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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Simon Mullock

Virgil van Dijk makes Man City "war" declaration as Liverpool target title hammer blow

Virgil van Dijk and Nathan Ake will put aside their friendship to become the best of enemies this weekend.

The two Dutchmen have become close mates as well as neighbours during the time they have spent living in the Cheshire countryside just outside Manchester. But they will have each other in their sights when Ake’s Manchester City face Van Dijk’s Liverpool at the Etihad this Saturday lunchtime.

After a week which has seen Van Dijk heavily criticised for his performance in Netherlands’ 4-0 thrashing by France and Ake score twice as Ronald Koeman’s side bounced back by beating Gibraltar 3-0, there will be a lot on the line.

“I am very close with Nathan, also in everyday life,” said Van Dijk, who was savaged by Dutch legends Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten for going missing against the French.

“We live close to each other, our families get along very well and we see each other every week. Nat has been in a good flow all year but he is also modest.

“He is playing so well at the moment and is so important for our national team and Man City. He is achieving a very consistent level and people do not realise that is the hardest thing for a footballer to do.

Virgil van Dijk and Nathan Ake are close friends (Getty Images)

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“I am happy for him because I see what's going on behind the scenes and how much he's put in for it. On Saturday, he will probably be up against Mo Salah and hopefully we can get a good result.

“When the whistle blows, it's battle and a war on the pitch. After that, we pick up the friendship again and there are more important things in life than football.”

City resume after the international break eight points behind Arsenal but with a game in hand. Pep Guardiola’s men have spent the last five years going toe to toe with Liverpool.

But Jurgen Klopp’s side are in sixth and face an eight-day spell that will define their season. Van Dijk added: “I am going to recover in the next few days and then the focus will be on City.

“We are now in two very different situations. Manchester City are fighting for the title and we hope to force Champions League football. With games against City, Chelsea and Arsenal, it will be an interesting week for us.”

Ake, 28, has become a key performer for club and country this season. After hearing the criticism levelled at Van Dijk, the versatile City defender felt it necessary to defend the Netherlands skipper with the same ferocity he shows on the pitch.

Virgil van Dijk and Nathan Ake return from international duty this week (Getty Images)

Ake said: “Virgil is a leader for the Dutch national team and for Liverpool - and I mean a real leader. What he has achieved is massive. On top of that, he is a very big personality. Apparently, people don't see how important Virgil is for us on and off the pitch. We couldn't wish for a better captain and a bigger player in the national team.”

Guardiola telephoned Koeman during the international break to plead with the Dutch boss to look after his defender with City still battling for the treble.

Ake added: “I return not only fit but also with two international goals in my pocket. At some stage in the match against Gibraltar, I was even dreaming of an international hat-trick - and I was close. We face important weeks with the club and then it's nice to return from the Dutch national team in good form.”

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