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Exclusive interview with Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk

"There's always pressure at a big club," says Liverpool defensive leader Virgil van Dijk.

How many times have Liverpool won this trophy, Virgil?
How many times have Liverpool won this trophy, Virgil? ©UEFA.com

Suspended for the goalless first leg of Liverpool's round of 16 meeting with Bayern, Virgil van Dijk is already relishing the return fixture in Germany with the tie finely poised. He sat down with UEFA.com to discuss how to stop compatriot Arjen Robben, the pressure at a "massive club" and using last season's UEFA Champions League final defeat as motivation.

What makes Bayern formidable from an attacking point of view?

They have a great squad and great players. It's a fantastic club and a great opponent to play against. They have quality all over the pitch. Obviously, the players up front maybe have that bit extra, which you need at the bigger clubs. They've been doing it for years, so we have a lot of respect for them, but we obviously want to go through to the next round.

How do you approach the challenge of defending against Robert Lewandowski?

Highlights: Liverpool's 2001 Super Cup win v Bayern

You need to be aware of the qualities of every striker you face, as I always am, but sometimes you need to be smart and more than 100% ready for anything. If he's trying to run at you, trying to get past you, you need to be ready for that as well. You don't need to give any opportunities to those strikers because they will punish you and they will score.

There are other dangerous players, too – Serge Gnabry, Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben, who always has that way of cutting inside onto his left foot ...

They have a lot of great players and Arjen has been fantastic for years. I've seen him up close with the [Dutch] national team. He's a fantastic professional. He's been a bit unlucky with injuries, but he's shown throughout his career how good he is and he still has a lot of quality. He is very dangerous. His left foot is something special and he's been doing it for years – cutting in, looking for the top corner with his left foot. If he plays we need to be aware of that, but they have quality all over the pitch.

What are you expecting from the second leg in Munich?

First leg highlights: Liverpool 0-0 Bayern

I'm looking forward to it. It's a stadium I haven't played in yet.

What were your first thoughts when you found out about Liverpool's interest?

Liverpool is such a massive club, I was very proud of the interest. In the end, when the deal got done, I was just very happy for me and my family. I was proud of myself and I was proud of the people close to me who helped me along the way. It's been over a year now and we've come a long way. I've been progressing as a player and as a person. There's still a lot to come, I think.

You mention your pride, but do you also feel pressure?

There's always pressure at a big club. I'd rather play with pressure than without. I'm very proud to play for all these fans, for the manager, with these fantastic players and to wear the shirt every game. To play with pressure is always a good thing. I like to play with pressure.

What do you bring to the team?

Klopp brought Van Dijk to Anfield in January 2018
Klopp brought Van Dijk to Anfield in January 2018©Getty Images

I try to be myself: calm, vocal on the pitch, try to organise my team-mates, try to make sure everything is right. I've made big steps in that regard in my opinion, but there's still a long way to go.

How do you reflect on reaching the UEFA Champions League final so soon after you joined the club?

You can't [usually] achieve a lot in six months, but to get to the Champions League final was special. The year before I went to watch it in Cardiff with a friend – that was the first time I'd been to watch the Champions League final. We spoke a lot about what it would be like if I was actually on the pitch and a year later I was. That was special and made me feel very good. Obviously I felt terrible after the game, but I've learnt from it, I'll take it with me and it's a good experience. Hopefully, if being in the final happens again I'll be on the right [winning] side.

How do you reflect on the game itself?

Van Dijk has been instrumental for Liverpool
Van Dijk has been instrumental for Liverpool©Getty Images

Everyone wants to be on the biggest stage. To be in the Champions League final is something you need to experience. To win it would obviously be the best experience ever. To be there, the build-up – with the media even, the stadium, travelling, our fans – it's something very special.

How much motivation does it give you to get there again?

The Champions League is unbelievably big. The whole show before, the fans, the players you play against, the people who are going to watch the game, the pressure – it's very special. Personally I want to be on that stage every year, but we know how tough it is. We've been in a tough group this year and got to the knockout stages, but it's pretty tough. Now it's game by game. We're looking forward to the challenge and we'll see what it's going to bring.