It’s okay to say that there were a number of Liverpool players with question marks over their heads heading into this season.
After a dismal campaign last time out, it had looked like a few might be on borrowed time. Although things perhaps weren’t quite so bad for Virgil van Dijk, the centre-back was being heavily criticised for first time in his Liverpool career.
But having been given the captaincy following Jordan Henderson’s exit in the summer, Van Dijk has been reborn. There’s a good argument that the 32-year-old has even been the Reds best player this season.
And according to pundit Chris Sutton, Virgil’s turnaround in form was not a given. Speaking to BBC Football Daily, Sutton admitted that he had wondered whether the Dutchman’s best days were behind him. Thankfully, he’s now been proven wrong.
“I’ve got to say, since the injury I wondered whether he could get back to his imperious best as a defender,” said the former Celtic striker.
“At one time, I thought he was the best defender in the world. I just thought maybe he’d lost a yard or whatever. Maybe his confidence had taken a bit of hit and he didn’t feel like he was quite the same player.
“But this season I think he’s got better and better the longer the season has gone on. Of course, he always sort of takes responsibility on his shoulders, but it’s good news for Liverpool.”
It’s perhaps easy to look back now and say Van Dijk’s form last season was merely part of a wider, collective malaise. He was always going to bounce back.
But as Sutton says, there was plenty of reason to believe that the defender had in fact peaked already.
The injury is obviously the big part of that. At 29 when Jordan Pickford wrecked his knee, Van Dijk was already edging towards the back end of his career.
He’d recovered well to lead Liverpool on a quadruple charge in 2021/22, but he still wasn’t quite back to his old self.
Then, last season, Virgil declined even further. With harsh words being publicly spoken about him back home in the Netherlands, he must have wondered what was around the corner.
Well, as it turned out, the Liverpool captaincy and a huge shot in the arm were what lay in wait for Van Dijk.
The Reds No.4 has been virtually faultless all season long. If Liverpool are to pick up silverware this campaign, then Van Dijk will have been a huge part of it.
There’s no question of whether he’s now the very best defender in the Premier League once again. We’d even confidently put him forward as the top centre-back on the planet. What a relief to have Virgil showing his best self again. Long may it continue.