Clarets striker Jay Rodriguez sings the praises of his former team-mates ahead of the clash against Premier League champions Liverpool at Anfield

Burnley striker Jay Rodriguez has hailed ‘world class’ former team-mates Virgil Van Dijk and Sadio Mane ahead of tomorrow’s game against Premier League champions Liverpool at Anfield.
Jay Rodriguez (L) celebrates scoring his team's second goal with Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk during the English Premier League football match between Bournemouth and Southampton at the Vitality Stadium in Bournemouth, southern England on December 18, 2016. (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)Jay Rodriguez (L) celebrates scoring his team's second goal with Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk during the English Premier League football match between Bournemouth and Southampton at the Vitality Stadium in Bournemouth, southern England on December 18, 2016. (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Jay Rodriguez (L) celebrates scoring his team's second goal with Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk during the English Premier League football match between Bournemouth and Southampton at the Vitality Stadium in Bournemouth, southern England on December 18, 2016. (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

The trio were together for the 2015/16 season at St Mary’s when Southampton, in Ronald Koeman’s final season at the club, recorded their highest finish in the top flight.

The Saints finished sixth, just three points behind Champions League semi-finalists Manchester City, as Mane culminated the campaign as their leading scorer with 15 goals.

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“They are really good people, I really do get on well with them,” said Rodriguez.

Liverpool's Senegalese striker Sadio Mane (R) celebrates with Liverpool's Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk (L) after scoring their third goal during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on November 10, 2019. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP)Liverpool's Senegalese striker Sadio Mane (R) celebrates with Liverpool's Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk (L) after scoring their third goal during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on November 10, 2019. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP)
Liverpool's Senegalese striker Sadio Mane (R) celebrates with Liverpool's Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk (L) after scoring their third goal during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on November 10, 2019. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP)

“I learnt a lot from them when they came in and I played alongside them and trained with them.

“You could see the potential they had then, you could see they were both on a different level, and I think they’re still hitting new levels and continuing to improve.

“It’s all come through hard work.

“I’m so happy to see them fulfil their potential and they’ll carry that on to keep dominating football.

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“It’s brilliant to see, I really enjoyed my time playing alongside both of them.

“They’re both such nice people and that’s why it was so easy to get to know them.

“They’re such good guys and it’s nice to see my former team-mates doing so well.

“Fair play to them.”

Netherlands international Van Dijk, a Ballon d’Or runner-up, and Senegalese forward Mane, voted African Footballer of the Year in 2019, helped to end Liverpool’s long wait for a league title last month.

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Thirty years had passed since Kenny Dalglish had guided the Reds to glory when they finished nine points ahead of second place Aston Villa.

But the tide has finally turned and the aforementioned duo have had a big part to play in that.

Rodriguez said: “I’m proud of them for winning the Champions League last year and the Premier League this time, but I feel that they’re going to carry on pushing.

“They’ve got real quality, they are world class players.

“A lot of it is down to them.

“They’re obviously important players, but they’re also great people and they work hard.

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“They are both unbelievable talents and it will be good to see them.

“It’s going to be a tough game, but it’s one that we’re looking forward to.”

Van Dijk has played a prominent role among the league’s best defence having contributed to 15 clean sheets this term.

The towering centre back has also recorded the most passes (2,847) in the division.

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“He’s tough, he’s quick, strong, he reads the game so well and gets into some good positions,” said Rodriguez.

“He’s one of the best defenders in the world and he’s got everything you need.

“He always made it difficult in training, but he was good fun to train with and play alongside.

“He helps the team, just look at what he’s done at Liverpool.

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“It’s always a tough ask against him and I think every striker will tell you the same.

“You’ve just got to stick to what you know and try to impose your game on him as much as you can.”

And Mane has been just as instrumental, clocking up 20 goals across the board while adding seven assists in the PL.

Rodriguez continued: “He was brilliant, he works extremely hard on his game and his finishing and his ability to take people on is among the best that I’ve seen.

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“He gets past players so quickly and affects the game and his goalscoring form is unbelievable.

“In small-sided games in training you would always want him on your team, rather than being against him, because he’s so tricky and skillful.

“He was great to play alongside and I’m so proud of them both for doing so well.”