When Virgil van Dijk suffered a disastrous knee injury in Liverpool’s draw with Everton last October, it was the first of a series of injuries that left Liverpool’s back four decimated. Not only did it lead to a very disappointing title defense for the Reds, but it left many wondering what long-term effects the injury would have on van Dijk.
Incredibly, when the 30-year-old defender returned to the lineup to start the 2021-22 campaign, it was clear almost immediately that he’d barely lost a step. He has been a key contributor to Liverpool’s impressive defensive record (bizarre’s draws with Brentford aside), and he’s insistent that he’ll keep improving as he gets more post-injury matches under his belt.
“Obviously, there’s room for improvement, and I think that’s a good thing,” van Dijk said in an interview with LiverpoolFC.com ahead of this weekend’s clash with Manchester City. “We’re top of the league at the moment, as a club, and with the Champions League, we’re doing well.”
“We’re doing well and for me personally as well, I made good progress in getting back to full fitness. The only way to get there is to play games, to learn from situations that happen in games – obviously in training as well but it’s sometimes difficult to replicate training into games. But I’m trying everything, doing everything that’s possible to get as good as I can, as quick as I can without doing things too much. So far I’m very happy with the progress I’ve made and I’m not there yet.
“I think there’s still loads to come. Anyone who knows about having a knee injury and being out for such a long time knows that it will take up to, even after you’re back playing, another year maybe before you are fully, fully recovered. But everyone’s body is different, everyone’s knee is different, everyone’s recovery is different.
“So far I feel good and I’m just happy that the manager is putting his trust in me to put me out there, giving me the opportunity to get better as well. I feel good but there is always room for improvement, and I feel like it’s on the way.”
While van Dijk already looks nearly as good as he did before last year’s injury, he, and the rest of his team, will need to be at their best to get a result over second-place City on Sunday.
“Obviously, we know how tough a game it’s going to be on Sunday against the reigning champions. So, we have to be very good to beat them, to get a good result. But we’re looking forward to it. A full stadium, a full Anfield, it’s going to be a special one, I think.”
There is not much to separate the Premier League’s previous two champions, so van Dijk knows his team will have to be fully prepared and focused to claim a victory. One small mistake could be the difference when the margins are so narrow.
“I think small details, in my opinion, could be the difference. There’s going to be a lot of intensity going into that game. Obviously, they are such a good football-playing side and we have to be ready to suffer at times. We will respect that but we’re going to try to do everything to make it as difficult as possible for them on that day.
“We know we’re capable of doing that but obviously beforehand you can say loads of stuff, but in the game so many things can change. We’ll have to be ready for anything and we will be.”