Virgil van Dijk will never forget the “special” feeling of returning from injury alongside Liverpool centre-back partner Joe Gomez.
Both Van Dijk and Gomez watched much of last season from the sidelines as the Reds were hit by injury woes in their Premier League title defence.
Van Dijk had started every league game in the prior two campaigns but sustained anterior cruciate ligament damage in a challenge with Everton’s Jordan Pickford in October 2020.
Gomez started alongside the Netherlands international on 22 occasions in 2019-20, with Liverpool winning 19 of those games and conceding just 17 goals, but he also suffered a knee injury while away with England last November.
However, from the date of Gomez’s injury to the end of the 2020-21 season, only Manchester City (23) conceded fewer league goals than Liverpool (26), who kept 11 clean sheets in this period – behind City (17) and Chelsea (15) – as they qualified for the Champions League.
Returns for the defensive pair represent a boost all the same, though, and Van Dijk particularly enjoyed stepping back onto the pitch alongside Gomez in a friendly against Hertha Berlin.
“[It was] special,” he told Liverpool’s official website. “We said it to each other: we have to soak it all up, we have to take it in, enjoy it, let it make you stronger, let it make you even hungrier to stay fit.
“To be standing there at that moment, at that time, was special. I will never forget that.”
Van Dijk added: “I think positivity is a very important thing, we have the quality – that is obvious. We were just very, very unlucky with injuries last year, especially in the centre-back position.
“In the end, Rhys [Williams], Nat [Phillips] and Ozan [Kabak] did a fantastic job to make sure we have at least Champions League and we [came] third.
“But we have been unlucky in some positions that made it very difficult for us as a team to play the same way and have the same intensity we normally have, so we’ve worked a lot on this.
“We hope – and we try – to stay fit, all of us. That’s something we shouldn’t take for granted, if that happens.”
With their key men fit again, Liverpool are looking to get back involved in the title race, with their 69 points last term the fifth-lowest total from a defending Premier League champion.
“The standard is very high [in pre-season], we train hard, we try to get the right tactics in again and hopefully get ready for a very, very good season altogether,” he said.
“It is going to be a tough one with teams that are improving all around us, trying to compete to become champions of the Premier League. So are we – we want to be up there again, go for it all and we set the base at the moment.”
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