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Great defender Van Dijk brings out the best in everyone - Heskey

10:27 SAST 2019/01/22
Virgil van Dijk Liverpool 2018
The Netherlands international has emerged as an Anfield favourite and the Reds' true leader amid their recent injury crisis, the ex-striker says

Virgil van Dijk has emerged as a real leader at Liverpool and brings out the best in his team-mates, Emile Heskey says.

The centre-back has been a mainstay in defence for Jurgen Klopp's team, who sit four points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.

Van Dijk has been forced to play with various defensive partners in recent weeks amid a series of injuries, even supporting midfielder Fabinho in the heart of the back line at one point.

But ex-Liverpool and England star Heskey believes the 27-year-old is a rare calibre of centre-back and the type of leader they have been looking for since Jamie Carragher retired in 2013.

"When you look at Van Dijk, and when you look at Liverpool, in essence they haven't had that leader I would go as far back as Jamie Carragher," he told  Sky Sports .

"Someone who really commands a defence. Someone who really stands out and is counted for. Someone who is marshalling people around. Now Van Dijk has come in and he seems to be that man.

"He's a great defender, he's quick, he's good in the air, he barks out orders. So, what more do you need? It seems that everyone who plays alongside him, [he] always brings out the best in them as well."

The 41-year-old has also been impressed by Fabinho, who has established himself in the Reds' first team despite a slow start to life at Anfield after his summer arrival from Monaco.

"A young lad coming from abroad, coming into the English game, coming into the Premier League and the frenetic way that we play - it's difficult for them," he added. "So, you have to give these players time.

"He seems to be enjoying it now and coming into his own. So, the squad is bigger, the squad is more compact now and they know what they are capable of doing. So, these games coming up will be good for them."

As well as Premier League contenders, Liverpool are expected to go far in the Champions League again this season and face a last-16 tie against Bayern Munich.

Although Heskey believes a big challenge awaits them over two legs, he is confident they can get the better of the Bundesliga giants.

"Fireworks, always... but a bit of a chess game as well," he said. "You don't want to lose that [two-legged] game.

"You want to go in and I'm guessing the tactics have got to be right and, when you've got [Mohamed] Salah, [Sadio] Mane and [Roberto] Firmino up front, then you have always got a chance."