LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 24, 2023: Liverpool's captain Virgil van Dijk celebrates his side's third goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Virgil van Dijk responds to claims he is now back to his best – “I know I wasn’t”

Virgil van Dijk believes his best form has returned ahead of his side’s top-of-the-table clash with Premier League champions Manchester City.

Van Dijk’s reputation as one of the world’s elite centre-backs has been under scrutiny since a knee injury in October 2020 sidelined him for nine months and last season’s campaign only intensified the criticism.

The Dutchman, who took over the captaincy from Jordan Henderson in the summer, does not back away from the fact he was well below his best as Liverpool finished fifth last term, but he believes there has been an upturn in his form and he is feeling “important” again.

“Last year saw ups and downs, good games and less good games,” said the Netherlands captain.

“I’m held to a very high standard and I still am. That’s what I’ve created and I enjoy that. If that’s not the case then something’s not right.

“But I feel like I am in good moment physically and mentally and I feel like I am important. I just feel very good and I want to keep going.

“For me the most important thing is how I feel, what my team-mates feel about me and especially the manager. All the noise from the outside, whether it is very good or very bad you can’t do anything with it.

“I want to keep improving and I definitely feel I did.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 11, 2023: Liverpool's captain Virgil van Dijk applauds the supporters after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brentford FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Van Dijk’s biggest critics are in his homeland, with the likes of Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit among the most outspoken.

He has brushed it off in the past and continues to do so, with his form appearing to be peaking ahead of Saturday’s trip to face leaders City.

“The only thing I can influence is how I play and last year I know I wasn’t at my best,” added the Dutchman when asked about the criticism.

“I had good games and lesser good games and I just have to perform on the pitch.

“What I strive for each and every game but also all season is consistency, that the team can rely on me at a certain level all the time and this year definitely off the pitch with the captaincy, something I enjoy and am learning still.

“I’m not perfect but I’m doing it my way and enjoying the challenge.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, October 5, 2023: Liverpool's captain Trent Alexander-Arnold during the UEFA Europa League Group E matchday 2 game between Liverpool FC and Union SG at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

While Van Dijk is relishing wearing the armband for club as well as country, he has also seen a change in Trent Alexander-Arnold, the new vice-captain.

“I hope [the vice-captaincy] has helped him. Whether he likes it or not, and I think he does like it, he has to take that responsibility,” he said.

“He will grow into it. He’s not the most vocal guy out there but he is learning and doing his thing and it’s really good how he copes with it, especially off the pitch and taking that responsibility.

“It is a new role but it suits him, especially as a local guy who knows everything about the club.”