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Van Dijk’s return can spark Reds resurgence



To say things have not gone to plan for Liverpool this season is an understatement.

Sat eighth in the Premier League and knocked out of both domestic cups, Jurgen Klopp’s men have been miles from their brilliant best.

Now, they face a daunting two-legged Champions League knockout clash with their old foes Real Madrid — a side they have not beaten in their last six European meetings, including two agonising final defeats in 2018 and 2022.

Expectations are suitably tempered ahead of tonight’s tie at Anfield, though returning defender Virgil van Dijk hinted the Reds had turned a corner after Saturday’s impressive 2-0 win at Newcastle.

We put the influential Dutchman under the microscope ahead of his latest battle with Los Blancos.

Liverpool legend

Alongside the attacking brilliance of Mohamed Salah, Van Dijk has been one of the leading figures of the Klopp era.

Almost immediately after arriving from Southampton for £75million in 2018, his domineering presence in the Reds’ backline transformed an already exciting side into a well-oiled machine.

With his crisp passing range, immense composure and natural leadership, Van Dijk was the final piece of the jigsaw that helped Liverpool enjoy their most trophy-laden period for many decades.

He has won it all on Merseyside. Premier League, Champions League, Super Cup and Club World Cup medals are all in his trophy cabinet, while he has also lifted both domestic cups.

If he was to leave this summer, the Netherlands international would already be assured iconic status at Liverpool — though the 31-year-old appears to have no intention of exiting Anfield.

Injury woes

However, injuries have undoubtedly hampered Van Dijk’s influence in recent years.

Having started 94 straight Premier League games for the Reds in a stunning run between February 2018 and October 2020, the Dutch colossus sustained a catastrophic knee injury against Merseyside rivals Everton.

Challenging for a ball with England stopper Jordan Pickford, the resulting ACL rupture would sideline Van Dijk for the remainder of 2020-21.

He impressively returned to play 51 times in all competitions last term as the Reds agonisingly missed out on the Premier League title by a point, while also losing the Champions League final to Real Madrid.

Any fitness concerns appeared to have been banished, until a hamstring issue sustained against Brentford seven weeks ago prompted another stint on the sidelines.

Having missed seven games across all competitions, Van Dijk made a timely return to action on Saturday as the Reds overcame high-flying Newcastle at St James’ Park.

The 2-0 success keeps Liverpool within reach of a top-four spot and the influential defender was quick to point out how crucial the victory could be in kick-starting a frustrating campaign.

Van Dijk said: “We’ve had results in the season where we have felt like this is the time to kick on. But this feels a little bit different.

“Coming away from the big win against Everton, it was important to keep going and find a way to win. There is a reason why we are the only team to win here.

“It feels very good [to be back from injury]. Being healthy is the most important thing in the world.

He also said: “it was a tough six weeks but I’m back, hopefully I will do everything in my power to recover and be ready for the Champions League game, it is massive for us.”

Waning influence

Former Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy, has been one of several pundits to suggest Van Dijk has been a different player since coming back from his ACL injury.

Darwin Nuneze

Murphy, 45, spoke with talkSPORT earlier this season: “He’s not up to his level. Before his injury, he was arguably been looking like one of the best centre-halves we’ve ever seen.

“The injury, which is a huge one and he’s come back from, although he’s not had problems no playing games, I think psychologically he’s not in the same place.”

While there may be some credence to Murphy’s observation, the Reds remain a stronger team for their No4’s presence on the field of play.

As well as his defensive nous, Van Dijk undoubtably still ranks inside the Premier League’s top 10 centre-backs this term for touches, completed passes and aerial duels per 90 minutes.

He is crucial to the Reds’ build-up play — while 18 shots and two goals depict him to be a serious attacking threat in his own right.

Quieting critics

Liverpool’s issues have been enomous this season but with Van Dijk back in the heart of their defence, business could be about to pick up.

Of the 24 games he has completed 90 minutes in this season in all competitions, the Meresysiders have gotten victory on 15 occasions, drawing four and losing five times.

Conversely, the 10 games he has not featured or completed have resulted in just two wins, three draws and five defeats.

Regardless of whether his very best days are behind him or not, Van Dijk is a key player to reviving a wretched Reds campaign.