The world’s greatest defender returns! After what I can only imagine was a mentally tough and physically brutal 10 months out, Virgil Van Dijk looks primed and ready to lead the Liverpool team once more.
The fortunes of Liverpool Football Club took an immensely positive shift in line with his arrival in January 2018. Liverpool went from a team known as the league’s biggest entertainers into serial winners and trophy collectors.
The Netherlands captain has already achieved so much at Liverpool, Individually winning the UEFA and PFA Player of the year in 2019 and securing the Premier League and Champions League trophies as part of the Liverpool collective.
Never have I ever seen a defender hit the levels that van Dijk has hit on a football pitch. Close your eyes and imagine, a Rolls Royce, a Ferrari and a Land Rover defender all rolled into one human being, you will find, and only find Virgil van Dijk.
Let us now look at last season!
A Quick 2020/21 recap
For once, thanks to a certain goalkeeper across Stanley Park, the 2020/21 roundup will actually be quick. So, for those of you who do not find pleasure in reading my previous season review, this is a special day for you.
The season started well for van Dijk; despite an unusual error for Patrick Bamford’s equaliser, an opening day header helped steer the Red’s to an entertaining 4-3 victory over Leeds United.
With the team making a solid start to their title defence (forgetting about Aston Villa away), van Dijk was ready to push the team further after the October 2020 international break.
Yet, on the 17th of October, disaster struck. I don’t want to explain what happened again, we all know what happened. Jordan Pickford’s horrific knee height challenge on van Dijk should have been a red card, but no Liverpool fan was remotely thinking about that at the time.
The fanbase’s thoughts and prayers were focused solely upon Van Dijk’s knee. There were mutterings of hope that Liverpool’s number four had evaded a horrific season-ending injury as he managed to walk off the Goodison Park pitch.
In truth however, deep down this felt like false hope. We knew that it was possible to ‘walk’ off a pitch with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. The day after, our worst fears were realised. Liverpool FC announced that Van Dijk had suffered a knee ligament's injury and this was likely rule him out for the rest of the season.
Van Dijk underwent surgery on his right knee on 30th of October and began his rehabilitation back to full fitness. There were periods in the season where fans hoped that van Dijk would return for the League run-in, but this was never likely to be the case. Van Dijk’s 2020/21 season and Euro 2020 dreams were over, just like that.
The 2021/22 Expectation
I will not say it lightly, Virgil van Dijk is going to be a man possessed this season. Having missed a year of his prime due to injury, he will want to reassert his status as the number one centre-back in world football.
So, what do I expect? Honestly, I can see it being a tough start for van Dijk. No matter who the footballer is, an injury like the one he received will set anyone’s confidence back a long way.
Van Dijk’s game is built on confidence and an almost arrogant style of defending that has enabled him to dominate every striker arriving in his path. As a Liverpool fan, we are going to have to be patient with Van Dijk.
Even functioning at 80%, I regard him as the best defender in the business, but this does not mean we can expect him to be the utterly dominant 1 vs 1 specialist he has proven to be. I am sure Jurgen Klopp will recognise this and look to protect van Dijk where possible.
I do see van Dijk being selected for important fixtures up until December 2021, but it would be poor of the fans to expect him to initially play three times a week at the highest level possible. With the availability of three other extremely talented senior centre backs, I can see his game time being carefully managed.
January 2022 onwards is where I expect to see the full prowess of van Dijk. A man full of confidence and able to perform at his maximum output, three times a week. And what a time for him to get his groove back.
Van Dijk will be gearing his season towards the crunch end of the campaign, which will involve the Champions League knockouts and a Premier League title run in. This will have a positive knock-on effect for the rest of the team, which is undoubtedly hugely important. So with a fit Virgil van Dijk, anything really is possible for Liverpool FC this coming season.