Virgil van Dijk insists the painful experiences of last season will ensure Liverpool stay grounded in the title race this time around.
The Reds extended their lead at the top of the Premier League with a 3-1 win over champions Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday. After just 12 games, Jurgen Klopp’s side now sit eight points clear of Leicester and Chelsea, with City a point further back in fourth place.
It is a commanding position, with Liverpool having dropped only two points in the league since March. Klopp’s team have lost only one of their last 51 top-flight fixtures, and none of their last 29.
They look well-placed to end their 30-year wait for a league title, but the message from the dressing room is that there will be no wild celebrations and no complacency. The Reds were, after all, in a similar position last season only to be overtaken by a City side which won 18 of their last 19 games, clinching the title by a single point.
“We took a lot of experience last year,” said Van Dijk. “Good things, but also some things we should have done better. Hopefully we can only make sure we react better and do better.
“You need to have that bit of luck as well throughout the whole season so at the moment we are very happy in the situation. We drew one game and won the others and hopefully we can keep it going.
“Obviously, we are in a very good situation. That is something we can’t deny. But we all feel and we know the season is too long to proper celebrate that we are nine points ahead [of City] or something and we won’t.
“The mentality we have is we just have to carry on and keep doing better than we did. That is the mentality we should take into every game ahead of us.”
Van Dijk’s caution is understandable. Liverpool, after all, had started 2019 with a seven-point lead at the top of the table, only to lose their only league game of the campaign at the Etihad on January 3.
They still could have restored the seven-point margin by beating Leicester at the end of January, but drew 1-1, and subsequent draws against West Ham, Manchester United and Everton eventually proved their undoing as City embarked on a phenomenal winning run.
“We did everything possible,” Van Dijk said. “We shouldn’t have any regrets from last year. They were just outstanding. We kept pushing them and they kept pushing us and you have to respect that, and I certainly do.
“This year is a new chance for more teams, for both of us and the only focus is the game ahead of us. We have so many difficult periods of games with so many competitions, travelling and hopefully no injuries, no illness, so anything can happen.”
Van Dijk also refused to rule out Leicester and Chelsea, both of whom have been in impressive form of late.
“They have been doing very well and, even if you look at Sheffield United, they are a very difficult team to beat,” he said.
“So I know, everyone here as well knows, how difficult this year will be.
“But we shouldn’t look too much at other teams, we should look at the teams we face and today it was the champions and we did the job. Hopefully we can keep that focus for the next games.”