Premier League • England

Pundit shocked at ‘smarting’ Van Dijk comments, as ‘prickly’ Liverpool man told chain reaction incoming

Virgil van Dijk, September 2022

Craig Burley has admitted that he did not expect Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk to hit back at his critics unannounced on Tuesday.

The Dutchman played the full 90 minutes as the Reds claimed a 2-1 Champions League win over Ajax at Anfield. He had a major role to play from set-pieces, from which he had several chances to score.

In the end, though, it was centre-back partner Joel Matip who scored the winner at the death. After Mohamed Salah’s opener and Mohammed Kudus’ reply, Liverpool kept going until Matip edged the win for the hosts.

Matip’s return to the Liverpool line-up was a welcome one following criticism of Jurgen Klopp’s back four. Indeed, Van Dijk has faced plenty of bad comments and snapped back at them on Tuesday.

The 31-year-old subsequently slammed “ex-football players” who “try to get us down”.

Former Chelsea man Burley admitted he did not expect Van Dijk to abruptly come out with the response to his critics.

“Off the back of this thrashing in Naples, there was a lot of criticism for Alexander-Arnold and the back four, including Van Dijk,” the pundit told ESPN FC. “He started carping on about ex-players and how they’ve forgotten.

“It seems to me here’s a guy that has had enough praise to get him to the moon and back, and rightfully so because for the most part he’s been brilliant, but yet in this period when he himself has not been great and he hasn’t marshalled the back four very well, he seems to be smarting a little bit from the criticism.”

Pundit surprised at Van Dijk comments

“I thought that was quite an interesting interview, not that there was a lot of words spoken but it was just his reaction,” Burley added.

“I mean Des Kelly at BT [Sport] didn’t even ask him about the criticism, there was not question about it, he just brought it up. So clearly it is in his mind.”

Van Dijk’s arrival at Liverpool proved a major turning point in Klopp’s tenure at Liverpool.

He helped the Reds win the Champions League and Premier League, as well as the Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup.

Last season, meanwhile, he won the Man of the Match award in Liverpool’s triumphant Carabao Cup final at Wembley.

Liverpool man will return to best

According to former Liverpool defender Steve Nicol, Van Dijk – who he says rightly felt “prickly” – could well return to his best after getting the issue of the criticism off his chest.

Nicol said: “If somebody criticizes you, you want to get them back and you want to show them every single time.

“So I guess in some ways that might help Virgil van Dijk. Because clearly it got up his nose.

“And you know what, if that makes him go back to being the Virgil van Dijk that we praised then that’s fine by me.”

Liverpool return after the international break to face Brighton at Anfield in the Premier League.

Defender needed good performance

Van Dijk has proved one of the best signings of the Klopp era at Liverpool – and also one of the Premier League’s best players in recent seasons.

As such, he has been on cloud nine for some time now, knowing he can seemingly do no wrong.

However, when times have got tough, he has clearly not accepted that he should take all the criticism to heart.

That is a sign of Van Dijk’s confidence in his ability and belief in himself that he can turn his situation around.

Amid the talk of Van Dijk being the leader and marshalling his defence, Matip’s return alongside the Dutchman looked a massive turning point.

Liverpool were far from convincing against Ajax, but it was definitely a step in the right direction.

READ MORE: Jurgen Klopp hints at Liverpool concern Ajax exposed; defends tactic blown out of proportion