Liverpool star Virgil van Dijk offers warning after return from injury
Virgil van Dijk insists ‘being back is not the closing of a chapter’ after making his return 43 WEEKS after suffering serious knee injury – as Liverpool star admits he will take time to get back to full fitness because he ‘is not a robot’
- Liverpool got their season off to a promising start with a 3-0 win at Norwich
- Virgil van Dijk played all 90 minutes as he made his Premier League return
- The Dutchman offered a warning as Liverpool look to mount a title challenge
- Liverpool fell to a third place finish last season while van Dijk was recuperating
- Van Dijk though will still need some time to recover to full fitness from his injury
How he had missed all this: the adulation from the travelling fans, who sang his name repeatedly as he marshalled those around him and started attacks with long, raking passes.
He kept things tight with impeccable timing and never held back if he felt standards had dipped around him.
Other than one error of judgment in the first half, when he played Teemu Pukki onside, and a split-second when the ball got stuck between his feet as he attempted to make a pass, it felt as if Van Dijk had never been away. Certainly, looking at Liverpool as a whole, it seemed the team was fixed.
Virgil van Dijk played all 90 minutes as Liverpool started the season with a 3-0 away victory
It was his first league game since the injury he sustained against Everton last October
The best analogy is to say for most of last season, Liverpool’s defence looked like a wall that had a hole smashed out of it. Van Dijk being in the middle, then, was restorative and he took things in his stride to such an extent that he barely seemed to have broken sweat as he began to talk.
But amid the emotion, the relief and the happiness was a warning. You don’t go from being out for 10 months to being a Ballon d’Or contender just like that and Liverpool’s No 4, in his own way, asked for patience and realism.
‘Being back is not the closing of a chapter,’ said Van Dijk. ‘It is still getting there. I wanted to be out there. I wanted to be playing from the first match because I feel I need it and it will improve me. From my point of view, knowing my own body, there are plenty of things to improve but I am not a robot.
Van Dijk marshalled those around him and started attacks with long raking balls forward
‘I cannot be back to 100 per cent immediately. The thing is I have played and the first one was very emotional and very tough for many reasons. You visualise the game so many times in your head before you actually play.
‘I was tired because of everything around the game. And it was sort of like a hurdle. I had to get over that, I felt like then it will come again. So that is what happened in my point of view. I kept training well and felt confident in my knee. It’s been a tough road but I am just happy to be out there again.’
He wasn’t the only one. Liverpool had been treated as an after-thought by many in the build-up to the season, with few believing they have what it takes to go the distance with Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs.
But the swaggering way they took care of Norwich has perhaps provided a jolt.
Van Dijk let Teemu Pukki through behind him but still looked like he had never been away
The return of the Dutchman is a boost to Jurgen Klopp’s side in their bid to reclaim the title
Poor Norwich, following a disrupted pre-season, were full of spirit and the atmosphere around their homely stadium stirred the soul but you wonder, with Manchester City and Leicester to play before the international break, when their first point will arrive
‘We want to be successful and grind out some good results but I think it is unfair to judge us after this period,’ said Daniel Farke, their manager. ‘Then we will come into our rhythm after the first international break. I thought we were competitive but this was tough.’
It was tough because Liverpool never let them play. Van Dijk —and the often overlooked Joel Matip, returning from ankle ligament damage — took Klopp’s team higher up the pitch and allowed them to squeeze the life from Norwich.
They scored three unanswered goals, they might have had six. The most important aspect of the day, however, was Van Dijk emerging with a clean bill of health. He is going to have to be carefully managed on the way to reaching his peak but the signs must have encouraged his team-mates and his manager.
Goals from forwards Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah sealed a comfortable victory
‘To win the first game 3-0 is something we will sign for,’ Van Dijk said with a smile. ‘But if you look at the game critically, there is a lot to improve. But it is the start of the season and we will improve. That is how we hopefully get better and we will give it a go next week (against Burnley).
‘I am proud of myself and proud of the people who helped me, like my wife and kids, and at the club. The first step is to get match fitness and be back to my best. But I am not a robot. I need games, time and repetition. I’m just lucky we have a fantastic manager who helps me.’
Judging by the hug Klopp gave Van Dijk at the final whistle, we can safely assume the feeling is mutual.
MO SALAH’S FAB FIVE
- For the fifth consecutive year, Mo Salah scored in the opening match of the season — the only player in PL history to do so.
- Salah has seven goals and three assists in the first gameweek (10 involvements), bettered only by Wayne Rooney’s 13 (eight goals, five assists).
- Roberto Firmino scored Liverpool’s 8,000th league goal (Football League/PL). Man Utd have 8,089.
- Norwich v Liverpool averages 3.8 goals per game (69 in 18 PL games).
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