Jürgen Klopp: Liverpool will not Van Dijk's best until next season but he still has plenty to offer

Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp believes the club will have to wait before they fully benefit from the quality of January signing Virgil van Dijk, but insisted that even lacking fitness he improves their defence.

Jürgen Klopp: Liverpool will not Van Dijk's best until next season but he still has plenty to offer
(Picture: Getty Images - Alex Livesey)

Jürgen Klopp has acknowledged that Liverpool will not see the best of Virgil van Dijk until next season but hailed the qualities that the Dutchman brings to the squad despite not being at full fitness.

The Reds paid £75 million - a world-record fee for a defender - to sign Van Dijk from Southampton earlier this month to strengthen their much-criticised back-line. 

The January signing has made three appearances so far, scoring a late winner on his debut against Everton and since featuring in the defeats to Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion.

But Van Dijk sat on the bench for the mid-week win at Huddersfield Town, with Klopp revealing that the club are purposefully looking to manage Van Dijk's fitness.

The former Celtic man missed out on pre-season as he unsuccessfully attempted to force a move to Anfield and played only 12 first-team matches for the Saints after injury cut short his previous campaign. 

 

"Van Dijk has had a few ups and downs"

Asked about Van Dijk's first month as a Liverpool player, Klopp declared himself "very happy" and said: "It's just exactly like it was clear it would be, with a few ups and downs."

The Reds boss insisted that everyone "will all see" Van Dijk "at his best after the summer" but insisted that they don't "have the time to wait until then" and that regardless the defender "can bring a lot of things in already."

"We had a lot of talks already," he continued, noting that it is "quite difficult" for Van Dijk to adjust to Liverpool's "defending style" because of how drastically different it is to Southampton's style, or that of the Netherlands national team's.

Klopp insisted that is "why it makes so much sense" that the player needs time to "get used to it" and praised how "outstandingly good" Van Dijk played against Everton in his first game.  

He added: "Then City, he couldn’t play. Swansea was good defensively,, we were really good against Swansea and he was involved in the three biggest chances we had, his header and then two passes, one for Mo [Salah] and one for Roberto [Firmino]. West Brom was a bad game of the whole team. Then we thought it makes sense to rotate [against Huddersfield]."

The German insisted that "at the moment" the 26-year-old's performance levels have been "like expected" and called it "completely normal" that he is not yet at his peak. He declared: "There’s a lot to do, a lot to work on, but the start is absolutely good."

 

Van Dijk expected to be dropped, says Klopp

In Van Dijk's absence, Dejan Lovren and Joël Matip started as Liverpool claimed a first clean sheet since Boxing Day against the Terriers at the John Smith's Stadium.

But Klopp insisted that the reason for the previously first-choice pair starting together was due to fitness of the club's various centre-back options.

He told reporters: "It was a purely physical thing. When Virgil came here he was not match fit because he had a long injury, then he played, then he was injured, then the transfer was kind of an open case and he didn't play for Southampton."

Klopp said that Van Dijk has not had a "consistent season" so far this season and added that he has not known him "long enough" to know whether he is capable of playing on Saturday and then Tuesday.

He said that Liverpool therefore had "the opportunity" to start Lovren and Matip after the former had been "ill before", noting that the duo were "two completely fit players." 

"I know how they react in different situations physical-wise, that's why they played and Virgil didn't play," the 50-year-old expanded, disclosing that he spoke personally with Van Dijk and that he "expected it."

Klopp added: "He is still a new player. It would be better if he could play all the time but you cannot train in a Premier League match. We need to use the time between the matches. In the matches, we have to deliver."

He noted that while it looked like they won "quite comfortably" at Huddersfield, it was "not clear before the game that it would be this kind of [easy] game for the defence."

Klopp talked about counter-pressing as being "the biggest difference" in the loss at Swansea and the Huddersfield win, calling it "a similar game" but saying that Liverpool's own pressing tactics made it "easier for the last line to defend."

Ahead of hosting Tottenham Hotspur in a crunch top-four clash on L4 this Sunday, Klopp said: "Hopefully in the next game it will be similar or even better."