Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman believes Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk has to perform better as he continues to have an underwhelming season by his lofty standards.
The 31-year-old was at his imperious best last season as the Reds went ever so close to winning the quadruple, but the 2022-23 campaign has proved to be a tough one for the towering Dutchman.
As cited by Liverpool Echo via Anfield Watch's Twitter account, Koeman believes Van Dijk will have to take more initiative at the back to retain his place in the team, with the Netherlands blessed with a handful of outstanding central defenders in Nathan Ake, Matthijs de Ligt, Stefan de Vrij and Jurrien Timber, among others.
Ronald Koeman on if Virgil van Dijk is still a certain starter for the Netherlands:
"Still, [Van Dijk] will have to be better. We are well endowed with central defenders. Of course, he got injured.
"A knee injury, a muscle injury and then a World Cup played in November, but I think his lesser form also has to do with the team he plays in. Liverpool were known for putting pressure and winning balls in midfield, so Virgil also got into less trouble.
"The chance of mistakes has now become many times greater. Of course he [Van Basten] is allowed to criticize. I also have that on Virgil. I have always said to Virgil: 'you should always assume that the player next to you makes a mistake'.
[I say] 'then you have to look: am I good? Good at the situation?' Sometimes he just has to enter the game much harder and shorter, but then he keeps his position too much. I also discuss that with Virgil."
ANFIELD WATCH VERDICT
Van Dijk hasn't been anywhere close to his best this season, but the Liverpool defender has enough credit left in the bank to prove his worth for club and country. He returned to the grandest stage with a bang last season after suffering an ACL injury in 2020 and has played way too much football since then, so he needs an extended period of rest, which he will get after the conclusion of the current campaign.
Koeman: "[I say] 'then you have to look: am I good? Good at the situation?' Sometimes he just has to enter the game much harder and shorter, but then he keeps his position too much. I also discuss that with Virgil."
— Anfield Watch (@AnfieldWatch) April 25, 2023
He is well and truly the leader of the Liverpool backline and is also the captain of the Dutch national team, indicating that he hasn't lost his powers overnight. That said, he will need to pull up his socks and look to return to his best in the coming weeks and months if he wants his spot in the team to be uncontested, be it for club or country.