Why Van Dijk is ready to become world's best defender
Liverpool Echo's Paul Gorst believes Van Dijk's path will be much smoother from now on
"This summer has been Van Dijk's first uninterrupted pre-season campaign since 2016, with the furore of last year's failed Anfield switch dominating the agenda as he tried to regain full fitness following an ankle injury that had ended his campaign in January 2017.
"In 2016, Van Dijk captained Southampton throughout all of their half-dozen pre-season fixtures, but the picture was lot different 12 months later. The centre-back was 'rested' for all five of the Saints' friendlies and the former Celtic star was forced to train alone in July last year as he was left out of a squad that made a pre-season trip to France.
"Then came the explosive public transfer request a month later, where the Dutchman pleaded to be allowed to join Liverpool. They fell on deaf ears. Southampton kept their centre-back who was eventually brought back into the fold without the benefit of much fitness work. There can be no denying those factors worked against Van Dijk at the beginning of last season too, as he started slowly for Pellegrino's Saints before the transfer was finally confirmed shortly after Christmas.
"Van Dijk's path to Anfield wasn't exactly clutter free, but the commanding centre-back made light of those roadblocks when he eventually arrived at the five-time European champions. Van Dijk has so far featured in all but two of the Reds' seven warm-up fixtures so far and will also play in the two to come against Napoli and Torino.
"The Dutchman hasn't missed a step since Kiev, looking assured, powerful and every inch a £75million centre-back. Unlike 12 months ago, Van Dijk has not had to deal with any distractions this time around and the task for the Netherlands skipper now is to become one of the planet's truly elite centre-backs."