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Van Dijk enjoys dream debut as Liverpool beat Everton in FA Cup
Virgil van Dijk made a fairy tale start to his Liverpool career on Friday night when he scored the winner in the 2-1 victory over Everton. The Netherlands international moved from Southampton for 85 million euros just after the transfer window opened on 1 January.
And the 26-year-old started to repay the massive fee with a header past Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford six minutes from the end of a pulsating third round FA Cup tie.
Liverpool led 1-0 at the break after James Milner converted from the penalty spot but Everton levelled through Gylfi Sigurdsson midway through the second half.
"What a night," said van Dijk. "The win was thoroughly deserved. It felt amazing to be out there. To score a goal is even more special."
Liverpool’s playmaker Philippe Coutinho was ruled out of the clash with a thigh injury as speculation continues to mount over his future at the club amid interest from Barcelona. Top scorer Mohamed Salah, who was crowned African footballer of the year on Thursday night in Accra, was missing with a groin problem.
Everton, who confirmed the sale of midfielder Ross Barkley to Chelsea in the hours leading up to the match, were at full strength.
The atmosphere in the stands crackled and on the pitch it was equally feisty. Wayne Rooney scythed down Joe Gomez early on and was shown a yellow card.
Tempers flared when Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino was pushed into the advertising hoardings by Everton defender Mason Holgate. Referee Bobby Madley stepped in to prevent the incident escalating further following an angry exchange of words.
After his side advanced to the last 32, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp revealed he had intended to keep van Dijk on the bench.
“The first plan was not to start him but then Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan have played a lot of games in the last few weeks, so I changed my mind,” said Klopp. "The match was a big fight. It was not brilliant football. It was how cup games should be. It is not about who is the better side, who can do this or that. Things like this can happen sometimes but it is pretty rare."
Everton manager Sam Allardyce said he felt his side had done enough at Anfield to earn a replay. "I'm very disappointed we're not going back to Goodison Park and trying to get through to the next round," he said. "I think it was a brilliant effort from the players, even though we're disappointed.”