Virgil van Dijk makes forgettable Southampton return in heavy defeat to Aston Villa under-23s
Virgil van Dijk made his long-awaited comeback this evening but looked anything like the most valuable defender in world football after his lack of match fitness was fully exposed by two Aston Villa teenagers. Having being forced to stay this season at Southampton despite acrimoniously handing in a transfer request, Van Dijk made what was his first appearance for the club since January in an Under-23 fixture at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium. Van Dijk’s inactivity was then fully evident in a 4-0 defeat that included three goals in which he was at least partially culpable. He was caught out after just 13 minutes for the first when he stepped out for an attempted interception but was side-stepped by Jordan Cox who then fired a low shot past Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy. The 18-year-old Cox was then again too quick as he controlled the ball to Van Dijk’s and then left smashed his finish past McCarthy. Van Dijk gets to grips with Aston Villa's Jonathan Kodjia Credit: ASTON VILLA FC Van Dijk was blameless for the third after Richard Bakary’s underhit backpass was exploited by Corey Blackett-Taylor but the 26-year-old again looked rusty for the fourth when he stood off another 18-year-old – Callum O’Hare – and allowed him to finish past McCarthy. Regardless of the result and performance, Southampton will just be relieved to see Van Dijk back out on the pitch. He attracted interest from a series of leading clubs this summer, most notably Liverpool, and is valued well in excess of the £54 million record defensive fee that Manchester City paid for Kyle Walker. Van Dijk was not involved in Southampton’s first team training and matches until the transfer window closed amid concerns about his commitment and focus. It meant that he has not played competitively since seriously injuring his ankle against Leicester City eight months ago but manager Mauricio Pellegrino invited him back into first-team training last week and now wants to again involve him in the senior team just as soon as he has recovered his match fitness.