Guardiola praises Van Dijk, Liverpool defence ahead of crunch clash

Cape Town – Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has labelled Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk an "exceptional player" ahead of Thursday night's clash between the two title rivals.

The Reds boast the meanest defence in the Premier League this season, conceding just eight goals in 20 fixtures, and the addition of Van Dijk in the off-season is undeniably the biggest reason for their newfound solidity at the back.

The Netherlands international did not come cheap, however, with the Merseysiders fending off strong interest from the likes of Man City and Chelsea thanks to a world record transfer fee of £75 million.

Van Dijk's positive influence has not gone unnoticed by Guardiola, who feels the centre-back gone some way towards justifying his lofty price-tag.

"He's an exceptional player," said Guardiola. "When a player costs whatever it costs and it works, it is well worth it.

"When you pay less and it doesn't work, it is so expensive.

"If he can play every three days with no injuries and play consistently, it is well worth it."

Looking ahead to the big clash on Thursday night, Guardiola gave his assessment of Liverpool's squad while also commenting on their progress since last season.

"They are solid in behind," he told Sky Sports. "In the positional game when the opponents defend deep they had problems attacking them but now they are able to attack them really well.

"In the transition as always, they are so good. In the set-pieces they are a massive, tall team.

"So it is a team that can control all areas. That is why I am saying what I am saying.

"In front they play the same players, but in the middle they have changed a little and especially at the back. They have changed a lot of players at the back.

"And they know each other better. They have had four or five seasons together."

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