I’m not a robot – Van Dijk reveals ‘difficult and emotional’ path to recovery

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk has revealed the difficult mental hurdle he had to overcome on his return from injury and warned it would take time to reach his peak form as he is “not a robot”.

The Netherlands international traveled the 90 minutes of Saturday’s 3-0 victory at Norwich City in Liverpool’s opener 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 previous two campaigns but suffered anterior cruciate ligament damage in a challenge with Jordan Pickford of Everton that ended his season and ruled him out of Euro 2020.

He has also played three times for Liverpool in the preseason, but the center-back – voted PFA Player of the Year in 2018-19 – admitted it would take more than a full 90-minute race to return to his best level.

“Being back is not the closing of a chapter,” he said. “It’s still getting there. I wanted to be there. I wanted to play in the first game because I feel I need it and it will improve me.

“From my point of view, knowing my own body, there is a lot to improve but I am not a robot. I can’t get back to 100% right away.

“The first game was very emotional and very difficult for many reasons. You visualize the game so many times in your head before you actually play.

“I was tired from everything around the game. It was kind of like an obstacle. I had to get over that, I felt like it would come back. So that’s what happened from my point of view.

“I continued to train well and felt confident in my knee. It’s been a tough road, but I’m just happy to be there again.”

Liverpool sorely missed Van Dijk’s leadership and defensive attributes last season, with just one player in the league improving his 191 aerial victories in the Reds’ victorious campaign in 2019-2020.

The Dutchman has attempted and completed more passes than any other defender in this campaign, while Trent Alexander-Arnold was the only defensive player to have more than his 3,624 touches.

He fitted in perfectly against Norwich, helping his side make their own cage and completing the joint third passes for all players in the division in the first week of play, tied with Jorginho (82) and behind only Caglar Soyuncu (87) and Andreas Christensen (105).

Reflecting on his first return leg, Van Dijk said: “Winning the opener 3-0 is something we will sign for, but if you look at the game critically there is a lot to improve.

“It’s the start of the season and we will improve. This is how we hope to improve and we will try next week.

“I am proud of myself and proud of the people who have helped me, like my wife and kids, and at the club. The first step is to get in shape and get back to my best. I need games. , time and rehearsal. I’m just lucky to have a fantastic manager helping me. “

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