The incident between Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez serves as a warning to Liverpool.

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The incident between Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez serves as a warning to Liverpool.

The 11,000 spectators at Innsbruck’s Tivoli Stadion had to wait until the 69th minute before rising to their feet in applause.

It was, though, a moment that Liverpool had been looking forward to for more than nine months.

Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are back together at the heart of the Reds’ defense after a long absence.

Sure, it was only a brief appearance near the end of an admittedly entertaining 4-3 friendly loss to Hertha Berlin in Austria.

But, after all of the pain, mental anguish, disappointment, and arduous recuperation, this was a special moment for the two of them, a mix of joy and undeniable relief.

It was Van Dijk’s first appearance since he was scythed down by Jordan Pickford at Goodison Park last October, causing catastrophic knee ligament damage.

Meanwhile, Gomez had not been seen since rupturing his patella tendon in England’s training camp the following month.

The sight of Van Dijk walking out a good half-hour before the game and then warming up on the touchline during the second half elicited applause and songs from the crowd.

And the early touches from both following their arrival from the bench drew the greatest audience Jurgen Klopp’s side has played in front of since the coronavirus outbreak began in March 2020.

Van Dijk and Gomez have been greatly missed by a Liverpool team that spent much of the rest of the season tinkering with lineups before settling on a center-back pairing of Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams to get them over the line and into the Champions League.

Indeed, it was they who made way for Van Dijk and Gomez, an unconscious homage to the established hierarchy.

Of course, it was only a first step for the returning defenders, with Liverpool wary of putting too much pressure on them too soon. Setbacks are likely to occur after such a long absence, but they will be minimized.

The fact that Gomez had a caution quickly after coming in and Van Dijk was outfoxed by Stefan Jovetic for Hertha’s fourth goal highlighted the fact that optimum fitness and match sharpness remain a long way off.

It’s better to make those kinds of blunders in a forgiving preseason game than in the regular season.

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