Former Premier League striker Paolo di Canio claims that Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk is “not the same player” he was before his injury.
The Netherlands international missed the rest of last season for the Reds after sustaining a knee injury during last October’s Merseyside derby draw in 2020, with the centre-half undergoing surgery soon after.
Van Dijk returned in time for the new season and has played 21 of Liverpool’s 23 Premier League matches this campaign.
There has been some criticism of the Liverpool centre-back this campaign with Graeme Souness and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink frustrated by his performance in their 2-2 draw against Chelsea earlier in the season.
Liverpool come up against Serie A giants Inter Milan on Wednesday in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie with former West Ham star Di Canio pointing to Van Dijk as a potential weak link.
“Had it been in October or November, when the English side tend to give their best, I’d have bet less on Inter,” Di Canio told La Gazzetta dello Sport magazine SportWeek.
“Inter do still have an international level this season, as they only lost against Real Madrid due to a lack of clinical finishing, not certainly ideas or style.
“At this stage of the season, Liverpool have some small cracks in the armour that can be exploited. The Liverpool of two years ago had an impenetrable defence, as Virgil van Dijk had improved everyone around him. Since returning from injury, he’s not the same player and therefore the whole team concedes more.
“Liverpool keep conceding the same dangerous opportunities nowadays, vertical balls behind the defenders, who then start their runs late. That lack of focus is where Inter can hurt them.
“If you also look at Van Dijk’s body language, he used to move his arms to bring the full-backs tighter, but now he just flails his arms, complaining and looking frustrated with his team-mates.”
Looking ahead to the match against Liverpool, Inter assistant coach Massimiliano Farris said after their draw with Napoli on Saturday: “We’re Inter and we have to take this feeling of momentum into that match. Sure, the draw was not positive, but it’s fine. We have the quality to give them some difficulty.”