to be involved in these type of games.”

Extra expectation

Van Dijk added: “We always have a difficult game against them and I expect a difficult one on Sunday as well.

“They are finding ways to win but I focus on what we have to do against them. It’s always difficult, it’s always intense.

“The history of the games with the two biggest clubs in England brings extra expectation and pressure. But why not just go out there and enjoy it, play our game and hopefully go to the next round.”

Liverpool have held the upper hand of late, powering to a 5-0 victory at Old Trafford in 2021 and winning 7-0 at Anfield last year.

United, winners only three times in their previous 18 games against Liverpool, are desperate to avoid the indignity of their enemies effectively ending their season.

Erik ten Hag’s team sit sixth in the Premier League and face a tough task to qualify for the Champions League via a top-four finish.

Closely scrutinised by new co-owner Jim Ratcliffe, Ten Hag has been under fire in a disappointing second season, but victory over Liverpool would buy the Dutch manager some breathing space.

“Actually, we never got to turn around so far,” Ten Hag said. “We had our opportunities, but we missed them.

“Sunday we have another good opportunity to get the momentum. The team showed lately we are in a very good series of games with a lot of wins.”

United will be boosted by the expected return from injury of Denmark striker Rasmus Hojlund and defenders Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

“They have to believe they can do it. Now we have to take the momentum,” Ten Hag said. 

“That is what I feel when I train with them, that they have belief. A good spirit is there. Go and get the turnaround.”