Virgil van Dijk has hit back at pundits who have criticized his Liverpool sideThe Reds were blasted for their shocking performance against Napoli last weekThe defender spoke after Jurgen Klopp's side bounced back with a win over AjaxESPN's Craig Burley suggested Van Dijk could not handle the negative reaction

Craig Burley claimed Virgil van Dijk has been ‘smarting’ over criticism after the defender hit out at pundits who continue to criticize Liverpool players amid their rocky start to the season.

Jurgen Klopp’s side edged past Ajax thanks to an 89th-minute Joel Matip header as they got their first three points of their Champions League group at Anfield on Tuesday evening.

Van Dijk, who along with all his team-mates was roundly blasted for his performance in their European opener – a 4-1 thrashing against Napoli – told BT Sport that such pundits were only aiming to bring down morale at Liverpool.

Virgil van Dijk 'has clearly been smarting' over criticism despite having received 'enough praise to get him to the moon', claims ESPN's Craig Burley... but co-pundit Steve Nicol insists the Liverpool defender has a right to be 'prickly'

Virgil van Dijk hit out at pundits who criticize Liverpool players amid their poor start to season

Virgil van Dijk 'has clearly been smarting' over criticism despite having received 'enough praise to get him to the moon', claims ESPN's Craig Burley... but co-pundit Steve Nicol insists the Liverpool defender has a right to be 'prickly'

The Reds clinched their first points of the Champions League campaign thanks to Joel Matip

He said: ‘Coming back from the horror show in Naples it was very important to show a positive reaction. It’s not easy to turn it around, but it is a step in the right direction… It was very important to win going into the international break.

‘We are not listening to the outside world. A lot of ex-football players, who know exactly what we go through, they say a lot to get us down, but we know the last game was very bad and this was a step in the right direction.’

Following the explosive interview, ESPN’s Craig Burley claimed it suggested the defender has been ‘smarting’ from the criticism and could not handle the negative reaction, despite being lauded in the past.

Virgil van Dijk 'has clearly been smarting' over criticism despite having received 'enough praise to get him to the moon', claims ESPN's Craig Burley... but co-pundit Steve Nicol insists the Liverpool defender has a right to be 'prickly'

Post-match the defender claimed pundits were only aiming to bring down morale at Liverpool

‘Off the back of this thrashing in Naples, there was a lot of criticism for Alexander-Arnold and the back four, including Van Dijk,’ Burley said on ESPN FC. ‘He started carping on about ex-players and how they’ve forgotten.

‘It seems to me here’s a guy that has had enough praise to get him to the moon and back, and rightfully so because for the most part he’s been brilliant, but yet in this period when he himself has not been great and he hasn’t marshalled the back four very well, he seems to be smarting a little bit from the criticism.

‘I thought that was quite an interesting interview, not that there was a lot of words spoken but it was just his reaction.

‘I mean Des Kelly at BT didn’t even ask him about the criticism, there was not question about it, he just brought it up. So clearly it is in his mind.

Virgil van Dijk 'has clearly been smarting' over criticism despite having received 'enough praise to get him to the moon', claims ESPN's Craig Burley... but co-pundit Steve Nicol insists the Liverpool defender has a right to be 'prickly'

ESPN’s Craig Burley claimed it suggested the defender has been ‘smarting’ from the criticism

‘He also said, “we don’t take notice of what is said outside of these walls”, well clearly he does!

‘It was just interesting to me as a guy who has basically had all the platitudes in the world and Liverpool have hit a rocky road of which he has been part of, and clearly he’s been smarting a little bit from that criticism, there’s no doubt about that.’

However, Burley’s co-pundit Nicol claimed Van Dijk had a right to be ‘prickly’ as the former Liverpool right-back hoped the Dutchman’s reaction will help him get back to his best.

Nicol said: ‘When you’re playing, you don’t understand what goes on in the media and if anybody, whether it’s in the newspaper or on the TV, criticizes you, you don’t like it. Of course you’re prickly.

Virgil van Dijk 'has clearly been smarting' over criticism despite having received 'enough praise to get him to the moon', claims ESPN's Craig Burley... but co-pundit Steve Nicol insists the Liverpool defender has a right to be 'prickly'

Co-pundit Steve Nicol hoped the Dutchman’s reaction will help him get back to his best level

‘Craig was right with what he said about the plaudits, but it’s difficult in the cold light of day when you’re playing to go, “well, I’ve had a lot of plaudits so I should be able to take the criticism.”

‘That’s just not how you’re wired. If somebody criticizes you, you want to get them back and you want to show them every single time.

‘So I guess in some ways that might help Virgil van Dijk. Because clearly it got up his nose. And you know what, if that makes him go back to being the Virgil van Dijk that we praised then that’s fine by me.’

Klopp’s side, whose Napoli loss was their last game after the weekend’s Premier League fixtures were cancelled following the Queen’s death, opened the scoring via Mohamed Salah, with Mohammed Kudus equalizing before Matip’s late winner.

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