Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is optimistic his handling of Virgil Van Dijk’s game time will be a short-term plan rather than a policy which will have longer implications.
Prior to his season-ending knee injury last October the Netherlands captain had played in every Premier League match, and virtually every minute of those games, and missed just one Champions League tie through suspension in the previous two campaigns.
Although he completed rehabilitation from surgery on anterior cruciate ligament surgery in time to be fit for the start of the season, Klopp is wary of the need to ease him back.
Van Dijk was rested for the Champions League win over AC Milan (Mike Egerton/PA)
The influential centre-back was rested for Wednesday’s 3-2 Champions League victory over AC Milan, when his absence was felt as the visitors scored twice in six chaotic minutes.
He will return for Crystal Palace’s visit to Anfield and Klopp hopes the short-term pain of occasionally being without his talismanic defender in the early part of the season will lead to a long-term gain.
“I would rather say it’s a short-term thing. We are still in the extended pre-season if you want, especially for him having had a long time out,” said the Reds boss.
“He was completely fine. He could have played, definitely, but I want to be sensible in these moments now because I have to be.
For the Milan game it worked really well but it will not be like that I now always do exactly that and say Virgil is not ready to play in a gameLiverpool manager Jurgen Klopp
“For the Milan game it worked really well but it will not be like that I now always do exactly that and say Virgil is not ready to play in a game but we are early in the season and it was the right thing to do.”
Van Dijk is set to play his 100th Premier League match for the club and will most likely do so alongside Joel Matip, who will also bring up his century.
The former Cameroon international has been at the club 18 months longer than the Dutchman but has been plagued by niggling injuries, while last season was also ended prematurely for him by an ankle problem in January.
But he was the senior partner for the Milan game alongside Joe Gomez, the third centre-back working his way back from serious injury, has not missed a minute of football so far this campaign and has excelled.
“I cannot help people who do not see the quality of Joel Matip,” added Klopp.
“He was a bit unlucky in the past with injury here and there, maybe not always the most difficult things, but he is a big boy, a big player, tall and can look from time to time a bit ‘edgy’ or whatever but he is an incredible player.
“He’s always been incredible since he joined us. We needed the quality. We now have five top-class centre-halves (Nat Phillips is the other) and that’s good to have and necessary.”
Another player who has started the season in top form is Mohamed Salah, who has scored in four of his five appearances this season – which included his 100th Premier League goal.
The club have agreed a raft of new deals with senior players this year but Salah, who has just under two years left on his contract, is one who has yet to be tied down.
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Negotiations have not affected his performances and that makes Klopp happy.
“There’s nothing really to say, especially from me, I am not involved,” said the German on the contract issue.
“Obviously I am interested in how sharp he looks and how committed he is. He’s spot on. He looks really good. There is nothing else to say.”