Belfast Telegraph

Messi consuming my thoughts, not talk of Ballon d'Or: Virgil van Dijk

Barcelona v Liverpool, Champions League - Semi-Final, First Leg; Nou Camp, Tomorrow, 8pm

Number one: Virgil van Dijk
Number one: Virgil van Dijk
Virgil van Dijk with the PFA Players’ Player of the Year trophy

By Ed Elliot

Virgil van Dijk has dismissed talk of winning the Ballon d'Or and insists he is fully focused on attempting to shackle "out of this world" Lionel Messi in the Champions League.

Liverpool centre-back Van Dijk has been the Premier League's stand-out performer this season and was crowned PFA Players' Player of the Year on Sunday evening.

The 27-year-old's rock-solid form at the heart of the Reds' defence has helped keep his side in contention for their first league title in 29 years and seen them once again progress to the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Spanish title-winners Barcelona are awaiting Van Dijk in the last-four of the European competition, starting with tomorrow night's first leg away at the Nou Camp.

And the world's most expensive defender admits he still has plenty to prove in order to be considered alongside the continent's elite players, including Barca's five-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi.

"No, that's not something that's on my mind at all," Van Dijk replied when asked about winning the Ballon d'Or at the end of the year.

"There are currently players walking around in this football world that are out of this world basically and they've been doing it for many years.

"I'm very happy with how I am performing at the moment, how consistent I'm performing, that I'm fit as well. I think I just need to not look too far ahead.

"Right now we're in a tight title race, in the Champions League semi-finals against a fantastic team, where probably the best players are playing so we just take it game by game.

"For us now it's time to focus on Barcelona midweek and then we have a big game at Newcastle away as well, so I won't look too far ahead and the only goals I will set are personal goals with Liverpool."

While Argentina forward Messi secured his 10th La Liga title with Barca this weekend, Van Dijk became only the fourth defender - after Gary Pallister, Paul McGrath and John Terry - to win the PFA award.

Signed from Southampton for £75million in January 2018, he has played a pivotal role in turning Liverpool's defence into the tightest in the division, conceding only 20 goals in 36 games and contributing to a league-high 20 clean sheets so far this term.

Jurgen Klopp's second-placed side sit only a point behind leaders Manchester City with two fixtures remaining.

Holland international Van Dijk, who was part of the Liverpool team that was beaten in last year's Champions League final by Real Madrid, has previously spoken of becoming "a legend of Liverpool".

The former Celtic and Southampton man, however, feels that he must lift some silverware in order to accomplish that particular dream.

"All the players in the league, I think, want to play for trophies, they want to get trophies," he said.

"I can only speak for myself and my team - we definitely want to get a trophy and we're working hard every day for it and hopefully in the future that will happen.

"That's what we're definitely looking for."

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