Virgil Van Dijk has established himself as the pillar of the Liverpool defence; a defence upon which numerous titles have now been won. His calm aura and cool image radiate on the pitch. He is, as many have described him, a Rolls Royce of a player. Does anything fluster this guy?

Anfield on a European night is a special place. The crowd and the atmosphere are factors that can’t be accounted for by opposing teams and managers. How do you go about countering a cacophony of over 50,000 people roaring the home players on, lending an added level of motivation that’s impossible to train for? In turn, how must it feel to be one of those home players, riding the wave to success, even when it seems beyond possible? That’s what we wanted to find out from Virgil Van Dijk when we spoke with the Dutch giant ahead of Liverpool’s return to Champions League action at Anfield against AC Milan, a fixture that holds special memories for the Reds.

Champions League nights under the lights at Anfield – describe what they’re like?

I would say, special. The fans bring that little bit extra. They’re incredible. Champions League nights at Anfield under the lights, they just have this different feeling about them. Arriving at the stadium, seeing all the fans outside, it’s such an occasion every time. Those midweek games have their own energy.

Anfield is such a unique place. With the fans being so close to the pitch, can you hear and feel their emotions?

I think when you’re oppressing opponents, you’re on top of the game and you’re moving up the pitch, fans can give you that buzz. You feel their anticipation as the ball moves forward. Of course, when you score a goal, you immediately feel how close the fans are. You want to celebrate with them. It makes you realise that we are doing this for them. The good thing is that with our fans they know that we need them too. We’re all going to be so happy that they are back for this season’s Champions League.

When an attacker is coming towards you one on one, how much do you relish that challenge – is it a new challenge having had the time out that you’ve had?

It’s a bit of a double feeling I’ve got about that. When I’m faced with that task it means we’re under pressure, but you have to be ready for anything in football and the way we defend, it’s very much something we do together. When I’m faced with a one-on-one challenge, I know there will be support coming. Either way, it’s always a good feeling to have a chance to do your job. As a defender, I want to keep clean sheets and I don’t want my opponents to get past me and have a chance on goal, so that’s what I aim for.

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Champions League nights at Anfield under the lights, they just have this different feeling about them. They have their own energy."

Suiting up for match day – what does your wardrobe look like?

For me it’s all about the Flyknit Air Force 1, just because I think you can wear them with everything – they’re so comfortable. I’ve been wearing them since they came out. I like to rotate new pairs. Nike is my brand, so I like the tracksuits – whether it’s the tech fleece or the new Liverpool pieces, it’s good stuff to be wearing. I like to wear a fresh tracksuit to the game. Sometimes you’ll travel the day before a game, and I think it’s important to put something fresh to get your head in the right place. It’s part of the preparation.

What’s it actually like when you have a Nike deal? When you see something you like, how do you get hold of it?

[Laughs] I just text the Nike guys. For example, the new Off-White Dunks – I want them so much… and the Travis Scott ones. So, they go straight in the group chat we have and I keep pestering them like anyone else would!

When you think back over your career, it’s still got to feel special to pull on a Liverpool shirt and know you’re leading such an enormous club…

Definitely. It will always be special. After that injury, for me, arriving back at the stadium again and seeing your kit laid out, that’s a feeling I’ve missed and don’t take for granted. It should be like that; it should have that special feeling – it’s something very few people in the world will be able to experience. What I have achieved as a player, there’s so much I couldn’t have dreamed of when I was a small boy, so I’ve just got to enjoy it all.

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One that I will never forget, and a match that my mind always goes to, is the one against Barcelona. I can't forget that. It was incredible. The memories of that night will be something I enjoy forever."

Of the Champions League nights you’ve experienced at Anfield, which ones are etched into your memory?

One that I will never forget, and a match that my mind always goes back to, is the one against Barcelona. I can’t forget that. It was incredible. The memories of that night will be something I enjoy forever.

Coming back from injury the way you have, while you have achieved so much, that’s got to rank highly in your career? That first game back, for your mental health more than anything…

It’s so true. That first game back in pre-season was a huge mental milestone for me. To get over that was something very important. The last game we played is just as important as that first one though. It takes games to get you back to your very best.

Given the forced time-out through injury, how much do you feel like you’re going to relish every playing opportunity now you’re back?

I do now, for sure. Especially since that first moment in pre-season again. To be back part of it and have those days, it’s so special. All that hard work I put in during the off-season through to pre-season – it is something to make sure I enjoy every day. Like anyone, I have good days and bad days, but it’s never felt more important to make sure I savour and enjoy every moment.

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