Joe Gomez isn’t hiding his frustration at sitting on the bench, but has vowed to keep working hard in training to force a way back into the team.
Gomez and Van Dijk formed what looked set to be a long-term partnership before the Englishman’s season was all but ended by a leg fracture in December.
Joel Matip replaced him in the side and has found the form of his life over the past few months, largely keeping a fit-again Gomez on the bench.
The 22-year-old has only one start at centre-back this calendar year.
Happily, though, Gomez is looking to channel his frustration into motivation, and is waiting to seize his opportunity when it comes.
Asked following the win at MK Dons if it had been hard to take spending so much time on the bench, Gomez told the Evening Standard: “Yes, definitely. Obviously I have not been playing and obviously every footballer wants to be playing.
“At the same time I understand that we are the European champions and the lads are doing very well at the minute so all I can do is keep my head down, keep working hard in training and keep waiting for the right time.
“Until then, I have to keep working hard. You cannot sit there and be down. You have to stay positive and do yourself justice when the time comes.
“You need to show the good attitude otherwise you will do yourself harm.”
Gomez can’t dispute the excellent form of the incumbent pairing and is hopeful that observing Van Dijk, the best defender on the planet, closely can help him go up a level.
“Credit to them, they are doing unbelievably well – as well as the whole team – and as I say, I understand.
“Obviously it is frustrating for me at the same time because I want to be playing but it is what it is. I have to keep working hard.
“We have a great set of lads to learn from – Virgil as well, who I learn from every day.”
Patience is key for Gomez, who looks likely to be a consistent starter in the long-term given that he is six years Matip’s junior.
Matip is undroppable right now, but we shouldn’t forget just how good Gomez was prior to his injury. He and Van Dijk shipped only six league goals as a pairing from the start of the campaign until early December.