Jurgen Klopp hailed the return of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez but did not spare them the rod as Liverpool were beaten 4-3 by Hertha Berlin in Thursday’s friendly.
The defensive duo missed most of last season due to injury. And the fact the Reds had little cover at the back was a major factor in their disappointing title defence. They rallied towards the end of 2020-2021 to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
And Klopp will hope to have a bit more luck with his squad over the next 10 months. The players have been in Austria for pre-season.
And they concluded proceedings with a game against the Bundesliga outfit. The Merseysiders lost the match but all eyes were on the Netherlands superstar as he made his return after 285 days out of action.
Klopp was delighted to have them back in the ranks after making a U-turn over their availability. But the German could not resist a slight dig at the manner of Hertha’s winner.
“It was a nice feeling,” he told LFCTV. “[They] started immediately well, and usually they all know that but the fourth goal is a clear situation [they can deal with].
“I’m not sure,  days for Virg, not much less for Joe, so it’s nice to have them back. It was the first step, really important.”
Van Dijk grateful for support on road to recovery
Van Dijk’s absence was felt more than any of the other crocked stars. Not only is the Netherlands international a world-class player but he is a leader of the rearguard.
They move to his tune and were almost impregnable during the Anfield club’s 2019-20 title-winning campaign. Klopp will hope it is the same in 2021-2022 as they look to challenge Manchester City.
Van Dijk revealed his feelings after the match. And he was grateful to all those who helped him through the dark days of recovery.
“285 days ago, I started on a journey back towards playing,” he wrote on Twitter. “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.”