Virgil van Dijk displayed understandable signs of rustiness during his anticipated Liverpool comeback against Hertha Berlin on Thursday.
The Netherlands star had underpinned much of the Reds’ recent success, taking on an almost totemic status, and his absence was felt last campaign after he suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury during October’s Merseyside derby against Everton.
Van Dijk chose to miss the European Championships in a bid to be ready for the new Premier League season, and the player overcame a significant hurdle in his recovery by playing his first game in nine months at the Tivoli Stadion.
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The 30-year-old was introduced midway through the second period of the game, along with his defensive partner and long-term absentee, Joe Gomez, but was unable to help them maintain their unbeaten start to pre-season.
Indeed, Van Dijk was embarrassed for Hertha’s game clinching goal, scored by former Manchester City forward Stevan Jovetic.
Jovetic picked up the ball just inside Liverpool’s half, kept Van Dijk at bay before cutting inside and leaving the defender, who crumpled to the floor, for dead and beating Alisson with a cool finish.
Despite that mistake, Van Dijk was delighted to be finally back in action and paid tribute to all those responsible for helping him to get his career right back on track.
He said: ‘285 days ago, I started on a journey back towards playing. It’s hard to express how I am feeling, but it’s important to me that I say I feel blessed to have had the support of so many incredible people.
‘The surgeon, my physios, coaches and staff who have been with me in my corner since day one. ‘My teammates for giving me energy and keeping my head up. The fans for their love, support and encouragement.
‘And most of all, my family because without them, I’d be nothing. Thank you. The work doesn’t stop now. It’s only just starting. We keep going!’