‘We are all human beings and maybe that affected him a little bit’: Virgil van Dijk backs Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah to take his form to new heights this season after clearing up his future by signing a new contract
- Virgil van Dijk has heaped praise on Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah
- The Dutchman believes Salah can take his form to higher levels in 2022-23
- Reds centre-back also believes Erling Haaland will be a nightmare for defenders
- Liverpool beat Manchester City 3-1 in Saturday’s Community Shield in Leicester
Virgil van Dijk expects Mohamed Salah to take his form to higher levels after clearing his mind of the contract issues that became a distraction.
Liverpool continued their preparations for the new campaign by winning the Community Shield on Saturday, with Salah’s performance one of many highlights for manager Jurgen Klopp in a 3-1 win over Manchester City. The Egypt forward thrashed home a penalty and assisted his side’s opening goal.
Salah set the tone for Liverpool as early as the third minute when he scurried away from Joao Cancelo, and was so happy to receive the trophy at the end that he almost jumped into the Reds fans who were celebrating at Leicester’s King Power Stadium.
Virgil van Dijk says Mohamed Salah could reach new levels of performance for Liverpool
The Egyptian was on the scoresheet for Liverpool in the 3-1 win at King Power Stadium
Though Salah won the PFA and FWA Player of the Year awards last season, his form tapered off. Now he has signed a contract that will keep him at Anfield until June 2025, Van Dijk feels it will prove to be liberating for the 30-year-old.
‘He’s under the microscope all of the time — he created that himself. He’s such a good player and he shows that all the time,’ said Van Dijk. ‘At the end of the season, there was a lot of talk about his contract.
‘We are all human beings and maybe that affected him a little bit, unfortunately. But he still showed high levels and quality, played with a free mind and he’s happy to be here — everyone is happy to be here.’
There was certainly plenty of reason for the squad to be content with the way they performed against City, not least because Darwin Nunez — Liverpool’s statement signing of the transfer window — had such a profound impact on the game.
Liverpool bagged the first trophy of the season and put down an early marker to Man City
Summer signing Darwin Nunez came off the bench to nod in the third goal on his Reds debut
His header led to the penalty that Salah dispatched after an intervention from VAR. The Uruguay star then wrapped up victory by diving to head in from close range. It was a goal that meant the world to him and he was mobbed by his team-mates, who raced the length of the pitch to be with him.
Van Dijk also marked his Liverpool debut with a headed goal in a big game — against Everton in the FA Cup third round in 2018 — and he wants to see Nunez’s career on Merseyside follow a similar trajectory to his own.
‘For him it’s the same as me,’ said Van Dijk. ‘The transfer fee is not something you should think about. He just has to keep his head down, work hard and be an important player.
Erling Haaland failed to impress, but Van Dijk expects him to be ‘horrible’ for defenders
‘I don’t speak Spanish, so I don’t speak with him yet! That’s quite difficult at the moment but we have plenty of experienced players who speak to him at any chance that’s possible. He learns a lot in training and sees how we want to play, how we defend and attack.
‘He just has to focus on himself and the team. He has to improve, get settled in as quickly as possible and the way to do that is to learn in training.
‘He shouldn’t look at what others have to say about his performances. That’s the key to success. If you perform then you’ll be fine. Don’t get distracted.’
Nunez emerged on top from a game that had been billed as a shootout between him and Erling Haaland. City’s marquee signing had a challenging game and got little change out of Van Dijk, but it was revealing to hear the Netherlands defender’s thoughts on the forward.
Haaland might have missed some opportunities, including hitting the bar from six yards, but he went head-to-head with Van Dijk — flattening him at one point with an accidental, flailing arm — and Van Dijk has no doubts about the Norwegian’s ability.
‘He has a lot of qualities which can make life difficult for defenders,’ said Van Dijk. ‘He will make defenders’ lives in England horrible. He is so direct, he has everything: he can head the ball, he’s quick.’