Jurgen Klopp has seemingly dented Liverpool fans’ hopes of seeing Virgil van Dijk in action again this season after acknowledging he is still “quite a way” from returning to first-team training.
Van Dijk has missed much of the season having suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury against Everton in October, ruling him out ever since.
His was just one of numerous defensive injury issues Liverpool have had to contend with this season, and it has subsequently wreaked havoc with their season as they go into Sunday’s trip to Old Trafford against Manchester United four points adrift of fourth.
Van Dijk’s leadership and imperious attributes made him a huge part of the Reds’ Premier League title triumph last season, playing all 38 matches.
Only one defender in the league bettered his 191 aerial wins, he attempted – and completed – more passes than any of them and Trent Alexander-Arnold was the sole defensive player to have more than his 3,624 touches of the ball.
His excellence did not only help keep them solid at the back but his influence stretched to their wider philosophy on the ball as well, yet they have been without that for most of 2020-21.
And, despite videos of Van Dijk running emerging on social media on Thursday, Klopp is urging fans not to get over-excited.
“I don’t have enough English words to say the same thing that often,” Klopp told reporters. “Yes, he is running like Hendo [Jordan Henderson], Joe [Gomez] and Joel [Matip], that’s all good. Rehab always starts with straight-line running.
“There’s a lot of things to come. You go through a lot of steps until you are finally ready to join team training. They are all quite a way.
“Nobody told me, fasten your seatbelt, the boys will be ready and in team training next week, but they are in a good way.”
Sunday’s meeting with bitter rivals United comes at a potentially pivotal moment, with the Red Devils still hopeful of pushing Manchester City all the way in the title race and Klopp’s men needing a boost to their top-four hopes.
Although United were in action as recently as Thursday, beating Roma 6-2 in their Europa League semi-final first leg, Klopp doubts Liverpool can count on much of an advantage in terms of freshness.
“Whatever situation you are in, when you’re a Liverpool player or manager, this is the game,” he continued.
“Is it the best place to go after watching them score five in one half? I don’t know. A lot of things can happen, we just make sure we are ready for it.
“They looked pretty good last night and we have to be ready but we have trained well this week. We will have the right legs to go and see what we can make of it.
“[Marcus] Rashford, [Mason] Greenwood, [Paul] Pogba played a good game last night. Whoever we play, they cannot and won’t make massive changes. It’s tough but we’ve had these types of fixtures in other seasons, so it’s just a fight. We have to fight.
“When you play Thursday then Sunday… Man United have got used to it but it doesn’t make it better. It’s a tough challenge for them.
“Today is recovery, tomorrow second recovery and then they play. No chance to change things but I don’t think they want to really at the moment.
“It will be a tough game, intense. We saw last night – they are good! Especially when you let them play.
“They were flying. I am pretty sure United still feel they have a chance [for the title]. Both teams have to win it which is a good recipe for the game.”
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