Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has praised his team for their form without Virgil van Dijk.
The Premier League champions managed to beat both Dutch giants Ajax and Sheffield United last week despite missing star central defender van Dijk, who is set to be sidelined for several months recovering from knee surgery following a brutal challenge by Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford during the Merseyside derby on October 17.
Fabinho, a midfielder, has found himself covering for the Dutchman alongside Joe Gomez and Klopp believes Liverpool are getting by as well as could be hoped in the absence of the “best defender in the world.”
“Every team in the world would miss Virgil van Dijk,” said Klopp on Monday during his pre-match press conference ahead of Liverpool’s Champions League group match at home to Midtjylland.
– ‘Best in the world’ –
“He is the best in the world. You play a game, he gets injured, and you play three days later so of course that’s difficult to do because all the boys played together with him and we didn’t have long for them to get used to playing without him.”
The Reds boss added: “Fabinho, who normally plays as a six, has had to come in and play with Joe. For that we did pretty well and that will get better 100 percent because unfortunately everything in life takes time and defending takes time.
“They all played with Virgil at some point but not many times did they play together with each other so we do not expect perfection — but not too far away from perfection.
“Everyone needs time to replace a massive person or player, Virgil is the best defender in the world and so far we’ve done pretty well.”
Tuesday’s Group D match at Anfield sees six-time European kings Liverpool, who will also be without the injured trio of Joel Matip, Naby Keita and Thiago Alcantara, up against Champions League newcomers Midtjylland, who made their tournament debut during a 4-0 home defeat by Atalanta last week.
Danish club Midtjylland were only founded in 1999 but Klopp downplayed suggestions of a ‘David against Goliath’ fixture.
“We don’t see Midtjylland as a small club, we see Midtjylland as a proper challenger in this group,” he said.
“No-one is part of the Champions League because they are nice cities, they are in the Champions League because they earned the right the year before.”
“There are no small teams in the Champions League, there are only teams who show how big they are on the pitch, not in the press conferences before games.
“The 4-0 against Atalanta was not a 4-0 – it was because the score was 4-0 but Midtjylland were in the game. Tomorrow it will be a real challenge and we have to be ready for it, and we will try to be.”