Jurgen Klopp said Virgil van Dijk showed his class in a winning return from injury as Liverpool eased to a 3-0 win at Norwich to open their Premier League season on Saturday.
Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah were on target for Klopp’s men as they made a promising start to their quest to take back the Premier League title from Manchester City.
Van Dijk’s cruciate knee ligament injury derailed the Reds’ title defence last season and the Dutchman looked like his old self as he played the full 90 minutes on his return to action.
“You could see all his quality, all his class,” said Klopp. “It was hard for him to play the 90, he’ll need an ice bath for sure and he’ll have enough time to recover.”
Van Dijk’s season and hopes of leading the Netherlands as captain at Euro 2020 were ended by a reckless challenge from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in a bad-tempered Merseyside derby despite the absence of fans last October.
The 30-year-old signed a new four-year contract on Friday to celebrate his return to fitness but recalled the hard days that followed his clash with Pickford.
“Mentally it’s tough. You go from one day being fully fit to the next day you can’t walk, you’re full of medication, full of pain, you can’t sleep,” he added.
“And obviously we were struggling last season with more injuries. More injuries on key positions where we couldn’t play our game the way we want to play.
“In the end, the guys did a fantastic job to come third and we want to build on that.”
Norwich stormed back to the top flight at the first time of asking by romping to the Championship title last season but was given a stark reminder of the gulf they have to bridge to compete at the Premier League level.
Tim Krul should have done better to prevent the opening goal midway through the first half when Jota’s shot squirmed through his legs.
Klopp left the majority of his stars that had played in international tournaments over the summer out as Firmino and Fabinho started on the bench, while there was no place in the squad for Jordan Henderson or Thiago Alcantara.
The Brazilian duo was introduced on the hour mark and it took Firmino just five minutes to make his mark thanks to Salah’s unselfish cross.
Salah then scored in Liverpool’s opening league game of the season for the fifth straight season.
A corner fell his way on the edge of the box 16 minutes from time and the Egyptian fired powerfully past Krul into the top corner.
Liverpool needed some late heroics from Alisson Becker to secure Van Dijk a clean sheet on his return as the Brazilian spread himself to block from Ben Gibson in a goalmouth scramble.
“It was of course not perfect, not even close,” added Klopp. “But that’s not important, what’s important is to get the result to build on and work with and we can work with this performance.”