Virgil van Dijk says blocking out the negativity surrounding his comeback is crucial to his own mental wellbeing after returning from injury this season.
Liverpool face Everton at Goodison Park on Wednesday – the corresponding fixture which saw Van Dijk seriously injured last season. The Reds defender was recklessly caught in a scissor tackle by Jordan Pickford in October last year. The Dutchman suffered anterior cruciate ligament damage and was subsequently missing for nine months.
Van Dijk was not fit enough to return at Euro 2020 but started pre-season and has so far played every minute in the Premier League. And on Saturday he netted his first goal for over a year in the 4-0 win over Southampton.
Van Dijk has been steadily growing into the season. His form has been rock-solid despite missing the majority of last season and the Reds have conceded just 11 goals in 13 games.
However, there has been noise from outside Anfield about the centre-back’s form, but Van Dijk says he has been ignoring it.
“Rhythm is important and mentally it is a big thing as well,” Van Dijk told the official Liverpool matchday programme.
“I’ve noticed that if I do things well, everyone says ‘he doesn’t look like he missed a whole year’.
“But when I make one or two mistakes – and mistakes happen. Then it is said ‘you can see he’s coming back from injury’ or ‘he can’t do it anymore’.
“These sort of things are mentally a big thing. Luckily I’m strong mentally and I’m not paying any attention to all of that.
“The most important thing is you know when you do things well and with the help of the manager and my team-mates I feel that I’m progressing in each game. That’s the only thing I can do.”
Jurgen Klopp’s men, despite losing just once all season, remain two points adrift of leaders Chelsea in third place. And Van Dijk knows this season will be the toughest yet.
“It’s definitely going to be more difficult to win the league in my opinion,” he said.
Van Dijk: Liverpool will improve
“If you also look at the teams below the top four, everyone can win against everyone if you’re not fully focused, you’re not giving 100% or they have a little bit of luck. But that’s the Premier League.
“This season is so long and anything can happen. But if you look at the teams and the quality of the players it could be one of those years when everyone wins against each other at some point.
“The most difficult thing in football is to be consistent for the whole of the season and the season we won it we most definitely were consistent.
“We have so many games left and there can be many twists and turns. We have to be lucky with injuries, as we saw what happened last year. But we have a fantastic squad in my opinion. It’s all about being consistent and confident.
“We just have to focus on ourselves and we will. We’re not perfect – that is obvious – but we will improve.”