Virgil van Dijk has said he feels under greater scrutiny since recovering from a serious knee injury and, in an ominous message for Liverpool’s rivals, has room for improvement in the heart of Jürgen Klopp’s defence.
The Netherlands captain has made a seamless return from nine months on the sidelines, with Klopp describing the 30-year-old as “the best centre-half in the world”. It was 12 months ago on Monday that Liverpool confirmed Van Dijk needed surgery on a ruptured ACL and, speaking before the Champions League tie at Atlético Madrid on Tuesday, the defender claimed many people doubted whether he would recapture peak form after the injury sustained at Goodison Park.
“I’m happy where I am today,” he said. “I’m playing at the highest level again, playing with a lot of joy. There is still a lot to improve. The only thing I can do is take it day by day. I am not a robot, I have come back from a very serious injury. I don’t think there are a lot of examples of a player who had an ACL and complex knee injury that gets back to his best after a year. I have work to do.
“I know there are a lot of eyes pointing in my direction, wondering: ‘Is he going to be back in the same way?’ But the only thing I can do is try my best each and every game.
“I’m my own biggest critic and I know exactly when I can do better, and when things are going well too. How I see it is to just improve as much as I can and I’m fairly confident in the way I see things. It is going in the right way and I am feeling fine.”
Alisson and Fabinho are available after the Brazilians missed the rout of Watford on Saturday owing to the international fixture schedule. The pair travelled to Madrid from Brazil on Friday, where they were joined by the fitness coach, Conall Murtagh, physio Motonori Watanabe and goalkeeping coach, Jack Robinson. Curtis Jones remains absent with a minor injury suffered on England Under-21 duty but should be fit for the trip to Manchester United on Sunday.
Atlético Madrid (3-5-2) Oblak; Kondogbia, Felipe, Hermoso; Trippier, Koke, Lemar, Llorente, Lodi; Félix, Suárez. Subs from Lecomte, Giménez, Vrsaljko, Espejo, Moreno, Vergaja, De Paul, Herrera, Serrano, Barrios, Griezmann, Correa, Cunha, Carrasco, Ricoy. Injured None. Suspended Savic.
Liverpool (4-3-3) Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Milner; Salah, Firmino, Mané. Subs from Adrian, Kelleher, Davies, Gomez, N Williams, Phillips, Konaté, Tsimikas, Keïta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jota, Origi, Minamino. Injured Jones (groin, 24 Oct), Thiago (calf), Elliott (ankle, unknown). Suspended None.
Referee Daniel Siebert (Germany).
Klopp was critical of Diego Simeone’s style after Atlético knocked Liverpool out of the Champions League in 2020 and, while standing by his critique on Monday, said the Spanish champions excel at the attritional side of the game.
“Atléti are the best of them because they have the best players,” he said. “Would it be the style I wanted to play? No, I couldn’t. I’m not the person for it. But we are all different and that is why it is fine.” It is all about winning football games but we played an an absolutely exceptional game at home against Atlético. You have to play a top-class game and be incredibly brave. If you don’t do that they eat you.”