Van Dijk breaks Everton hearts and becomes instant Kop Hero

Virgil van Dijk accepted the adulation of Anfield. Good things come to those who wait. The Kop has a new hero after Liverpool’s £75million signing wrote his name into derby folklore.  This was the stuff dreams are made of as the Dutchman capped a commanding debut by nodding home a dramatic late winner to break Evertonians’ hearts and send the Reds into the fourth round of the FA Cup. Jurgen Klopp had urged fans not to dwell on the size of the transfer fee following a deal which made Van Dijk the most expensive defender on the planet.

And if he keeps performing like this there will be no complaints – you simply couldn’t put a price on his history-making contribution to settle the 230th Merseyside derby. It was the first time Liverpool had ever won an FA Cup tie against Everton at Anfield and a hard-fought victory means the Reds are now unbeaten in a record-breaking 16 meetings with their neighbours. Van Dijk, who had to sit tight for six months after Southampton refused to sell him last summer, became only the second Liverpool player ever to score on his debut for the club against Everton – the other was Bill White way back in 1901.

Having let Everton off the hook when they escaped with a point from last month’s Premier League fixture, Van Dijk eased fears of a repeat after Gylfi Sigurdsson had cancelled out James Milner’s first-half penalty. Talk about swings and roundabouts. A month after being on the receiving end of a controversial spot-kick against the Blues when Dejan Lovren was adjudged to have shoved Dominic Calvert-Lewin, the Reds were fortunate to get one of their own after Adam Lallana went down.

Liverpool were far from their fluent best but they were still good value for their place in the fourth round. Having stood accused of disrespecting the FA Cup with his team selection when the Reds crashed out to Wolves a year ago, Klopp had vowed to go strong with his line up and he was true to his word. As well as handing Van Dijk his debut, Roberto Firmino, Andy Robertson, Milner and Joel Matip were all recalled after being rested for the win at Burnley on New Year’s Day. There was also a start for Sadio Mane following his 7,000-mile round trip to Ghana for the African Player of the Year awards.

The atmosphere was electric and the opening stages were typically frenetic but quality was desperately thin on the ground. Everton showed more ambition in the opening five minutes than they managed in the full 90 on their previous visit as they got bodies forward in support of Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The inclusion of James McCarthy gave them more bite in midfield and Yannick Bolasie provided some pace out wide. The Kop roared its approval when Robertson thundered into Bolasie and dumped him on his backside. This was a tricky test for the Scottish left-back but he passed it with flying colours.

 

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