And Van Dijk is hoping that United's 4-0 humiliation at the ends of Everton on Sunday could be extra motivation for the Manchester derby.
But with Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea also faltering, they remain just three points off the top four.
They helped to carry the club close to Champions League glory last season, and are back in the hunt for a European triumph this term.
Manchester City's German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan celebrates after scoring their third goal during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on 11 November 2018.
However, he is clinging to the hope that those he now has to call on will be shocked into a short-term response. "They're doing that well, he should let me have his team for a week, he should come and have mine".
Yet, there is a dilemma even for United fans keen to halt City's rise.
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I think I have been very lucky so far with the amount of injuries that I have had and the amount of games that I have missed.
And though the Red Devils go into the game in a peculiar situation, knowing any positive result for them would be a huge boost to bitter rivals Liverpool in their search for a first league crown in 29 years, Keown insists the players will not be giving that a second thought.
Jürgen Klopp has saluted the all-round contribution and selfless attitude of Liverpool's front three.
"That was disappointing but they said the sun might have got in the linesman's eyes for that one".
With Dutchman Virgil van Dijk majestically marshalling the backline, they have conceded just 20 goals in the league all season - two fewer than the next-meanest rivals, Manchester City. It's going to be very hard, but that's what we're looking to do.
The Manchester United players have been heavily criticised and rightly so for their performance against Everton in their league clash at the weekend.
The bookies and nearly every pundit thinks City will win each game and win the league.