Virgil van Dijk says his return to action for Liverpool this summer has felt "very emotional and very tough", and that he has jumped a mental hurdle after recovering from 10 months out with anterior cruciate ligament damage.
Liverpool enjoyed a comfortable evening at newly promoted Norwich on Saturday, winning 3-0 and experiencing only occasional alarm at the back. The conditions were ideal for Van Dijk to play his first competitive football since being injured at Everton last October, and he explained that he felt ready after coming through a challenging comeback game last month when Liverpool lost 4-3 against Hertha Berlin in a friendly.
“The first one was very emotional and very tough for many reasons,” he said. “You visualise the game so many times in your head before you play so, as I said to the club, I was not tired because of the game, I was tired because of everything around it.
“It was sort of like a hurdle. I had to get over that, I felt, then it will come again. So that is what happened in my point of view. I kept training well and felt confident in my knee. What is very important is that I kept my fitness up and we kept a clean sheet.”
Van Dijk warned it will take time before he returns to his best, saying that “games, time and repetition” will help him to recapture his form.
“It is not the closing of a chapter,” he said. “It is still getting there. I wanted to be out there playing from the first time because I feel I need it and it will improve me. My point of view, knowing my own body, obviously there are plenty of things to improve but I am not a robot. I cannot be back to 100 per cent immediately.”
Joël Matip partnered Van Dijk at the back at Carrow Road after returning from his own lay-off, while Joe Gomez was among the substitutes having recovered from a knee injury sustained in November. Liverpool finally have a fit central defence again and Van Dijk outlined the tribulations recent months have brought.
“It has been a tough road but I am just happy to be out of there again,” he said. “The journey me and Joe Gomez have had is that if you experience it you understand what it is. It is not easy to be out. I am proud of myself and proud of the people who helped me, like my wife and kids.” – Guardian