By Carl Markham, PA
Virgil van Dijk does not believe missing out on Champions League football makes Liverpool any less attractive to potential new signings.
The last-gasp 1-1 draw at home to Aston Villa all-but ended the club’s unlikely pursuit of a top-four place as they now require either Newcastle or Manchester United to lose both their remaining matches.
It is the remotest of possibilities but as transfer planning is well advanced and with Liverpool’s desired rejuvenation of their midfield no secret, Van Dijk insists players will not be deterred from joining even if they face the prospect of playing Europa League football.
“Obviously the chances to reach Champions League football were quite slim but now it makes it more difficult,” said the Netherlands captain.
“Pre-season will be massive. I’m very excited for next season. I think that feeling came a couple of months ago when we turned the page.
“Obviously there’s still a lot to work on but the good thing in this case is that we have the whole pre-season to work on this and that’s definitely the plan.
“The noises I’m hearing, it’s going to be a very intense pre-season with a lot of physical work but also a lot of tactical work trying to get ready for a tough season.
“Players are leaving, hopefully players come in and will be ready for the start of pre-season.
“Everybody knows we’ve been going through a little bit of a transition and, if I’m a player on the rise and I have options to go to the next step and Liverpool is knocking on my door, then I would be very interested.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 20, 2023
“I don’t think it’s going to change much but, if someone wants to play Champions League no matter what then that’s their ambition.”
While the draw was not the send off they wanted to give their departing quartet of players, there was the fitting moment of Roberto Firmino coming off the bench to score an 89th-minute equaliser on his final appearance in front of the Kop.
The Brazil international will leave next month when his contract expires, along with midfielders James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita, and leaves a huge hole to fill having been an integral part of Jurgen Klopp’s game-plan.
January signing Cody Gakpo appears his heir-apparent, having performed the central false nine role in the majority of his appearances.
Compatriot Van Dijk admits it will be impossible to replace Firmino but thinks Gakpo will grow into the role.
“Bobby (Firmino) has been a very big part of the goals and the assists, together with Sadio (Mane) and Mo (Salah), and that creates the headlines,” he said.
“But all the other stuff that the other three have been doing as well shouldn’t go unnoticed and that’s why they’re very respected within the group and also Liverpool fans.
“I think it’s a very difficult role to play and I think Cody’s doing exceptional. He’s still learning, still adapting. In my opinion, Bobby has been one of the best in this role.
“Cody, it’s his first six months and he’s already doing so well, so that’s a positive sign and he has to keep going, keep both feet on the ground – and listen to me!”