Jurgen Klopp described Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez‘s return for Liverpool as the “first step” as his centre-back pair played for the first time in 2021 against Hertha Berlin.
A long 285 days after his ACL injury in the Merseyside derby, Van Dijk was back on the pitch as a late substitute in the Reds’ 4-3 pre-season friendly defeat.
He was joined on the touchline by Gomez, 261 days after his own knee injury suffered on England duty, as they took over from Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams for the final 20 minutes against Hertha.
It wasn’t the ideal result for the pair, with Van Dijk in particular involved as Stefan Jovetic scored his second of the night to seal victory for the Bundesliga outfit.
But it was a monumental occasion for both, as they got through their cameo appearance without issue and were cheered on by a 15,000-strong crowd in Innsbruck.
Klopp was among those watching on with a smile as their every touch got a positive reception, and speaking to LFCTV after the game he welcomed a “really important” step.
“It was a nice feeling,” the manager said.
“[They] started immediately well, and usually they all know that but the fourth goal is a clear situation [they can deal with].
“I’m not sure,  days for Virg, not much less for Joe, so it’s nice to have them back. It was the first step, really important.”
The priority at this stage is game time for Van Dijk and Gomez, and managing their minutes when they are able to pick them up, rather than performance.
With four more friendlies to go – including two 60-minute games against Bologna next week that could see them play at least half an hour – they can continue to build up their workload before the campaign kicks off.