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Jurgen Klopp may finally get Liverpool wish but Virgil van Dijk problem lingers – Liverpool Echo

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https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/jurgen-klopp-finally-liverpool-wish-20491313

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A testing season for Liverpool finally has the finish line in sight.

It’s less than a month now until Jurgen Klopp can puff out his cheeks and close the chapter on what has been, in the main, a campaign he won’t recall with fondness.

From the absence of fans to the apparent randomness of VAR, there has been plenty to furrow the brow of football folk across the Premier League this season.

Throw in a crippling injury crisis and a unwanted new record of successive home defeats and you can understand why Klopp will want to consign events of 2020/21 to the dustbin of history when the final whistle blows on May 23.

Liverpool, at least, still have the outside chance of finishing inside the top four in the closing few weeks of the season.

That is now the single objective left in the run-in, even if they are some way back from Chelsea and Leicester as we approach the start of May.

Wherever Liverpool land, though, Klopp’s reflection on events of the past eight months or so will only have an inquest-style tone to it as he looks to put right the myriad of things that have gone wrong for him and his team.

Perhaps the biggest issue, though, will start to ease off naturally for him as the weeks continue to go by.

The sight of Joel Matip back in light training this week was a heartening one for all concerned on that front.

The defender, whose injury record was sporadic at best before his campaign was ended early, was forced to concede defeat at the end of January when he suffered ankle ligament damage during the first half of the 3-1 win against Tottenham.

Matip will now undergo a specialised programme designed to help him avoid the niggling problems that have hampered his Anfield career in the last few years and limited him to just 10 Premier League appearances this term.

Since joining the club in the summer of 2016, Matip has made a grand total of 123 appearances for the Reds.

In contrast, Gini Wijnaldum – who joined that same transfer window – has nearly double that with 232.

Liverpool, then, will be desperate to see Matip come through his latest issue with a clean bill of health, aided by his new training regime.

Meanwhile Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk are progressing well in their own respective returns.

Van Dijk, who of course suffered anterior cruciate ligament damage at Everton in October, made just five top-flight appearances this term after previously playing back-to-back Premier League campaigns in full.

Gomez, whose own season-ending knee injury was suffered on England duty in November, was limited to seven games himself before Liverpool were forced to make do without his services.

That Matip – a player known for a lack of durability – was Liverpool’s most regularly spotted senior centre-back with 10 highlights exactly where the problems have stemmed from this season for Klopp.

It’s one that has had a destabilising effect on the rest of the team’s makeup, particularly at full-back where Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson have been unable to play their natural game to the maximum without the stability afforded to them by a regular partnership in the middle.

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It’s also rocked the boat further forward as Fabinho has been moved from his preferred role as a dominant defensive midfielder for large parts of the season.

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The same can also be said, to a lesser degree, of captain Jordan Henderson who has also been asked to fill in at the back at times.

With little but an outside tilt at the top four left to attack this season, Liverpool will be in no rush to get any of their centre-back trio fit for the run-in.

To do so would risk further setbacks at a time when Klopp is hopeful of having them all reporting for duty when the pre-season bleep tests are taken in early July.

“We all hope they will be ready to start pre-season with us, that’s what we all hope,” Klopp said earlier this year.

“These are really serious injuries and it is now not about talking about which competition they play.

“I am always open for positive surprises and they all of a sudden turn up in team training – but no-one told me that.”

Having all three of Klopp’s main centre-backs fit and raring to go for the new season will be a massive boost to hopes of getting back to the level that will enable them to seriously challenge Manchester City for the title once more.

Even more so when you consider that the Reds remain firmly in the market for a top-class centre-back when the transfer window opens to supplement what they already have currently on the injured list.

One issue that currently lingers, though, centres around the upcoming European Championships.

As far as Gomez is concerned, he will not be involved for Gareth Southgate’s England, but Van Dijk, as captain of the Netherlands, will be in demand.

With Van Dijk having been back on Merseyside and working to his own training schedule since around mid-February, only those with specialist insight will be able to assess the level of capabilities that the £75million man has at present.

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But there can be little denying that his recovery remains a promising one judging from the videos that have been released via social media in recent months.

A number of high-profile figures from Dutch football have been lining up to claim that Van Dijk must go to the Euros with Oranje this summer.

The legendary Marco van Basten said earlier this month that it would “benefit the player but also his club” while Dutch boss Frank de Boer also backed his skipper to make it in time.

Speaking in January, De Boer said: “If Virgil doesn’t get a kick-back and things go a little faster than expected, he should be able to make it for the opening European Championship match on June 13 against Ukraine.”

Klopp, though, has broached the topic with a little less optimism, understandably.

The German said last month: “When do you have to be back to be ready to play in the Euros? The week before? The day the Euros start? I don’t know.

“I understand maybe the need of that but we cannot make this decision and we will not. They will be fit when they are fit.

“It is not my decision but to be honest the information I have at the moment is that it will be unlikely.”

After having a season blighted by issues for his centre-backs, Klopp could be heading for a different kind of problem as the Euros head into focus.

But it will certainly be more preferable to the one he has endured this year.

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