Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk admits he has to improve his performances, not because of the scrutiny he is receiving but because he feels a responsibility for their inconsistent form.
The Netherlands captain’s season has matched that of the team in not quite being at the highest level and, as a result, a player who has regularly been hailed as the world’s best defender has come in for criticism.
Van Dijk pointedly called out ex-professionals-turned-pundits for not appreciating the current situation at Anfield – they have eight players injured – but accepts he and the team have to raise their standards.
“What we did last week (losing 4-1 against Napoli) was unacceptable, all of us, and the days after that game we definitely had a reality check,” he said.
“The obvious criticism is there, but ex-pros and players who have played at this level know there are times when you can have a blip, a period like this unfortunately, and it is how you react to it.
“They have been in our situation and everyone has been acting like you can’t have a bad period, a difficult game or a difficult situation.
“It is too easy to say these type of things, but they are doing their job and that is what they do. I would never go down that route (being a pundit), I think.”
On the focus being on him, the Dutchman, who has been captaining the side when James Milner has not been selected in the absence of the injured Jordan Henderson, added: “That’s the good and the bad thing about it. If we do well I obviously get praise and if we don’t then I don’t.
“But I still think I need to improve and that’s fine. The only way to do it is to play the games, learn from the mistakes, don’t listen to the outside world too much, speak to the people close to you.
“I’ve said it many times, we are all human beings and we all want to do as well as we can and the same goes for me. I know for a fact I can do much better, but we all can do better.
“I feel very hurt if we concede goals and don’t keep clean sheets and I feel that responsibility, but that’s a good thing.
“I want to turn this season around not for myself, but for all of us associated with the club and we want to perform as good as we can.”
Even then they were not defensively resilient enough to keep out their opponents and that frailty has been one of the major causes of the problems.
But Van Dijk believes the Ajax win has given them a base on which to build.
“There are reasons for it why it is not going so well. I think the reasons have been highlighted, especially the game against Napoli,” he said.
“We were absolutely shocking that night, we know it, it hurts all of us, it hurts me.
“We spoke about it, we drew a line under it and we showed glimpses (against Ajax) of what we normally are. We are good if we perform as a team.
“That’s the reason behind the success we had over the last five years. We press as a team, we defend as a team and if you start doing it in bits and people are not in the best form of their life it is tough.
“Everyone wants to do as well as they can, but if you are not in the same connection you can have performances like we had last week.
“I think it is a good start to be where we want to be again, we don’t get carried away as things can change easily, but we have to be positive, believe in our structure and believe in ourselves.”