Virgil van Dijk is close to making his return from a serious knee injury after being included in the squad for Liverpool’s pre-season camp in Austria.
Van Dijk missed much of the 2020-21 season having suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury against Everton in October, ruling him out for the remainder of the campaign.
As such, he was also unable to feature for the Netherlands at Euro 2020, with the Oranje finding themselves eliminated by the Czech Republic in the round of 16.
But he looks set to bolster Liverpool’s defensive ranks for the 2021-22 campaign, with the 30-year-old included in the group that is due to begin pre-season training in Tyrol, near Salzburg, next week.
Also on the list is new signing Ibrahima Konate, a recent arrival from RB Leipzig, as well as Joe Gomez, who, like Van Dijk, missed much of 2020-21 through injury.
But Van Dijk’s presence is the biggest boost of all. While he was only one of numerous defensive injury issues Liverpool had last term, the Reds sorely missed his leadership and imperious attributes having played every match of their successful 2019-20 Premier League campaign.
During that season only one defender in the league bettered his 191 aerial wins, he attempted – and completed – more passes than any of them and Trent Alexander-Arnold was the sole defensive player to have more than his 3,624 touches of the ball.
His excellence did not only help keep them solid at the back but his influence stretched to their wider philosophy on the ball as well, yet they were without that for most of 2020-21, as he featured just five times.
It is arguably no coincidence that Liverpool’s form dropped off dramatically without him, with their points tally of 69 being 30 less than they had managed the previous year.
Liverpool won 81.4 per cent of the 43 Premier League matches Van Dijk played between August 2019 and his injury, but that fell to just 51.5 per cent between October and the end of the season when he was out of the team.