Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk has disclosed the tough mental hurdle he had to jump on his return from injury and warned it will take time to reach peak form as he is “not a robot”.
The Netherlands international came through the full 90 minutes of Saturday’s 3-0 win at Norwich City in Liverpool’s opening game of the 2021-22 Premier League campaign – his first competitive outing since October 2020.
Van Dijk had started every league game for the Reds in the prior two campaigns but sustained anterior cruciate ligament damage in a challenge with Everton’s Jordan Pickford that ended his season and ruled him out of Euro 2020.
He also featured three times for Liverpool in pre-season, but the centre-back – voted the PFA Player of the Year in 2018-19 – acknowledged it will take more than one full 90-minute run out to get back to his best.
“Being back is not the closing of a chapter,” he said. “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. I cannot be back to 100 per cent immediately.
“The first game 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. 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.”
Liverpool sorely missed Van Dijk’s leadership and defensive attributes last season, with only one player in the league bettering his 191 aerial wins during the Reds’ title-winning campaign of 2019-20.
The Dutchman attempted and completed more passes than any other defender that campaign, while Trent Alexander-Arnold was the sole defensive player to have more than his 3,624 touches.
He slotted in seamlessly against Norwich, helping his side to a clean sheet and completing the joint third-most passes of any player in the division in gameweek one, level with Jorginho (82) and behind only Caglar Soyuncu (87) and Andreas Christensen (105).
Reflecting on his first match back, Van Dijk said: “To win the first game 3-0 is something we will sign for, but if you look at the game critically, there is a lot to improve.
“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.
“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. I need games, time and repetition. I’m just lucky we have a fantastic manager who helps me.”