Twelve months ago Virgil van Dijk watched the Champions League final and could only dream, as a Southampton player, what it would be like to play in one.
A year on and the Holland international is about to find out, having helped Liverpool secure their first appearance in the showpiece event for 11 years – just four months after arriving at Anfield in a £75million deal.
“I watched the Champions League final last year in Cardiff with a very good friend of mine. To be in the final now, it’s special,” said the Dutchman after booking a meeting with 12-time winners and defending champions Real Madrid in Kiev later this month.
“I was hoping for it but to be there just one year later, it’s amazing.
“I only joined in January but I saw a lot of games before that and it was clear how much quality the team had.
“To do so well so far has been so fantastic and I’ve been enjoying every bit of it. It’s crazy, but I think it is well deserved.
“It’s harder than what I’m used to, but I enjoy every game. If you see the way we press, how we attack, how we defend – I think as a football player you want to be involved in it.
“We’re not going there to lose. We know we have a lot of quality and so they need to be wary of what we can do.
“We need to be wary of what they can do. We know that the last five years, they been the big winners (victorious on three in the last four years) and will have a lot of experience.
“We still have games to focus on in the Premier League (away at Chelsea and then home to Brighton) and then we’ll be ready for Kiev. We’ll be ready for it after the Brighton game though.”
Liverpool’s front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have now scored 89 goals between them this season, with 31 coming in the Champions League.
Van Dijk believes they are a strikeforce to rival Real’s trio of all-time Champions League top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, who admittedly have not been as effective this season as previous years.
“I think they’re very, very good. Based on this season, based on the numbers, they definitely deserve to be in that bracket,” said the Dutchman.
“The other guys have been doing it for years and that’s maybe something for them (Salah, Firmino and Mane) to do.”