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The Athletic - LFC related articles

Discussion in 'The Football Forum' started by Hass, Jun 3, 2020.

  1. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Liverpool’s transfer window: Klopp is bullish even if fans are worried about lack of spending
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce Sept 1, 2021[​IMG] 380 [​IMG]
    A section of the fanbase fuming over Liverpool’s lack of transfer business. Concerns over whether Jurgen Klopp has sufficient depth to ensure they last the pace.
    This is where we were two years ago.
    Back then, the summer window shut with only Harvey Elliott, Sepp van den Berg, Adrian and Andy Lonergan brought on board. Two teenagers and two back up goalkeepers. Hardly a booming statement of intent from the new European champions.
    But the naysayers were soon silenced spectacularly. Liverpool took 79 Premier League points out of the first 81 on offer as they blew their domestic rivals away. It took a global pandemic to delay their coronation as title winners for the first time since 1990.
    Of course, given the calibre of the contenders, repeating the trick will be much more difficult this time around but memories of 2019-20 provide a reminder that improvement can come from within. Spending large sums of cash doesn’t guarantee anything. Ask last-placed, pointless, goalless Arsenal.
    How you reflect on Liverpool’s summer of 2021 in terms of transfers depends to a large extent on whether your glass is usually half full or half empty. The priority was to bolster the squad defensively and they landed their top target early with the £35 million purchase of centre-back Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig in late May.
    Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and Jordan Henderson have all since proved their fitness after overcoming last season’s serious injuries. The spine of the team that won the title has been restored.
    The focus for sporting director Michael Edwards has largely been on retaining key personnel for the long term and that’s been achieved impressively with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Alisson, Van Dijk, Andrew Robertson and Henderson signing new contracts.
    Those who shrug off the significance of those extensions ignore two things.
    First, it’s an expensive exercise keeping hold of world-class talent. Second, for a long time, Liverpool struggled to hold onto their best players. No longer are heads turned as was the case with Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho. Klopp recently spoke about how “real fans” would appreciate the importance of those negotiations reaching a successful conclusion.
    However, it’s also understandable why supporters hoped that one or two more new signings would follow Konate and now feel underwhelmed that nobody else was brought in.
    Georginio Wijnaldum wasn’t replaced following his move to Paris Saint-Germain after his contract expired. Several midfielders, including Borussia Monchengladbach’s Florian Neuhaus, came under consideration but no deal was pursued. Klopp is adamant he has sufficient midfield cover and the impact of exciting teenager Elliott in the early weeks of this season has certainly given him a new option in that department.
    [​IMG]

    Georginio Wijnaldum left for Paris Saint-Germain as a free agent (Photo: Aurelien Meunier – PSG/PSG via Getty Images)
    The greater need for a new face was arguably up front, to ease the burden on Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota. It requires a sizeable leap of faith to believe Takumi Minamino or Divock Origi will step up and deliver if called upon.
    Firmino should only be sidelined for a few weeks with the hamstring injury that forced him off against Chelsea on Saturday, but any absence in that department is likely to be keenly felt this season, not least the prospect of losing Salah and Mane to the Africa Cup of Nations for as much as a month from early in January. There are high hopes for young attacker Kaide Gordon, who is likely to be handed a debut in the Carabao Cup tie away to Norwich in three weeks, but he doesn’t even turn 17 until October and is still learning his trade.
    Why didn’t Liverpool do more in the window? Availability and affordability.
    They certainly didn’t raise as much from sales as they had initially hoped.
    Fringe players Kamil Grabara (to Copenhagen), Liam Millar (Basel), Marko Grujic (Porto), Taiwo Awoniyi (Union Berlin), Harry Wilson (Fulham) and Xherdan Shaqiri (Lyon) all departed on permanent deals, while Ben Davies (Sheffield United), Ben Woodburn (Hearts), Van den Berg (Preston North End), Leighton Clarkson (Blackburn Rovers), Jake Cain (Newport County), Sheyi Ono (Millwall) and Rhys Williams (Swansea City) have been farmed out on loan.
    The combined total generated of £42.8 million may suggest Liverpool made a profit this summer but that figure includes various add-ons that may never be triggered. Plus, under the terms of the Wilson deal, Fulham won’t start paying the £12 million fee for the Wales international until next summer.
    The big offers expected for Origi, Neco Williams and Nathaniel Phillips never materialised.
    Phillips will effectively be the fifth senior centre-back over the coming months after staying put and signing a new four-year contract.
    There will be no repeat of last season when the decision not to replace the departed Dejan Lovren was compounded by an unprecedented defensive injury crisis and Liverpool were left exposed. This time around, Klopp is well stocked.
    During a crazy flurry of transfer activity in European football, Liverpool have been on the outside looking in.
    Manchester City and Chelsea spent vast sums on Jack Grealish and Romelu Lukaku. Manchester United brought in Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo.
    “We can’t spend money we don’t have,” Klopp said recently, a nod to the self-sustaining business model of Liverpool’s US owner Fenway Sports Group (FSG). “You cannot compare to the other clubs. They obviously don’t have any limits but we have limits and we were quite successful given the limits in the last two years.”
    There are no secrets over where Liverpool’s cash goes. It’s there in black and white in the accounts every year.
    The wage bill is vast. They moved to a new £50 million training ground last November. There’s £60 million being spent on redeveloping the Anfield Road end of their stadium.
    With revenues plummeting by more than £120 million, Liverpool were hit harder than most by the pandemic. They haven’t got an oligarch or a sheikh to pick up the shortfall. FSG won’t take what it deems to be unnecessary risks.
    That’s not defending FSG, it’s stating facts. A sense of frustration among supporters is understandable. Klopp pulled off a minor miracle qualifying for the Champions League in third place given all the adversity he was faced with last season and there’s a nagging sense that not all issues have been addressed since.
    A window of missed opportunity? Will FSG live to regret not digging deeper, given the riches that success brings? Klopp certainly won’t look for excuses or bleat about not being given sufficient funds. He’s bullish about the array of talent at his disposal. On the back of those new contracts, the return to fitness of key players and the emergence of youth, his belief is unwavering. He sees his current personnel ready to “take the next step”.
    Whether you share the manager’s optimism or fear the repercussions of Liverpool’s inactivity in the transfer market, only time will tell whether you’re right.
     
  2. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    What happens when a player has to return to a club they wanted to leave?
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    By Simon Hughes Sept 2, 2021[​IMG] 46 [​IMG]
    It is not like it used to be for the wantaway footballer, those players who must re-enter the dressing room they wanted to abandon after a transfer breaks down.
    Consider the story of Frank Worthington, whose transfer from Bolton Wanderers to Birmingham City in 1977 was on the brink of collapse when he turned up at Burnden Park for a training session to the sound of Mick Jagger singing You Can’t Always Get What You Want coming from a record player. Bolton’s squad had set the whole thing up and they roared with laughter. Worthington laughed with them. Then they all went back to work. Worthington was selected on the Saturday for Bolton and he scored.
    It might be tempting to see Worthington as an exception in a different era. He was a maverick footballer and he led a maverick life, making headlines on the fronts of newspapers as well as on the back pages. Yet the process of the 14 professional deals he was involved in were largely conducted with the sort of privacy that few — if any — high-profile players can enjoy today.
    As one top-level agent with a stable of elite clients says, “That’s what makes it so different when an agreement blows up in your face — everybody usually knows about it. You have an ego and you have embarrassment. Players have to explain themselves to their families, who have been thinking of a future elsewhere. They go back to a club everybody knows they don’t want to be at with their tail between their legs. They have to find a way to manage their relationship with the fans.”
    So, what happens then? Worthington would eventually earn that move to Birmingham but he was, in part, able to carry on at Bolton as he had before because nobody outside of the club knew what had happened.
    By comparison, Harry Kane did not just have to deal with Tottenham Hotspur’s supporters after Manchester City ended their interest in him this summer. Kane is England’s property, the Premier League’s property as well. He is a protagonist in the unscripted drama of English football, a figure everyone with an interest in the game will have some form of an opinion on. “All of this needs managing,” the agent stresses.
    Unsettled players such as Kane rarely encounter problems with their team-mates, who tend to understand that transfers are a feature of the modern game. Very few footballers stick around at the same club for their entire career. In most cases, they will have manipulated the circumstances to force a move themselves. “For Harry, re-entering the Spurs dressing room hasn’t been a problem because of his status,” says a source close to the club and the player. “He’s the (England) captain, he’s professional. Everyone at the club wanted him to stay.”
    A lot of people wanted Wayne Rooney to stay at Manchester United rather than join Chelsea, of course — the most recent example before Kane of a leading English player expressing his desire to move to another top English club.
    Not every circumstance is the same, however. Kane knows there is ambition at Tottenham but questions linger over whether there is the knowledge and funding to get them there. Ultimately, he wanted to move this summer because of his age (he turned 28 in July) and the lack of trophies to show for an otherwise successful career. Time is ticking.
    Rooney, on the other hand, had already won a stack of medals but he was worried about United’s trajectory following contract negotiations. Could they still attract the best players?
    He ended up being convinced he should stick around, whereas Kane did not have any other option.
    Rooney was 24 in that summer of 2010 and senior players at United helped kick-start the reintegration process quickly. Rooney had released a statement shortly before a Champions League game announcing his intention to depart. Within 24 hours, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs had gone to him and said he should apologise to the rest of the squad for potentially disrupting their preparations. Rooney agreed and a few months later, Neville and Giggs were “delighted” when a new deal at Old Trafford was sorted out.
    [​IMG]

    Rooney remained popular at United despite his links to a City move (Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)
    There are more recent examples of players helping players.
    Luis Suarez was desperate to leave Liverpool for Arsenal in the summer of 2013 when Steven Gerrard, who almost engineered his own move away from Anfield eight years earlier, stepped in.
    Gerrard could see the strain on his team-mate’s relationship with manager Brendan Rodgers. Suarez had become a disruptive influence. Rodgers banished the Uruguayan to train alone. Gerrard remembers not being able to eat his dinner. He concluded that, without Suarez, it would have been impossible for Liverpool to progress. This led to the Liverpool captain texting Suarez and arranging a meeting with Rodgers. Though the manager and the striker’s relationship was never the same, he proceeded to score the goals that sent Liverpool to the brink of their first title in 24 years.
    At the end of that season, Suarez got his move — but instead of Arsenal, he went to Barcelona.
    Clubs have since become more organised when such situations arise.
    In the Premier League, there are reports of long conference calls between managers, agents, owners and liaison officers to formulate PR strategies aimed at quelling the talk around a player. The most convenient reaction from the player’s point of view is to swiftly perform at his best, “because players in form are happy and this changes the conversation about him very quickly,” says a former press officer at a Premier League club. “The aim, one way or another, is to try and claw back in the club’s favour anything that has been lost in the process of a move that has failed.”
    In the end, a long ban for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic late in the 2012-13 season helped Suarez. The time on the sidelines forced him out of the public eye in the weeks following his stand-off with Rodgers — a period in which Liverpool performed well without him. Upon his return, fans quickly forgot what had happened and backed him — partly because they shared his frustrations. Liverpool were nowhere near where many thought they should be.
    A similar thing happened with Philippe Coutinho, who was shielded from the backlash he could have received for attempting to leave Liverpool by the September 2017 international break.
    The club did their best throughout this period to dismiss any notion that Coutinho’s behaviour, which privately included him claiming he had a back strain only for scans to reveal there were no signs of injury, had been a problem. Sources suggested at the time that Coutinho was sulking because he could not get what he wanted and his attitude was “polluting” conversations in an otherwise optimistic dressing room.
    Manager Jurgen Klopp was willing to let the Brazilian leave because of this but the club’s principal owner John W Henry dug his heels in, having felt backed into a corner in the same way he did when Arsenal went after Suarez four years earlier.
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    Philippe Coutinho finally signed for Barcelona in January 2018 (Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images)
    This is where Klopp’s pragmatic side kicked in.
    He knew Coutinho wanted to go. He knew Coutinho would not get what he wanted, at least not for the next four months. He agreed that he should be sold if the fee was right. Klopp was unimpressed by the player’s attitude. Yet he began to work with him rather than against him, as other managers might.
    On this occasion, he was able to resist the temptation of telling him exactly what he thought because he knew the player could still be valuable to him on the pitch. Good performances had the potential, after all, to increase his transfer value further. And that is what happened. His move, also to Barcelona, in the following January remains a British record.
    Rather than Kane, it will arguably be more interesting to see what happens to James Rodriguez at Everton over the next few months.
    Unlike Kane, Everton wanted to sell Rodriguez — and he was desperate to leave. It is, therefore, not as easy for him to slip back into his old ways, as Kane might at Spurs or Gerrard once did at Liverpool. Having only joined Everton a year ago this week, the Colombian is not familiar with the club or the place. Carlo Ancelotti, the manager who signed and indulged him after they had worked together at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, has left. Will successor Rafa Benitez recognise Rodriguez’s talent and try to work with him? The midfielder, allegedly, clashed with Benitez during their time at Real Madrid. Rodriguez performed well initially for Everton under Ancelotti, but it is difficult to see where he fits in now.
    Staying patient and allowing his contract to run down is a viable option since it is up in 10 months but if that happens, it will cost the club north of £10 million in wages. Alternatively, Benitez could find a way to use him between now and January — as Klopp did with Coutinho — and improve the chances of getting him off the wage bill when the winter window opens.
    Whatever route Benitez chooses, it will take energy, thought and persuasion.
    This is a manager, after all, who once described football as “a lie”.
     
  3. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Superman pose, power and mindfulness: Examining Salah’s Liverpool penalties
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    By Caoimhe O'Neill and Mark Carey Sept 4, 2021[​IMG] 41 [​IMG]
    Mohamed Salah always seems to be on his way towards breaking one record or another.
    The Liverpool forward’s next Premier League goal, for example, will be his 100th in the competition.
    But Salah becoming the 30th member of the “100 Club”, as he will likely do in the coming weeks, is not our focus here. Instead, it is his penalty-taking record.
    Of the 15 penalties he has taken in the Premier League since signing from Roma in the summer of 2017, the Egyptian has missed just one. And that was his first, against Huddersfield Town at Anfield that October, when he was denied by Jonas Lossl in the first half of a match Liverpool went on to win 3-0.
    Since then, he has gone on an impressive run of scoring every penalty he has taken for the club in all competitions. That is 17 in total. You would be hard-pressed to find a player with a better accumulative record.
    Salah’s 14th consecutive penalty scored in the league came against his former club Chelsea at Anfield last weekend. It puts him joint-second on the list of longest penalty-scoring runs in the Premier League.
    The 29-year-old is now level with Alan Shearer and Leighton Baines.
    Scoring his next spot-kick will see him surpass the two former England internationals, but Salah has his work cut out to chase down Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier’s incredible return of 23 in a row.
    [​IMG]
    Salah was described in commentary as “the calmest man in the building” when he blasted the ball beyond Edouard Mendy from the spot to level things up against Chelsea last weekend — but what is it that makes his penalties so hard to keep out?
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    His coolness is certainly among his strengths. He handles the pressure extremely well and a lot of this is down to how he is able to centre his focus in the seconds leading up to taking a penalty.

    The stance

    To determine why Salah is so good from the spot, first we must look at his power stance.
    Salah likes to start his run-up from right of centre in the middle of the D. He places his hands on his hips as the below still, taken from the Manchester City game in February this year, demonstrates.
    [​IMG]
    This Superman-style pose not only keeps his arms out of the way, it allows his chest to open up. TV cameras often pan onto Salah as he is inhaling and exhaling before approaching the spot.
    The mindfulness he practises here is not something he is alone in doing — most players take deep breaths in this situation, but it is one of the things that is crucial to his success from 12 yards out.
    As we can see below, Salah quickly snaps out of the stance once his run-up begins and we see his arms loosen.
    [​IMG]

    The run-up

    This is something Salah has honed during his time at Liverpool.
    He takes three or four (usually three) side-skips further to the right and once he reaches the edge of the box he takes five or six steps (usually five) towards the ball.
    Before his final step, where his right foot gets planted next to the ball, Salah is already loading up his left foot for release.
    His technique is on display in the below video of a penalty he scored, also against Manchester City, in November 2020.


    The force

    Salah rarely ever rolls the ball into the net and has never been the type of player to attempt a panenka. There are no mind games or toying with the goalkeeper.
    He picks a spot in what is known as the goalkeeper-independent method, which is the same technique Harry Kane uses for Tottenham Hotspur and England. Salah shows no fear when stepping up and will put as much pace on the shot as possible. He is also confident enough to hit the ball down the centre of the goal.
    [​IMG]
    In the above image, he caught West Ham United’s Lukasz Fabianski out at Anfield last October with a low, driven finish. Seven of his 14 goals have been low shots.
    Salah had also opted to blast the ball right down the middle from the spot for his first goal of last season against Leeds United. For the penalty that became the winning goal that same day, however, he decided to curve a shot to Illan Meslier’s right.


    The placement
    Salah rarely fires the ball tightly into the corners of the net and he always hits the target.
    [​IMG]
    He clearly favours shooting to his left (the goalkeeper’s right), with six of his 14 Premier League penalty goals going in that direction.
    Again, note that none were fired right into the corners. This reflects the onus Salah puts on power over placement. That accuracy makes it extremely difficult for goalkeepers to deny him, even if his shots are within their reach.
    That one miss against Huddersfield nearly four years ago was hit to the right so perhaps this is part of the reason the Egyptian tends to direct his spot kicks to the left or more centrally.
    When looking through his gallery of successful penalties, it is no surprise to see Salah is just one away from equalling Jan Molby’s club record of scoring 18 in a row (in all competitions). Remarkably, converting 18 penalties in a row is something the Dane accomplished twice over 12 years at Liverpool from 1984.
    Goalkeepers will continue to study Salah’s spot kicks, just as we have here.
    But stopping them is another matter — especially when you consider how refined his process has become.
     
  4. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Samed Yesil: From playing for Liverpool at Anfield to working in a factory
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    By James Pearce Sept 6, 2021[​IMG] 50 [​IMG]
    Samed Yesil should be entering his prime.
    He was one of the biggest talents of his generation in Germany. He made his Bundesliga debut for Bayer Leverkusen when he was just 17.
    His prolific goalscoring at youth level for club and country earned him the nickname ‘Gerd’, after legendary striker Gerd Muller.
    Liverpool paid Leverkusen £1 million to sign him at age 18 in the summer of 2012 and he was soon rubbing shoulders with Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez at Melwood.
    He had the world at his feet.
    Now 27, Yesil’s life is far removed from the bright lights of the Premier League.
    Living in the city of Krefeld, north west of Dusseldorf, with wife Gonca and their young son Ilyas, he plays for DJK Teutonia St Tonis in the Oberliga Niederrhein, a regional league in the fifth tier of German football who train three times a week. From 7am until 3:30pm Monday to Friday, he works in a factory, building air filters.
    “It’s an amateur league, but it’s still a good league to improve yourself and get fit,” Yesil tells The Athletic.
    “We’ve taken four points out of six so far this season and I’ve got a few assists, so I want to build on that. It depends who we are facing but usually we get crowds of around 200 to 300. I’m sure if I can play 30 games this season and score 15 to 20 goals then I will move back up the leagues again.
    “The president of the club gave me a job in his company. I need to try ways into life post-football, in case I don’t get back into a professional league.”
    To say that Yesil has been dealt a bad hand would be an understatement.
    Devastating injury setbacks wrecked his time at Liverpool and since his contract there expired in 2016 he’s led a nomadic existence. However, despite all the adversity he’s been faced with, his spirit hasn’t been broken. He is engaging company as he relives a journey that cruelly veered off track after such a promising start.
    “Growing up, it was always my dream to become a footballer,” says Yesil, as he perches on the edge of his sofa.
    “I played for a small team in Dusseldorf before Leverkusen spotted me when I was 11 or 12. I signed my first professional contract with them when I was 16. That was the age when I first started playing for Germany.
    “Emre Can, a good friend of mine, was in my age group. So too was Kaan Ayhan, who now plays for (Serie A side) Sassuolo and (has over 40 caps for) the Turkey national team, and Odysseas Vlachodimos, who now plays for Benfica and Greece.”
    Yesil scored an impressive 20 goals in 22 appearances for Germany Under-17s. He was joint top-scorer at the Under-17 European Championship in 2011 as Germany lost the final to a Netherlands team including Memphis Depay, now starring for the Dutch senior side and Barcelona, and Manchester City’s Nathan Ake.
    He was second-leading goalscorer in the Under-17 World Cup later that same summer after finding the net on six occasions. He scored twice in a quarter-final win over an England side featuring Raheem Sterling and Jordan Pickford before Germany succumbed to hosts Mexico in the last four.
    “When people started calling me ‘Gerd’, I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t even know who Gerd Muller was. He played before I was born,” he says.
    “But I started to Google him and I watched all his goals. I realised then what a big honour it was. I could see that we were similar strikers in that all his goals were scored from inside the box — in my career, I think I’ve only ever scored one goal from outside the box.
    “I never felt pressure because of that comparison. I only took it as a compliment when they said I was like him.”
    [​IMG]

    Samed Yesil was prolific for Germany’s youth teams (Photo: Oliver Hardt/Bongarts/GettyImages)
    Former Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia was the manager who gave Yesil his senior bow for Leverkusen against Hertha Berlin in April 2012. He had forced his way into the first-team squad by scoring 58 goals in 74 games for the club’s under-17 and under-19 teams.
    “There was a lot of attention on me but I was just really happy to be involved at such a young age,” he says. “I’d been on the bench a few times before I got on. When I heard my name called out, I was so pleased. Sami was a good coach. In every training game, he played as a centre-back. Even though he was quite old (Hyypia was 39!) you could still see what a great defender he was.”
    That summer, Liverpool came calling. Brendan Rodgers had just taken over as manager. Yesil had recently turned 18.
    “I’d always wanted to play in England one day, but I didn’t think it would happen to me when I was so young,” he admits.
    “I was thinking more like when I was 25 or 26 but I was also happy that it happened. At the time, I didn’t know Liverpool were watching me and I was thinking of a transfer to maybe another club in the Bundesliga.
    “I only found out I was signing for Liverpool when I went to the airport and my agent showed me the flight tickets. It was a big surprise that they wanted me.
    “I never thought about clubs watching me when I did well at those international tournaments with Germany. Sometimes I’d read in the newspapers, ‘Arsene Wenger is trying to sign Samed Yesil for Arsenal’. But I never asked my agent if it was true. I just continued to play.
    “As soon as my agent told me that Liverpool wanted me, I just wasn’t interested in any other clubs. It was an easy decision to make. It was Liverpool. My mind was made up.
    “I moved over with my cousin. His English was much better than mine, so he helped me a lot with all the paperwork for things. At first, I lived in the Sefton Park area and then I moved to an apartment in the city. Everyone was so friendly. Liverpool was a nice place to live.”
    Yesil was initially based with the under-21s squad at the Kirkby academy but during the September international break he returned home and played in an under-19s friendly against an England team featuring Pickford, Sterling, Eric Dier, John Stones and James Ward-Prowse. He scored two goals and created the other in a 3-1 win.
    [​IMG]

    Yesil celebrates scoring past England’s Jordan Pickford in the 2011 Under-17 World Cup (Photo: Francisco Estrada/LatinContent via Getty Images)
    “Adam Morgan and Raheem, who were both already part of the first-team squad at Liverpool, played in that game,” he recalls.
    “When I flew back to Liverpool, I got a message from one of the coaching staff to say that, from the following day onwards, I would be training with the first team at Melwood rather than going to Kirkby.
    “It was like a dream. I only knew these players from the PlayStation and from watching games on TV. Now I was sharing a dressing room with Suarez, Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. I needed a few weeks to realise that it was really happening.
    “Brendan was so good. He always wanted to play football. Never long balls, always to play it short from the goalkeeper forwards and build attacks. I liked that.
    “I remember he said to me that when I’d learned good enough English he would give me a chance in the first team. So I got myself an English teacher who came to my apartment three times a week. After about four weeks, my English was good. I went to Brendan and said, ‘Coach, my English is much better now.’ He said, ‘OK, you will start in the League Cup against West Brom.’”
    On September 26, Yesil led the line for a team including Carragher and Jordan Henderson in front of 21,000 at The Hawthorns. Nuri Şahin scored twice and holders Liverpool advanced with a 2-1 win.
    “It was my first game in a full stadium and we were up against Romelu Lukaku, who is now one of the best strikers in the world,” he says. “It was a really good moment for me and one I will never forget. The shirt from that game is on the wall in my parents’ house.”
    A month later, he started the next round as Swansea City, the eventual winners, beat Liverpool 3-1 at Anfield. It proved to be his second and final senior appearance for the club.
    [​IMG]

    Yesil stretching next to Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher at Melwood (Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    “I know we lost but that night was something really special for me. It was amazing to play in front of the Kop. It’s difficult to find the right words for what it was like. You have to be on that pitch to feel it like that.
    “As the coach started to trust me more, I felt more comfortable. I started to know my team-mates better and I spoke to more of them. I felt like I had become part of the squad.
    “I knew I still had a lot to improve but I wanted to learn and get more minutes. In Suarez, I was learning from one of the best strikers in the world. How he trained, how he finished, it was incredible.”
    Yesil’s problems began the following February.
    He was playing for Germany Under-19s in a friendly away to their Italy counterparts when he tore the ACL in his right knee.
    “The game wasn’t played on grass. It was on an artificial pitch and as I went to change direction, my leg stopped and my knee turned,” he says. “There was some pain but I didn’t think it was serious. I actually played on. After the game, I went to see the doctor. He did all the tests and said it was probably just a bit painful because of the pitch.
    “When I got back to Liverpool I went out to train but, after about 20 minutes, I had to stop because the pain was so bad. They sent me for an MRI scan and that showed my ACL was badly damaged. I went to London for an operation.”
    After eight months out, Yesil made his comeback for Liverpool Under-21s against Tottenham in the October. He was desperate to make up for lost time and force his way back into Rodgers’ plans. However, just three months later, his world came crashing down once again.
    “During a training session at Liverpool, I went to run back and my knee twisted. I heard a big ‘boom’ noise,” he says. “I knew it was the same injury. Same ACL, same knee. It swelled up so much.
    “Everyone has a different opinion about why it happened again. Some say it happened because my rehab wasn’t so good and maybe I started back too early. Others say maybe the operation didn’t go so well.
    “The second time, I decided to have the surgery done in Germany by the specialist who operates on all the national-team players. I have to say a big thank you to Liverpool for respecting my wishes on that. They also let me do my rehab in Germany, which was fantastic of them.”
    Yesil was sidelined for another 10 months. Mentally, that second rehab stint was much tougher.
    “Before the first ACL injury, I’d never even suffered a twisted ankle,” he says. “I went from never getting injured to doing my ACL twice.
    [​IMG]

    Yesil’s promising Liverpool career was wrecked by successive ACL injuries in the same knee (Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)
    “The first time I thought, ‘OK, I can use this time to work on my body and get stronger.’ But the second time I really thought about quitting playing football completely. I knew I’d be out for so long. I was lucky I had great friends and family who stayed always behind me. They kept pushing me and gave me the strength to come back again.”
    Yesil returned to action for Liverpool Under-21s against Sunderland in August 2014. By then, fellow striker Suarez had left for Barcelona, with Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli being signed to compete with Fabio Borini and Daniel Sturridge for places up front.
    Rodgers wasn’t exactly blessed with firepower but Yesil struggled to regain both form and fitness. He made 11 appearances under Michael Beale — now Gerrard’s assistant at Rangers — in Premier League 2 that season, scoring three times.
    “When I’d been in Germany for the rehab I’d started to eat not so healthy things and I put on some kilos, so I needed to lose some weight. Plus, in my head, when I went into a tackle, I just wasn’t 100 per cent. I was thinking, ‘What if it happens again?’ I was scared. I knew if my ACL went for a third time, I’d never be able to play again.”
    In the summer of 2015, as he began the final year of his contract, Yesil jumped at the chance to join Luzern on a season-long loan. The Swiss club were managed by former Liverpool full-back Markus Babbel.
    “At first, I was thinking I could do well there and still have a future at Liverpool. I knew the coach at Luzern from my national team. He knew what kind of footballer I was. The first game I started for them, we won 1-0 (against FC Zurich) and I scored the goal. I was thinking, ‘I’m back’.
    “But then there were some issues between the coach and the president. Two new strikers came in and I became number three or four. It was really difficult. Long balls, strikers who are two metres tall winning headers, I’m not the striker to play that kind of football.”
    Having scored just that one goal in 14 Swiss Super League games, Yesil faced an uncertain future after being released by Liverpool at the end of his contract the following summer. He was without a club for six months before joining Panionios in Greece in January 2017.
    His first full season with the Athens side was promising, as he scored eight goals in 31 appearances in all competitions in 2017-18. The problems he encountered came off the field rather than on it.
    “The only reason I left was because payments were either late or they ‘forgot’ to pay me completely,” Yesil says. “They would pay you in January and then there would be nothing until October or November. It was not easy to live with no money. I had to change clubs again.”
    Panionios’s failure to settle their debts with the Greek government as well as with players and staff led to the club being demoted from the professional leagues to the amateur ranks. Now they are back in the second tier under new ownership, Yesil is on the verge of reaching a financial settlement with them.
    After a spell with third-tier Uerdingen in his home city of Krefeld, Yesil headed to Turkey to sign for second division Ankara Demir in January of last year. But he played just 141 minutes of football for them in seven appearances either side of the pandemic shutdown before joining Homberg, a fourth-tier side in Duisburg, just a few miles north of Krefeld, last October.
    “It’s not easy when you are having to move all the time,” he admits. “I’m someone who likes to travel but I was married by then and for my wife it was difficult. You bring your stuff and then a few months later you have to pack everything up and go somewhere else. You reach a point where you just want to be settled.”
    This summer, after 22 games and two goals for Homberg, Yesil dropped down a division to sign for Teutonia St Tonis.
    When he’s not on a shift at the KSI Filtertechnik factory or training, he’s spending time with six-month-old son Ilyas. Becoming a father has provided perspective to the anguish he has faced professionally. His faith has also helped during some tough times.
    Does his mind ever wander back to those days at Liverpool? Does he think about what might have been?
    “I used to, but I’m a Muslim and I believe now that everything happens for a reason. I’m not angry or upset,” he says.
    “I just wanted to be a footballer. I didn’t dream of being the next Messi or Ronaldo. I wasn’t in it to earn many millions. I just wanted to get good money to help my family. I have a house with my wife and child. And my parents have a house, so I’ve been able to achieve that.
    “The first three months with our son were really hard because he had some problems with his stomach and cried a lot but now everything is going well. Everyone is healthy and happy, and that’s the most important thing to me.
    “Krefeld is a small city but it’s a nice, quiet place to live. I’m still a big Liverpool supporter and I watch all the games. I love Jurgen Klopp. He’s the perfect manager for Liverpool. I can’t wait to come back to Anfield as a fan one day.
    “But I’m not finished with football myself yet. I haven’t given up. I’m still only 27. My target is to get back up there again. If I can stay fit, I know I will do it.”
     
  5. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Elliott leaves England U21 duty with injury, to be assessed ahead of Leeds game
    By James Pearce
    12 Comments
    [​IMG]
    Harvey Elliott has returned to Liverpool for treatment after withdrawing from the England Under-21s squad.

    The 18-year-old attacking midfielder picked up a minor muscle injury in the recent 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Anfield and wasn’t deemed fit enough to feature for Lee Carsley’s side against Kosovo in the Euros qualifier at MK Dons on Tuesday night.

    The Athletic understands that it’s only a precautionary measure and the hope is that he will recover in time to feature against Leeds United at Elland Road on Sunday. He will be assessed and monitored by the club’s medical staff in the coming days.

    Takumi Minamino has also returned to Liverpool early after picking up an injury on international duty with Japan. That muscle problem is understood to be more of a concern ahead of the weekend.

    How much of a blow would Elliott’s absence be?

    The teenager was one of Liverpool’s standout performers in the win over Burnley and the draw with Chelsea. He has embraced a new midfield role following his return from a loan spell at Blackburn Rovers and repaid Jurgen Klopp’s show of faith in him.
    Who would play in his place if he was out injured?

    Elliott played in midfield alongside Fabinho and Jordan Henderson against Chelsea.

    If he’s not deemed fully fit then Thiago is the most likely player to step in. Naby Keita is another option but Liverpool are currently trying to get him back to Merseyside from his native Guinea, where an attempted coup forced the postponement of their World Cup qualifier with Morocco on Monday.
     
  6. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Liverpool working to get Naby Keita out of Guinea after coup
    By The Athletic Staff

    [​IMG]
    Liverpool are in touch with authorities to ensure Naby Keita returns safely to the UK after a military coup in his homeland of Guinea.

    Guinea were supposed to host Morocco in a World Cup qualifier on Monday, where Keita was expected to be involved, but the match has been postponed after soldiers attempted a coup in the west African country’s capital Conakry on Sunday, leading to a closure of the nation’s borders.

    A statement from Liverpool on Monday read: “We are in constant contact with Naby (Keita) and have had regular communication via his national team management.

    “We are satisfied that he is safe and well cared for. Obviously the situation is fluid and we will maintain regular dialogue with the relevant authorities as we work to get Naby back to Liverpool in a timely and secure manner.”

    While the country’s borders have reportedly been closed, the Moroccan team were escorted out of Guinea on Sunday.

    Moroccan players posted videos of the squad and staff smiling and singing a rendition of their national anthem as their flight departed Guinea.

    Morocco coach Vahid Halilhodzic told French newspaper L’Equipe on Sunday that they could hear “gunshots...nearby all day”.

    “The current political and security situation in Guinea is quite volatile and is being closely monitored by FIFA and CAF,” a FIFA statement read.

    “To ensure the safety and security of all players and to protect all match officials, FIFA and CAF have decided to postpone the match.
    “Rescheduling information will be made available at a later date.”

    Soldiers claimed on national television that they had dissolved the government and closed all land and air borders.

    The defence ministry, however, said an attempted takeover of the palace of president Alpha Conde had been thwarted.

    The Guinean president won a third term in October last year after altering the constitution which enabled him to stand again, despite violent protests from the opposition.

    Wolves defender Roman Saiss captains the Moroccan team and plays alongside QPR forward Ilias Chair and Watford pair Adam Masina and Imran Louza.

    Keita, 26, started Liverpool’s opening two league games and was an unused substitute in the 1-1 draw against Chelsea. Liverpool next face Leeds United on September 12 after the international break.
     
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    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Which Premier League side has the best midfield?
    [​IMG]
    By Sam Lee, Rob Tanner and more Sept 7, 2021[​IMG] 197 [​IMG]
    Which side has the best attack in the Premier League right now? What about the best midfield, defence, and goalkeeper? When you split the team up into its parts, it’s not such an easy question to answer. But, here at The Athletic, we have tried.
    Starting with the midfield, our writers have nominated the sides they feel have the best set of players in that area. There will be follow-up articles on the other three team sections later in the week.
    Don’t agree? Come and let us know in the comments and vote for the Premier League’s best midfield in the poll at the end of the article…

    Manchester City
    The strength in depth here is quite incredible, not least because half of these can also play in the front line.
    Starting more defensively minded, there’s Rodri and Fernandinho, who shared responsibilities excellently last season. Rodri looked much more comfortable in a settled City team that suffers fewer counter-attacks, playing to the Spaniard’s strengths in possession. Fernandinho is more of a firefighter and can deal with counter-attacks but also has a fine range of passing and excellent situation management. At 36, however, he can’t play every week.
    [​IMG]

    Gundogan is crucial to City with his one-touch passing (Photo: Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)
    Further forward, City’s midfield speaks for itself. Ilkay Gundogan can play deep, run in behind and score goals or sit somewhere in the middle, and it cannot be overstated just how much his one-touch game makes City tick. Bernardo Silva was crucial to their title win in 2018-19 and played an integral role last season, and can also play in the front line. Kevin De Bruyne is Kevin De Bruyne. They’ve just added Jack Grealish as well, somebody who’ll pop up in midfield and on the left. Phil Foden came through the ranks in that No 8 role and although he is preferred as a winger at present, he’s not a bad option either. They really are spoilt for choice in this area.
    Sam Lee

    Leicester City
    If you combined Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans into one player, you would have one of the best midfielders in the world.
    Over the past year, the young duo have established a superb partnership at the heart of Brendan Rodgers’ side.
    Ndidi is the safety net in front of the back four, the defensive lynchpin, a one-man human wall.
    Not since N’Golo Kante first arrived at Leicester and amazed everyone with his ball-recovering abilities have Leicester had a player so effective in that area, but there is a difference between the two. While Kante was like a playful puppy that was all over you before snatching the ball, Ndidi is a gazelle that covers the ground with giant strides.
    The Nigerian isn’t bad on the ball either, but alongside him is Leicester’s playmaker, their quarterback, Tielemans.
    [​IMG]

    Tielemans starts many of Leicester’s attacks (Photo: Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images)
    The Belgium international starts many of Leicester’s attacks with his vision and ability to play accurately through the lines. He isn’t afraid to play the difficult pass, to risk the brave ball into the forward line, and quite often he executes with precision.
    He can score a goal or two as well, important goals, as his FA Cup final-winning strike against Chelsea testified. Now, whenever he is on the ball within striking distance, the Leicester fans call for a repeat performance.
    Ahead of them is James Maddison. He might not be at his best right now, but he has proven his attacking talent. On song, he is the icing on Leicester’s midfield cake.
    Rob Tanner

    Liverpool
    Bear with me here. Liverpool may have lost Georginio Wijnaldum but they still possess a midfield capable of stamping their authority on any contest.
    Fabinho is the best holding midfielder around. He’s the perfect shield for the defence and is so adept at winning tackles, breaking up play and putting Klopp’s team back on the front foot.
    Injuries forced Klopp to use the Brazilian at centre-back for a sizeable part of last season and the whole structure of the team was affected as a result. Liverpool are a different beast with Fabinho playing as the No 6. He provides control.
    [​IMG]

    Thiago will have a much bigger role this season (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    Thiago endured a tough first season in English football. He suffered from COVID-19 and then a serious knee injury. He returned to a depleted team that had lost its way but he finished the campaign strongly. Make no mistake, he will have a much bigger role to play this time around once he’s up to speed following a shortened pre-season.
    Then there’s inspirational captain Jordan Henderson, back fully fit after the groin injury that forced him to miss the second half of last season. He sets the tone for Liverpool with his energy and passing range.
    The opening weeks of the season have demonstrated a new creative edge to Klopp’s midfield. Teenager Harvey Elliott has excelled and there’s depth in the form of Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Curtis Jones and James Milner.
    James Pearce

    Chelsea

    Can any other team in the Premier League — or any in Europe — boast two genuine Ballon d’Or candidates in the middle of the pitch? N’Golo Kante and Jorginho are both in the form of their careers, and their complementary partnership in Thomas Tuchel’s “double six” is equally capable of controlling opponents with or without the ball.
    Their presence alone would be enough to secure Chelsea a legitimate place in this debate but Tuchel has formidable depth too. Should either miss out through injury or suspension, Mateo Kovacic and new arrival Saul Niguez are the kind of understudies that any coach dreams of having: seasoned internationals in their mid-20s who have played in Champions League finals and relish big moments.
    [​IMG]

    Jorginho forms half of a formidable “double six” for Tuchel (Photo: Mark Leech/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)
    Chelsea’s midfield options beyond their four controllers also afford Tuchel real tactical flexibility. Should he ever wish to switch to a midfield three, Mason Mount, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech all have high-level experience of impacting matches as roving No 8s — a role that also best suits recent England internationals Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley, both considered superfluous in this loaded squad.
    Shifting to a 4-2-3-1 adds Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi and — to a lesser extent — Timo Werner to the astonishingly long list of names who can thrive across the creative line. Put simply, Tuchel has every midfield tool he could possibly want to out-press, out-pass and pick apart any conceivable type of opponent.
     
  8. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Which Premier League team has the best goalkeeper?
    Sam Lee, Rob Tanner and more Sept 8, 2021[​IMG] 305 [​IMG]
    Which side has the best attack in the Premier League right now? What about the best midfield, defence, and goalkeeper? When you split the team up into its parts, it’s not such an easy question to answer. But, here at The Athletic, we have tried.
    Starting with the midfield, our writers nominated the sides they feel have the best set of players in that area. Now we’re on to the goalkeepers. There will be follow-up articles on the other two team sections later in the week.
    Don’t agree? Come and let us know in the comments and vote for the Premier League’s best goalkeeper in the poll at the end of the article…

    Manchester City
    I’ll level with you, I’ve nominated City’s defence, midfield and attack, and after writing about their various abilities, it felt harsh to leave out the goalkeepers.
    It’s not like City have two similarly matched keepers that are vying for a starting spot every week, because Ederson is Pep Guardiola’s No 1 and the Catalan has said as much himself, but there is a good dynamic in the position and Zack Steffen is a very capable No 2, which is all you need, really.
    Ederson’s quality speaks for itself, and he is arguably the most important player that Guardiola has brought to the club. Because he is so nerveless in possession and capable of playing perfectly weighted passes over either five or 80 yards, opposition teams just leave him to it. That helps City in so many situations: if their centre-backs are in even the slightest bit of bother, they can just knock it back to their keeper in any situation and just build up again to start another attack. He is quick off his line (sometimes he’s too rash but he’s improved that in recent years) and he is a very good shot-stopper, too, although his positioning can be a little awkward. Even with those relative flaws in his game, he is one of the best in the business and absolutely crucial for City.
    [​IMG]

    Ederson has thrived under Guardiola (Photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)
    Steffen seems to be an astute purchase — City picked him up from Columbus Crew for £5 million in 2019 and can now call on him whenever Ederson is not around or for cup matches, and they won the Carabao Cup with him in goal last season. He makes some very smart saves, is good with his feet (albeit not to Ederson or Alisson levels) and commands his line very well.
    And then there’s Scott Carson, who is a beloved member of the dressing room, which cannot be overlooked in such a serious and sometimes fractious environment. To give you an example, when Sergio Aguero raffled off his car at the end of last season, Carson was alongside him dressed as a fireman. Nobody is quite sure why.
    Sam Lee

    Liverpool
    Liverpool have the most complete goalkeeper in world football.
    Lightning reflexes? Check. Commands his penalty box? Check. Gives confidence to the defenders in front of him? Check. Ice-cool with the ball at his feet and an excellent passer? Check. Scores bullet headers? Check.
    Yes, Alisson can do the lot. None of his peers have a goal of the season trophy on their mantelpiece like the Brazil international.
    That was recognition from the club’s supporters for his dramatic late winner against West Bromwich Albion in May when he soared to nod home Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner. It was a crucial victory in the chase for Champions League qualification. He’s the only Liverpool goalkeeper in history to score a goal in a competitive fixture.
    [​IMG]

    Alisson scored against West Brom in May (Photos: Getty Images/Design: Sam Richardson)
    Alisson has been one of the most transformative signings in the Premier League era. His arrival from Roma for £65 million in the summer of 2018 instantly turned an area of glaring weakness for Jurgen Klopp into one of huge strength.
    He was pivotal in the Champions League triumph of 2019 and the Premier League title procession a year later as he pulled off several crucial saves. He’s won FIFA’s Best Goalkeeper award, UEFA’s Champions League Goalkeeper of the Year award and the Premier League’s Golden Glove for most clean sheets in a season.
    He’s adored at Anfield and his outstanding consistency was recently recognised with a new six-year contract. In 133 appearances for the club, he’s kept 61 clean sheets. Liverpool haven’t had anyone better since Ray Clemence was in his prime. He’s the best around.
    James Pearce

    Aston Villa
    Emiliano Martinez is the best goalkeeper in the Premier League, right? Surely I’m not alone in thinking this?
    Not only is he brilliant at the basics — shot-stopping, collecting crosses, commanding his area — but he’s also a handy weapon to start off attacks with his pinpoint kicking and vision to pick a pass between the lines.
    Without knocking Arsenal too much — the league table is doing a sufficient job — this has to be said: letting Martinez join Aston Villa was one of the Premier League’s most embarrassing transfer errors in recent memory.
    To then go and sign an arguably inferior goalkeeper for more money in Aaron Ramsdale just a year later makes it even worse.
    [​IMG]

    Since leaving Arsenal, Martinez has shown he is an elite-level goalkeeper (Photo: Clive Brunskill/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    OK, so Martinez wanted the regular game time as a No 1, which encouraged Arsenal to sell, but how on earth did they not realise that he was worthy of a starting place after spending a decade at the club?
    Anyway, Villa have benefited from Arsenal’s mistake and so has Martinez. Last season, he equalled Brad Friedel’s club record of Premier League clean sheets (15) set in a single season. In his first season!
    He saved crucial penalties to help Lionel Messi and Argentina win the Copa America, too, and he’s still learning to improve with the regular exposure he’s now getting.
    Martinez is reliable and consistent, as good as they come.
    Gregg Evans

    Leicester City
    Kasper Schmeichel has to be in the reckoning, not just for his impressive and consistent displays between the post, but for his leadership qualities. Schmeichel is a man who rises at times of crisis.
    Leicester fans saw him step up to be that figurehead for the players following the tragic helicopter crash outside King Power Stadium in 2018. He was personally involved as he was held back trying to reach the burning helicopter that contained the club’s chairman and friend of Schmeichel, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
    The way he spoke after the next game at Cardiff City, an emotionally charged afternoon, articulated everything the players and fans had been feeling.
    This summer, following the horrific scenes involving international teammate Christian Eriksen, Schmeichel spoke for a shocked nation and he wasn’t afraid to challenge the official line that the Denmark players wanted to resume the game. He isn’t afraid to challenge authority, as many Premier League referees will confirm.
    Leadership aside, Schmeichel has blossomed in his decade at Leicester. From the promising young talent trying to break out on his own from the shadow of his illustrious father, he has emerged as a mainstay for club and country, a reliable and dependable figure.
    [​IMG]

    Schmeichel has become a Leicester figurehead (Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
    As all England fans saw in the European Championship semi-final, Schmeichel is a formidable goalkeeper as he produced save after save. Leicester fans see that level of performance on a weekly basis.
    Rob Tanner

    Burnley
    There is just something so eloquent about the way Nick Pope comes to collect a high ball in his area. The Statue of Liberty rising above static tourists as he confidently plucks a cross from the air.
    It is only one part of his goalkeeping arsenal but it spreads calmness and trust among his team-mates. Burnley are built on a strong defence but he is the first brick in that foundation.
    The England international is a superb shot-stopper, making impressive saves in big moments while leading from the back. He may not be the best with his feet, but Burnley do not play that way. As Sean Dyche says, the only thing he cares about is having a goalkeeper who stops it going in the net. Pope is exceptionally good at that, keeping his side in so many games.
    Only Ederson (35) kept more clean sheets than Pope (26) across 2019-20 and 2020-21. Take him out of Burnley’s team last season and you get an insight into his importance. In six Premier League games without him, Burnley lost by an aggregate score of 18-2 and took zero points.
    [​IMG]

    Pope is an essential part of one of the Premier League’s sturdiest defences (Photo: Dave Thompson – Getty Images)
    That may suggest his back-up is not as strong but Burnley have reinforced through the experienced Wales international Wayne Hennessey. One appearance, a clean sheet, two world-class saves and a heroic penalty shootout performance make him the most in-form goalkeeper around, right?
    On a serious note, Hennessey provides a short-term step up from Bailey Peacock-Farrell given his Premier League knowhow. There is trust that if Pope, the obvious No 1, misses games, Hennessey can be relied upon.
    Andy Jones

    Tottenham
    Among the craziness of last season, one player who could generally be relied upon for Spurs was Hugo Lloris.
    After a rocky year or two, Lloris was extremely consistent last season, playing in every Premier League game and frequently bailing the team out behind a shaky defence.
    In large part, because of that shaky defence and the team’s habit of sitting back after going ahead, Spurs conceded more than many of their rivals. But the numbers show it would have been much worse without Lloris, who conceded 5.4 goals less than expected. Lloris was, in fact, top of the Premier League charts for the goals prevented metric, which calculates how many goals a keeper concedes compared to how many the expected goals (xG) model would anticipate them letting in. According to this metric, Lloris essentially saved five goals more than he was expected to, given the quality of the on-target shots that he faced.
    [​IMG]

    Lloris was top of the Premier League charts for the goals prevented metric last season (Photo: James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images)
    This suggests that Lloris remains an elite (if not the best) Premier League goalkeeper when it comes to shot-stopping. He can still be questionable when dealing with crosses, but last season served as a reminder of his value to the team — likewise keeping three consecutive clean sheets to start this campaign. He is also a hugely valued leader and organiser of the defence during matches.
    Lloris’ deputy Pierluigi Gollini, meanwhile, should prove to be a very solid back-up option having picked up considerable Champions League experience during the last couple of seasons at Atalanta.
     
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    Hass Well-Known Member

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    ‘How have we managed to get him?’ – Liverpool, Suarez and a special debut against Stoke
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce Sept 9, 2021[​IMG] 54 [​IMG]
    This article is part of The Athletic’s series celebrating memorable debuts. To view the whole collection, click here.

    “Where’s your Torres gone?” mocked the Stoke City supporters in the lower tier of the Anfield Road stand. That was followed by a rendition of “You’re shit — Torres says you are”.
    By the end of that Wednesday evening, the visiting contingent had been silenced by the brilliance of the man who had been bought to partner Fernando Torres but ended up replacing him and filling the vacancy his move to Chelsea created for a Kop icon.
    February 2, 2011, was a bitterly cold night on Merseyside but Luis Suarez set pulses racing with a memorable Liverpool debut following his £22.8 million move from Ajax two days earlier.
    Kenny Dalglish’s side led 1-0 courtesy of Raul Meireles’s opener when the Uruguayan stepped off the bench shortly after the hour mark and Fabio Aurelio made way. Suarez needed just 16 minutes to open his Liverpool account. Racing on to Dirk Kuyt’s through ball, he rounded onrushing keeper Asmir Begovic and fired goalwards left-footed in front of the Kop.
    It wasn’t a clean strike and covering defender Andy Wilkinson looked destined to clear, but as he slid in, he could only help the ball onto the post and over the line.
    Anfield erupted. The new boy was mobbed by his team-mates.
    “Just to be on the field for a few minutes and to manage to score in front of the Kop, it’s what dreams are made of,” beamed Suarez.
    Dalglish told reporters: “Well, I gave him the goal, and he can have the first one as well if he likes. It has not been too bad a day for us.“
    It had been a tumultuous 48 hours in the history of Liverpool Football Club.
    Suarez’s deadline-day stint as the club’s record signing proved to be brief. The completion of the deal with Ajax coincided with the £50 million sale of Torres and the £35 million purchase of Andy Carroll from Newcastle United.
    Tottenham Hotspur had also agreed a fee with the Dutch giants but Suarez’s heart was set on Anfield — despite Liverpool’s struggles both on and off the pitch. Roy Hodgson had been sacked in early January after only six months in charge with the club in the bottom half of the Premier League table. Club royalty Dalglish was handed his old job back, initially on an interim basis, and tasked with inspiring a revival.
    “When Liverpool came calling, I didn’t have to think twice,” Suarez wrote in his 2014 autobiography Crossing The Line.
    “Financially, I would have been just as well off going to Spurs but for everything that Liverpool meant in a football sense, for the history, that was where I wanted to go. In those first meetings, they did not sell me the glorious past. Instead, they presented me with the future.”
    Damien Comolli, Liverpool’s director of football strategy at the time, revealed how the club had to borrow money from their new US-based owners, Fenway Sports Group, to sign Suarez, who had scored 111 goals in 159 games for Ajax.
    “I was begging them,” Comolli told The Athletic last year. “They told me, ‘That money you are spending in January is your summer transfer money, so you won’t have it in the summer’. I said to them, ‘No problem’. We had no money and the wage bill was through the roof.”
    Once a fee had been agreed in principle on January 28, Suarez flew to Liverpool with his agent, Pere Guardiola. His wife Sofia and daughter Delfina followed on a later plane.
    However, discussions over the payment structure of that fee delayed matters and Suarez was told to stay inside the city’s Hope Street Hotel until the finer details were sorted. Late on the night of January 30, he finally got the call he had been waiting for and the next morning he signed a five-and-a-half-year contract.
    He had just one training session with his new team-mates at Melwood before flying to Dublin to get a work permit sorted. By then, he knew he wouldn’t be forming a double act with Torres. Instead, he moved into the house in south Liverpool the Stamford Bridge-bound Spaniard was leaving behind.
    “The welcome was fantastic from everyone and even if I couldn’t understand what they were saying to me, the warmth was clear,” Suarez says.
    “The prospect of playing alongside Fernando had excited me and to never even get to train with him was a real shame. When I spoke to Fernando, he told me I was moving to a great club and a great city. He told me he was sure I was going to be happy here but he had made his mind up to leave.
    “I look at his goalscoring record at Anfield and I remember thinking what a difficult job it would be to follow him.”
    Suarez was offered the choice between the No 7, 11 and 15 shirts. When he picked the iconic No 7 shirt worn by the likes of Kevin Keegan and Dalglish before him, he had no idea of its significance.
    Neither did he realise he was in the 18-man squad to face Stoke until goalkeeper Pepe Reina told him on the coach en route to Anfield. When Dalglish had read the names out Suarez hadn’t heard his own and believed the paperwork must have gone through too late. Reina put him right.
    Jamie Carragher, on the brink of a comeback following two months out with a shoulder injury, was also on the bench with Suarez that night.
    “When Luis first came to the club my reaction was, ‘Oh my god, how have we managed to get him?!’,” Carragher tells The Athletic. “It was obvious he was a very special player. He showed it the moment he came off the bench against Stoke.
    “To be honest, I was surprised he hadn’t been snapped up the previous summer on the back of his performances for Uruguay at the World Cup (scoring three goals as Uruguay made the semi-finals). Obviously, there had been controversy with the handball against Ghana (getting a straight red card for preventing a winner late in extra time of a quarter-final Uruguay then won on penalties) — typical Luis. But Ajax are a selling club and you knew they wouldn’t be able to hold on to him for long.
    “It had been a tough 18 months for Liverpool with Rafa Benitez’s difficult last season followed by Roy Hodgson’s short spell in charge and then Kenny taking over.
    “Luis lifted Liverpool from a dark place when Torres left. Torres was as good as anyone in his pomp and you wondered how we were going to be able to bring someone in of a similar calibre. But Luis didn’t just live up to what Torres achieved, he surpassed it.
    “Luis provided a real shining light alongside Steven Gerrard. He gave everyone hope that better days were around the corner. We got to two cup finals the following season and Luis played a massive part. He then went to the next level when Liverpool went so close to winning the title in 2013-14. Luis was the best player in the Premier League and so crucial in revitalising Liverpool.”
    Suarez’s debut off the bench against Stoke was his first competitive appearance since late November having been given a seven-game ban in the Netherlands for biting PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal during a game.
    “I remember the first ball I touched at Anfield. I controlled it, I looked up and it had gone,” Suarez recalled.
    “‘How quick is this (English football, compared to the Dutch top flight)?!’ I said to myself, ‘Luis, you’re not going to get a second to think here. You have to do everything fast’. That moment was a real, ‘Welcome to England’.”
    Suarez adjusted fast as the Kop instantly took him to their hearts.
    It was the start of a three-and-a-half-year rollercoaster ride with the flawed genius from Salto.
     
  10. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    How streaky is your striker? Using data to explore consistency of Europe’s elite
    Mark Carey Sept 7, 2021[​IMG] 53 [​IMG]
    “Sometimes he’s brilliant, sometimes you never see him.”
    Those words were uttered in commentary during Bayern Munich’s 3-1 Supercup win against Borussia Dortmund last month. The player in question entering the pitch? Leroy Sane.
    The comment itself is probably a fair reflection of Sane’s footballing career so far, but the broader topic of how consistent a player is in their performance is an intriguing one.
    When looking at a player’s numbers we will often assess their metrics “per 90 minutes”, which gives a greater insight into how frequently a player performs a certain action when they have the opportunity to do so. However, we rarely look to quantify the consistency of a player in how they perform.
    From a goalscoring perspective, how can we think of consistency?
    Let’s look at an example…
    Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Danny Ings both averaged 0.5 goals per 90 minutes in the Premier League last season — but how they reached those per 90 rates differed. Calvert-Lewin was flying for Everton at the start of the season, scoring seven goals in his first five league games, including a hat-trick against West Bromwich Albion, but went through a goal drought either side of Christmas where he didn’t find the net in seven straight league games.
    [​IMG]
    Ings, in contrast, did not have such a purple patch for now-former club Southampton but was instead a little more consistent, never going more than four matches without a goal. It was a little less “feast and famine” for him but slightly more steady across the 29 league games he played.
    [​IMG]
    You end up with the same rate of 0.5 goals per 90 for the two players by the end of the season, but one was a little more “patchy” than the other in his goalscoring form.
    So the question is, how can we measure who is more consistent in getting goalscoring chances?
    It’s a topic that has not had a great deal of attention in the public football analytics space, so it is worth an initial exploration to see what we find.

    Of course, every striker is going to go through changes in form within and between seasons. No one can be perfectly consistent across every game. But one way we can look at just how consistently someone plays is by exploring the “spread” or “variability” of their performance numbers across each game and ultimately each season.
    For those seeking the statistical term, this variability can be measured as the “standard deviation” in a player’s metrics. The larger the standard deviation, the more spread out a player’s output is across a sample of games — for example, a player gets five good chances in one game, then none over the next five. The smaller the standard deviation, the more consistent the player — for example, getting one good chance every game.
    With that in mind, let’s turn to Statsbomb data, via FBref, to look at the top 15 players (with 5,000-plus minutes played) with the highest non-penalty expected goals (xG) per 90 minutes across Europe’s top five leagues over the past four seasons.
    Looking at non-penalty xG is a little more useful when attempting to gauge the quality of chances a player gets in open play than simply looking at the number of actual goals scored, which has an element of outcome bias.
    As you can see in the graphic below, Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski tops the bill as the player who averages the highest non-penalty xG over our given time period, with 0.85 per 90. Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe follows closely behind at 0.83, with those two building a small but noticeable gap between themselves and the rest of the pack.
    Two things are important here — the average non-penalty xG per 90 is shown in the graphic below via the yellow circle, but the red lines on either side of it represent that variability of a player’s metrics across those games during the four seasons studied.
    A longer red line overall suggests a more sporadic set of performances that formed the average, whereas a shorter one suggests a more consistent collection of performances since 2017-18.
    [​IMG]
    As well as Lewandowski, we can see that Mbappe and his PSG team-mate Neymar have a noticeably wide spread in their data, which might point to the effect of playing in a side where you feel that the pair can turn on the style when they want to. For example, Neymar might not get too involved in one particular Ligue 1 game then, in the next one, register a non-penalty xG of 1.8 — his season-high tally from a 4-1 win over Rennes in the 2017-18 season, for those interested.
    [​IMG]
    Meanwhile, Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah has shown himself to be one of the most consistent forwards in Europe in recent seasons. The variability in his numbers is the smallest of all players in the top 15 list. His average non-penalty xG may not be as high as others, but you know pretty much what performance you are getting from the Egyptian each week.
    On the note of minutes played, the results above may also be influenced by how much each player is on the pitch. The likes of Salah and Lionel Messi have played significantly more minutes over our four-season sample than injury-burdened players such as Sergio Aguero and Neymar, meaning comparisons are a little tricky. Although Neymar does blow hot and cold, the variability in his numbers is likely to be influenced by the simple fact he has played fewer minutes, making it more difficult to draw conclusions from the data. The more data you have on a topic, the more confident you can be in what insight you can take from it, and the reverse is true for Neymar’s fewer minutes relative to his peers.
    It is also interesting to consider how comparisons across European players are influenced by the effects of their respective leagues.
    In the top 15, the dominance of players from the Italian Serie A and French Ligue 1 catches the eye, while the lack of players who ply their trade in the Premier League perhaps points to the difficulty in getting consistent, valuable chances in England compared with other major leagues around the continent. For example, the Premier League’s star striker Harry Kane has a return of 0.49 non-penalty xG per 90 for Tottenham Hotspur, which is highly respectable but places him 20th on the list across Europe.
    Linking to this, a wider spread in a player’s data might be influenced by differences in the strength of the opposition they face within their domestic league, rather than their own inconsistency per se.
    Given the gulf in quality between, for example, Lille and Dijon in Ligue 1, it is understandable that the likes of Neymar and Mbappe are a little more varied in their performances compared with a player in the Premier League, where each game is genuinely competitive.
    But perhaps that’s a conversation for another day…

    With the above in mind, it is useful to look beyond comparison between players and instead compare the performances of each respective player over time, to track their consistency.
    To do this, we can look at a player’s rolling non-penalty xG per 90 in their league. This is more reliable here than looking at a player’s output per game, as they might have played the full 90 minutes one game, then had 20 minutes as a substitute in the next, thus skewing the output.
    Let’s dive into some players who caught the eye, starting with the world’s best.
    Looking at the variability in how Messi gets his chances over time, he is — as you would expect — one of the most consistent players around.
    In this next graphic, the yellow line reflects the rolling 900-minute average of Messi’s non-penalty xG per 90 over time, and the red areas to either side of the line show that variability of his results across the games in that period. The wider the overall window, the more volatile a player’s output has been in their previous 900 minutes.
    [​IMG]
    Messi’s average non-penalty xG per 90 has hovered around 0.6 as a 10-game average over the most recent seasons, rarely deviating too much within the season. The most notable variability was during the winter months of 2019-20, where he had a relatively dry spell by his own standards, failing to influence the games as Barcelona drew three out of four, against Real Sociedad, Real Madrid and Espanyol, either side of Christmas. A bounceback quickly followed, as Messi was on fire in the new year — culminating in him scoring four times in a 5-0 win at home to Eibar in late February.
    [​IMG]
    Aside from that noteworthy example, you can see just how steady Messi’s output has been — particularly last season, during what has turned out to be his final year at Barcelona where he continued to consistently have goalscoring chances even within a weakened side under new coach Ronald Koeman. Any talk of a decline in Messi’s performance output must be considered only by his own standards and no one else’s.
    Now, with possibly the best array of attacking talent in the sport around him at PSG in Neymar, Mbappe and Angel Di Maria, it will be interesting to see how Messi’s role might change and how the goalscoring burden might be shared around his new team.

    Mbappe, arguably the man next in line to the throne for the title of the world’s best attacker, is certainly a little less consistent in how many chances he gets in open play for PSG — as you would expect for a player still in his early 20s.
    Mbappe’s rolling average of non-penalty xG per 90 has ranged from 0.3 to nearly 1.3 across recent seasons — hence why the variability of his data is so wide, as shown by the red window.
    [​IMG]
    It goes to show just how dazzling some of his performances have been, particularly during the 2018-19 season when defences simply did not know how to handle the then-teenager as he grew stronger and stronger.
    You can see a noticeable spike in his quality of chances towards the end of that season, where he registered above 1.0 non-penalty xG for four consecutive games across February and March 2019, scoring six times in that run — including open-play chances worthy of 2.7 goals in a 3-0 win against Nimes. For context, that’s very, very good.
    Mbappe finished that season with 32 non-penalty goals in Ligue 1, which remains by far the most of his career so far.
    [​IMG]
    The quality of those chances in front of goal has since calmed down a little but they are becoming slightly more consistent while remaining on an elite level.
    Of course, Mbappe offers so much more than goals as a player — with his electric pace and ability to cause chaos among opposition defences, his overall contribution within the game is something that is so highly regarded as he makes others around him better.
    But from the perspective of Mbappe’s ability to get chances on goal, you can see he is more in the “volatile” category.

    Lewandowski has been a man on a mission for Bayern recently and started the 2021-22 season on fire with five goals in his opening three league games, meaning he has now scored at least once in 13 Bundesliga appearances in a row — a personal record for the Poland international.
    A haul of 41 goals (33 non-penalty goals) in the 2020-21 Bundesliga was a career-high for the now-33-year-old, following up on a Champions League-winning campaign a year earlier.
    With the 2020 Ballon d’Or mystifyingly cancelled altogether due to COVID-19, Lewandowski missed out on his biggest chance yet to receive the most prestigious individual accolade in world football as he was arguably the favourite to get his hands on it. So, just how consistent has he been in getting chances in open play in recent seasons?
    Lewandowski is not the most consistent in the quality of chances he gets in open play, as you can see by the steady peaks and troughs throughout each season — particularly 2018-19, where you can see the most variability in his non-penalty xG average over time.
    [​IMG]
    After a somewhat slower start by his own standards in that season, chances began to return for Lewandowski, who was central to Bayern winning all seven of their Bundesliga matches in December and January, including three goals in two games against Nuremberg and Hannover.
    Another small dip followed before he returned to red hot form towards the end of the season, registering a whopping tally of 8.2 non-penalty xG across a particular five-game period, which peaked as Bayern’s No 9 netted twice in a 5-0 demolition of biggest rivals Borussia Dortmund in early April.
    To be clear, Lewandowski has very much been a consistent goalscorer over the years. The Poland international hasn’t scored fewer than 20 league goals in a single season since 2014-15, his first season with Bayern after joining from Dortmund.
    Our graphic above simply shows he can be a little up and down in the quality of chances he gets within a season. Knowing his goalscoring record, this also points to his world-class finishing ability as he has outscored his non-penalty xG in recent seasons.
    In 2020-21, in particular, he outscored his non-penalty xG by 8.3 goals, which was a greater margin than any other player in the top five European leagues. He may not always get high-quality chances per se, but you can bank on Lewandowski scoring from anywhere on the pitch, which is what has made him truly elite.
    [​IMG]

    Finally, to one of the most consistent forwards in Europe over the past few years — a statement that is backed up by the numbers, as Salah boasts the smallest variability in non-penalty xG per 90 among Europe’s top 15 players.
    Given Salah’s role as a wide forward for Liverpool, he is never going to be scoring at the same rate as a traditional No 9 like Lewandowski, so his average non-penalty xG per game is understandably not the highest on the list. But since he arrived from Roma in the summer of 2017, his output is the most consistent.
    Salah’s rolling average non-penalty xG per 90 has hovered either side of 0.5 over his four seasons at Anfield — an overall level of consistency that is mirrored by his club’s performance. The Egyptian began his Liverpool career with a debut goal in a 3-3 draw away to Watford, which was the beginning of a golden boot-winning 32-goal haul in 36 league games in that 2017-18 season — and he has hardly looked back since.
    As you can see below, Salah’s reliability in getting chances was remarkably consistent during Liverpool’s 2019-20 title campaign, with such a narrow window of variability showing just how dependable he was.
    [​IMG]
    Any change in Salah’s consistency has predominantly been steady rather than sudden, hence why there is little deviation across his average throughout his Liverpool career.
    The most notable dip in Salah’s chances on goal coincided with Liverpool’s unexpected decline in form last season — sparked by defensive talisman Virgil van Dijk’s season-ending knee injury against Everton in the October — where they failed to win three consecutive league games without the Dutchman until the March.
    Much like Liverpool’s end to last season, Salah steadily built up his form in front of goal, but the chances he found for himself in open play have rarely varied since he was signed for what’s turned out to be a bargain fee of just under £37 million.
    More often than not, you know what performance you are going to get from the 29-year-old, which is every manager’s dream.

    So there you have it. An exploratory look at quantifying the consistency of a player’s chances in front of goal.
    Granted, it might not be the perfect way to assess consistency, but it does open up the conversation of considering how reliable a player’s output is when looking at their performance over time.
    Goalscoring consistency is useful to consider from a recruitment perspective within a club — for example, when looking to sign a new player in the transfer window.
    Do you want a striker who will blow hot and cold throughout the season? Or someone who you can rely on to get good goalscoring opportunities, week in, week out?
    Methods like this one can be a starting point to answer this question.
     
  11. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Liverpool’s Harvey Elliott to have surgery after dislocating ankle
    By James Pearce

    [​IMG]
    Liverpool teenager Harvey Elliott will have surgery in the coming week after he suffered a dislocated ankle during his side's visit to Leeds United on Sunday.

    Elliott, 18, was on the receiving end of a challenge from Pascal Struijk in the second half. There was immediate concern from both sets of players following the incident and Struijk was sent off in the 60th minute as a result of the challenge.

    Elliott was treated on the pitch for several minutes before being taken off the pitch on a stretcher. He was replaced by Jordan Henderson.

    He was taken from Elland Road to Leeds General Infirmary and was accompanied by the club doctor Jim Moxon, before being discharged from hospital at 9pm on Sunday night. No date has been set for the operation yet, but The Athletic understands it is likely to be on Tuesday.

    Post match, Jurgen Klopp spoke on Elliott's injury. He said: “It's a bad injury. Ankle, I heard it was dislocated. We could put it back. He's in the hospital.

    “I couldn't care less [if it was a red card], it is not my business. It is a serious injury, definitely for an 18 year old boy. The red card is not important. Two or three weeks we can play on, Harvey will not.”

    Marcelo Bielsa said: “Pascal recovered the ball. The action to get the ball didn't have an infraction. But I have the feeling that the movement of the rest of his body after he recovered the ball made him hit Elliott. I'm totally sure there was no bad intention.

    “Obviously there was some imprudence or excess of power. These types of recovery are totally frequent. The difference here was that the follow through with Pascal's speed and power clipped the player and caused the injury. I regret dearly that such a young player playing at such a high level has been interrupted, I hope he's able to get back.”

    Elliott posted on his Instagram before the match finished. His message said: “Thank you for the messages guys! Road to recovery. YNWA.”

    Prior to Elliott’s injury, Liverpool had taken a 2-0 lead after goals from Mohamed Salah and Fabinho either side of the break. Sadio Mane scored late into stoppage time to see the game finish 3-0.
    Why was it a straight red card for Struijk?

    The Athletic understands that Struijk’s tackle was deemed as serious foul play due to the intensity of the challenge and endangerment to Elliott — hence the straight red card.

    The first official, Craig Pawson, made the decision on field with the assistance of fourth official Andy Madley who was close to the incident. The decision was confirmed after consultation with the VAR.
    Who can Klopp rely on in Elliott's absence?

    Elliott will be sorely missed after making an outstanding start to the season and now it's down to Klopp's other midfield options to help fill the void.

    Captain Jordan Henderson didn't start against Leeds and he's the most likely man to earn a recall for the Champions League group opener against AC Milan at Anfield on Wednesday night.

    Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Curtis Jones and James Milner are also available to Klopp and will need to step up and deliver in the coming weeks and months.
     
  12. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Liverpool floored by Elliott injury but Klopp will not let negativity creep in
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce Sept 12, 2021[​IMG] 69 [​IMG]
    The mood in the away dressing room after such a commanding victory should have been euphoric. Liverpool had silenced a hostile Elland Road crowd with a dazzling show of force.
    But as players and staff regrouped there was little talk of how they had put Leeds United to the sword. Thoughts were elsewhere. “It was very subdued in there,” one senior player tells The Athletic.
    By then Harvey Elliott was sitting in a hospital bed at Leeds General Infirmary. He had family members and club doctor Jim Moxon for company. His phone was soon buzzing with a succession of WhatsApp messages from concerned team-mates. “We’re all here for you mate,” promised captain Jordan Henderson.
    Every serious injury cuts deep but this cruel hand dealt to such a vibrant youngster feels especially heartbreaking. Elliott had been the surprise package of Liverpool’s flying start to the season. His was the feel-good story.
    He had earned the faith of the manager, the respect of the senior players and the adoration of the supporters with how he had seamlessly adjusted to a new midfield role since returning from his loan spell at Blackburn Rovers. With talent in abundance and a tireless work ethic, the fearless teenager had given a fresh dynamic to the right-hand side of Klopp’s purring unit.
    He was living the dream for the club he’s supported since he was a toddler. Now his world has come crashing down but he won’t walk alone during the long rehab programme facing him. He will be surrounded by love and support every step of the way.
    Pascal Struijk’s dangerous lunge left him writhing in agony as he grasped at his dislocated left ankle. Shock and horror were writ large across the face of Mohamed Salah, who frantically gestured to the bench for assistance.
    Thankfully, physio Chris Morgan and Moxon were at his side within seven seconds of the incident. Elliott was given the inhaled painkiller Penthrox and they managed to swiftly put the joint back in place. “Remarkable” was how senior club figures described the quick thinking and the care provided by Morgan and Moxon, who were grateful for the assistance of Leeds’ head of medicine Rob Price.
    Morgan was unfairly targeted by online trolls last season who were seeking someone to blame for Liverpool’s unprecedented injury crisis. But he showed once again on Sunday why the players rate him so highly.
    Before being released on Sunday evening and returning home to Merseyside with his family, Elliott gave his match shirt and a boot to a young boy in the hospital who had broken his arm playing football earlier in the day. He’s a class act and he will be back.
    When that will be in 2022 depends on the extent of both the ligament damage and the fractures caused by the dislocation. Surgery is likely to take place on Tuesday and then the picture will be clearer.
    Klopp was visibly upset and cut an emotional figure during his post-game media duties.
    “I could see his foot not in the right place. We were all shocked. Do I want such a young boy having this experience so early in his career? No, but it’s the case. We have to be there and we will be there. We will play football without him but we will wait for him because he’s a top, top, top player,” vowed Klopp.
    Losing Elliott just a month into the campaign is a body blow for a manager who was praying for a change of fortune after all the adversity thrown in Liverpool’s path last season. There is no like for like replacement in terms of his skillset. Elliott was complementing Trent Alexander-Arnold and Salah on the right perfectly.
    In his absence, the balance of the team will shift but others such as Naby Keita and Curtis Jones will have to step up and deliver.
    Control in midfield helped Liverpool dominate against Leeds as they handled what Klopp described as the hosts’ “brutal intensity”. Thiago enjoyed an impressive first start of the season as he played with a swagger and now they need the Spaniard to really kick on.
    Fabinho excelled as the defensive shield. He’s so adept at sensing danger and breaking up attacks. As well as five interceptions, two clearances, a tackle and a block, he coolly tucked away Liverpool’s second goal. “Fab is an incredible player. He did well in many departments,” admitted Klopp.
    With Henderson coming off the bench to replace Elliott and James Milner fit again, Klopp remains relatively well-stocked in that midfield department. It’s further forward where he’s so thin on the ground. With Roberto Firmino and Takumi Minamino both injured and out-of-favour Divock Origi not even named on the bench, Liverpool finished the game with substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain playing as the central striker.
    Depth up top is a genuine concern, even more so now that Elliott is out, but until at least January the manager has to operate with what he’s got. He won’t allow any negativity to creep into the camp.
    Klopp remains Liverpool’s biggest asset with his tactical nous combined with the leadership and man-management he provides. Repeatedly this summer he has talked up the talent at his disposal rather than bemoaned the club’s inactivity in the transfer market and so far there’s been much to admire.
    Ten points out of a possible 12 and just one goal conceded in six hours of football. Leeds’ man-marking set-up hadn’t bargained on the sight of Joel Matip surging forward into space and playing a neat one-two with Salah in the build-up to the opening goal.
    It was a brilliant move, with Alexander-Arnold putting Salah’s 100th Premier League goal on a plate for him. The right-back now has 35 Premier League assists — only Cesc Fabregas, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs reached that total at a younger age.
    “They were superior to us in all aspects,” admitted Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa. But for Liverpool’s wastefulness in the final third the margin of victory would have been much greater.
    The psychological toll of seeing Elliott in such pain understandably knocked Klopp’s men out of their stride during the final half-hour but they recovered their poise and signed off in style. Sadio Mane’s crisis of confidence in front of goal finally ended in stoppage time when he netted with his 10th shot — the most he’s ever had in a top-flight game. His perseverance paid off and Liverpool desperately need the Senegal international back to his best to ease the burden on the outstanding Salah.
    “The Reds have got no money, but we’ll still win the league!” chanted the triumphant away end in the closing stages at Elland Road.
    That bullish optimism that Liverpool can overcome the greater spending power of their rivals has been fuelled by such a solid start. But the devastating loss of Elliott provides a painful reminder of the factors they can’t control with another dose of wretched misfortune for Klopp to deal with.
     
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  13. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Who has the best attack in the Premier League?
    The Athletic UK Staff Sept 10, 2021[​IMG] 140 [​IMG]
    Which club has the best attack in the Premier League right now? What about the best midfield, defence, and goalkeeper? When you split a team up into its units, it’s not such an easy question to answer. But, here at The Athletic, we have tried.
    We started in midfield, with our writers nominating the sides they feel have the best set of players in that area. We then discussed the goalkeepers and defenders, with this article wrapping up the series.
    Don’t agree? Come and let us know in the comments and vote for the Premier League’s best attack in the poll at the end of the article…

    Manchester City
    OK, so the actual striker position is lacking. Imagine they’d signed Harry Kane — nobody would be disputing this area. But without him, or any other new arrival this summer, there’s quite a gap in Manchester City’s forward line. You might be expecting Gabriel Jesus to step up and finally show he can be Sergio Aguero’s replacement but, news flash, he’s a winger now.
    Ferran Torres will now be the go-to man when City want a traditional No 9 and while he showed promise in the role, particularly against Arsenal in their most recent match, the 21-year-old is still learning the trade, having been converted from a winger.
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    Ferran Torres is expected to lead the line after City failed to sign Kane this summer (Photo: Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)
    Elsewhere though, City have the usual array of talent. Phil Foden became their first-choice left winger last season, dislodging Raheem Sterling. With those two and Jack Grealish capable of playing from the left, that’s a hell of a selection dilemma for Pep Guardiola.
    On the other side, Riyad Mahrez has got better and better and played a key role at the end of last season, especially in the Champions League, although even he’s lost his place in recent weeks because, another news flash, Jesus is actually pretty handy on the right, with three assists in the last two games (and he was harshly robbed of another). Bernardo Silva can also play there, oh and, as everybody has mentioned, he can play as a false nine as well. You know the way City managed to win the vast majority of their games last season?
    So they may be lacking a proper goalscoring No 9 but they’ve still got plenty of firepower.
    Sam Lee

    Leeds United
    Ask a hundred people to build the Premier League’s best attacking line-up and the final cuts might not include many Leeds United players (despite the fact Raphinha has stratospheric potential) but Marcelo Bielsa’s team in full flow are one of the most engaging to observe.
    The patterns and structure of their build-up play have always been tactically intriguing and, more often than not, difficult to defend against. Bielsa likes his side to use every inch of the pitch out wide and, at their best, Leeds are a picture of intricate rotations, dangerous third-man runs and major gambles when it comes to their players leaving space in behind. They also possess a quiet talent for counter-attacking, blessed with the ability to flick a switch when opposing teams carry possession deep into their half.
    When it comes to what promoted Leeds brought to the Premier League last season, the numbers speak for themselves: sixth for goals scored, fifth for expected goals and fifth for chances created in open play. They were a blueprint for any coach who thinks that the way to approach the top division in the first year after coming up is to wade in and assault it. But this trend under Bielsa goes back to his very first year in charge at Elland Road, when his philosophy manifested itself in an average of 18 shots on goal per game.

    In his specific system, Patrick Bamford and Jack Harrison are made for it in a way which might not be true with other clubs or coaches. They are skilful, persistent runners whose energy delivers goals, assists and results. Raphinha, in contrast, is the sort of effervescent winger who could make most line-ups and excel for most managers, a bargain at £17 million. Add new signing Dan James to the mix and the one thing Bielsa will not lack this season is pace. If anything, James for Helder Costa should take their running up a notch.
    The reality with Leeds is that they are not awash with extreme talent. But if anything, that adds to the appreciation of Bielsa’s impact on them and the danger posed by the machine he has built.
    When it comes to the quality of their play going forward, ask yourself this: as a neutral, would you pay to watch them? Surely you would.
    Phil Hay

    Manchester United
    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United are knockout artists par excellence. Last season saw them score 73 goals in the Premier League (second only to Manchester City) and 15 in the Champions League group stage (more than RB Leipzig, who finished above them in that group, and Paris Saint-Germain).
    They managed all of this without an orthodox right winger and with their nominal central striker — Anthony Martial — in the worst form of his career.
    Solskjaer’s United score goals. There may be questions as to whether this attacking machine is successful thanks to sensible coaching or merely “vibes”, but there is no doubt Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood are two of the most dangerous players in the Premier League, if given space to run into, and Edinson Cavani’s supreme off the ball movement can lose even the most observant of defenders.
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    Ronaldo has returned to Old Trafford after completing a shock move back to Manchester United (Photo: Manchester United/Manchester United via Getty Images)
    On top of that, United now have Jadon Sancho — one of the most dynamic creators and goalscorers in Europe to play in the wide areas, and Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the most prolific goalscorers of all time.
    This season, United have reached a near-critical mass for attacking talent – at least one quality attacker will have to start each game on the bench (or will once everyone is fit) and nearly all of Solskjaer’s forwards have the right mix of match-reading ingenuity and technical ability to score a goal and turn a game. You might be able to shut down Rashford for 90 minutes, but that will cause you to leave space open for Sancho. Or maybe you can isolate those two, only for the xG-defying Greenwood to come to the fore.
    United’s attackers are most thrilling when given space to run into, but that is not meant (wholly) as a backhanded compliment. There might be better teams in the league for choreographed attacking moves but the speed and quality of United is something opposition teams cannot properly scout for — seeing the punch coming is different from stopping it landing, and United throw quick “punches in bunches” better than nearly anyone in the Premier League.
    Carl Anka

    Chelsea
    Last season, this argument would have been much harder to make.
    Tammy Abraham’s fall from favour left Chelsea looking like a watered-down version of Manchester City, with an array of younger, less reliable creators and no specialised No 9. Thomas Tuchel’s feat in winning the Champions League after only four months in charge was more remarkable for having been achieved in spite of his team’s chronic lack of ruthlessness.
    Things look very different now. Romelu Lukaku is the reliable goalscorer Chelsea have lacked ever since Diego Costa forced his way back to Atletico Madrid in 2017, and the early signs are that his mere presence will help Tuchel’s other attackers find their best roles.
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    Lukaku is back in the Premier League following a two-year stint in Italy with Inter Milan (Photo: Mark Leech/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)
    Timo Werner is much more suitably cast as the secondary scoring option in an elite team and should flourish either in tandem with Lukaku or as his back-up. Hakim Ziyech now has a consistent target for those devilish in-swinging crosses from the right flank, while the Belgian’s sharp runs will offer Mason Mount and Kai Havertz more enticing angles for incisive passes.
    Dangerous ball carriers such as Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi should find space more easily with Lukaku frequently occupying multiple opposition defenders, and we’re already beginning to see how devastating Reece James could be with someone to convert his inviting crosses. An attacking season in the Trent Alexander-Arnold mould is not beyond his fellow England right-back.
    Viewed in the aggregate, Chelsea no longer lack anything in the final third; Tuchel has a team to strike fear into any opposition defence in every situation.
    Liam Twomey

    Liverpool
    Just look at the damage Liverpool’s front line have done to Premier League defences.
    Since the start of the 2017-18 season, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have scored 205 top-flight goals between them. Their total in all competitions over that same period is 277.
    They don’t just score and create either, their work off the ball is invaluable as they press teams and force mistakes.
    Their domestic rivals may have invested heavily in attacking reinforcements this summer but Liverpool have Salah in his prime. He keeps rewriting the club record books with his goalscoring feats. He keeps darting in off the right flank and causing havoc. He boasts 127 goals in 206 Liverpool games in all competitions.
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    Salah and Mane will continue to play leading roles in Liverpool’s attack (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    Jurgen Klopp’s long-established front three was broken up by the impact of new signing Diogo Jota last season. Jota has been a revelation since arriving from Wolverhampton Wanderers with 11 goals in just 14 league starts and eight substitute appearances. He’s the perfect fit for Klopp’s high-octane brand of football.
    Firmino, whose output dropped last campaign, needs to respond this time around or he will find himself playing second fiddle to Jota. That should bring out the best in the tireless Brazilian.
    Mane also has a point to prove after going through a barren run last season and is determined to get back to the levels which saw him crowned African Footballer of the Year in January 2020.
    James Pearce

    Tottenham Hotspur
    Has there ever been a better Premier League strike partnership than Harry Kane and Son Heung-min? Over the course of one season, the numbers suggest not — Kane and Son broke the division’s record last campaign for most assists (14) between a pair of players.  
    That season also saw Kane finish as both the league’s top goalscorer and assister, while Son got at least 10 goals and 10 assists for a second season running. They are both world-class players and among the most dangerous and complete attackers in the Premier League.
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    Harry Kane failed in his quest to force through a move to champions Manchester City (Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
    The counter-argument would be that there isn’t a third member of the attack to elevate Spurs above the league’s other deadliest frontlines.
    There is some truth in this but, for a spell last season, Steven Bergwijn’s selfless running acted as the perfect foil for Kane and Son, and helped Spurs to the top of the table. Bergwijn has started this season in a similar vein and looks sharp enough to play a similar role in the coming months while adding more of a goal threat to his game.
    Summer signing Bryan Gil could also explode over the next couple of years — providing wizardry on the wing and a left foot to add balance to an already extremely dangerous attack.
     
  14. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Cox: Mane spinning both ways makes him a dangerous option through the middle
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    By Michael Cox Sept 13, 2021[​IMG] 51 [​IMG]
    Not for the first time, Sadio Mane’s fine performance in Liverpool’s 3-0 victory over Leeds was overshadowed by the contribution of Mohamed Salah. It was the Egyptian who scored Liverpool’s opener, which brought up his 100th Premier League goal and inevitably dominated the headlines. Mane had to wait until the 92nd minute — and his 10th shot of the match — before getting onto the scoresheet.
    But this was a contest made for Mane, against a Leeds side using their typically aggressive man-to-man press across the pitch. Whereas Salah was a threat primarily with his speed in behind, Mane was capable of coming short to receive the ball to feet, spinning past opponents and turning in either direction. He was Liverpool’s key attacker.
    While Diogo Jota is arguably ahead of the injured Roberto Firmino in Jurgen Klopp’s pecking order at the moment, this would have been a useful match for Firmino. His deep positioning between the lines would have caused Leeds’ man-marking problems, and his recent performance against Chelsea demonstrated how effective he remains at collecting the ball in clever positions between the lines. Jota, for all his qualities running towards the opposition goal, isn’t quite as adept as Firmino in those situations. Therefore the attacker playing the Firmino role here was, effectively, Mane.
    Mane has rarely been used centrally under Klopp. Since Salah’s arrival in 2017 — which saw Mane switched from the right to the left — he’s played 89 per cent of minutes on the left and only two per cent through the middle.
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    Here, although Mane’s starting position was on the left, he spent the majority of the first half peeling off into central positions, with Jota drifting left. Here’s a good example in the early stages — Jota with a forward pass from the left to Mane, who takes the ball in his stride and feeds Harvey Elliott on the run.
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    This move ended with Mane receiving the ball in a classic Firmino position and trying to slip in Elliott again, although the pass was overhit.
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    This became a recurring theme — Mane moving inside from the left, receiving the ball in great positions, but getting the final pass wrong. Here he senses the space between the lines, collects a forward ball from Fabinho, but his first-time pass is played to Liam Cooper, rather than to Jota or Salah.
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    Three minutes later, here’s a similar situation to the first one — it’s that same Jota pass into Mane, who receives the ball on the turn away from the defender and plays in Salah, although the ball is played into feet rather than in behind.
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    Another move along the same lines ends with Mane swapping passes with Salah, before thumping a shot wide.
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    Mane’s ability to receive the ball with either foot on the turn means his team-mates are happy to play the ball to him in quite an aggressive manner.
    Here’s a good example — Thiago, perhaps the Premier League’s best player at playing the right type of passes into team-mates, doesn’t play the ball directly to Mane’s feet here, but instead plays a very strong pass in front of him, that would allow Mane to turn and receive the ball across his body.
    In this instance, Mane instead elects to retain possession and drag his opponent up the pitch. Again, this is the type of position you might expect to see Firmino dropping into. In some situations moving forward, when Firmino is unavailable, it might be Mane rather than Jota who makes sense through the middle.
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    The other key feature was how comfortable Mane was receiving the ball in situations where he needed to use his body.
    Here, Salah chips the ball to him inside the box, up against Diego Llorente. Not only does Mane control the ball and spin instantly, he then gets himself into a position where Llorente isn’t sure whether he’ll cut inside onto his left, or go down the line on his right. Twice Mane stands him up, threatens to go inside and then darts down the outside, before chipping a cross into the six-yard box.
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    Now an unusual example in a central position — Mane is again coming inside, Jota plays the ball to him and then makes an overlapping run to the left — but Mane’s concern is Kalvin Phillips. He receives the ball in a position to shield it from Phillips, uses his opponent as a way to turn quickly, almost exploding off him onto the ball, and then shoots with his left foot. It’s remarkable how far behind Phillips is left.
     
  15. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Part 2

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    Here’s another situation where he uses his body well, receiving a ball around the corner from Salah and putting himself between Cooper and the ball — not actually touching it, but making sure he makes his run in a manner that means he’s fouled, earning Cooper a booking.
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    And here’s some more confident back-to-goal play, this time holding off the defender, dragging in another opponent and then backheeling the ball through to a team-mate.
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    Mane’s goal eventually arrived in stoppage time. It was another example of how defenders don’t know in which direction he’ll spin — when he receives this ball from Thiago, Cooper might have expected him to take the ball on the run, continue onto his left foot and shoot across the goalkeeper. No. Instead, Mane let the ball run across his body, controlled it with his left foot, then spun and finished with his right.
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    That’s what makes Mane so difficult to play against — he can go either way. This goal looks tremendously simple, but it’s only possible because of the possibility of Mane doing the opposite, and the goal was reminiscent of one he scored against West Ham in February 2019, when he received a cut-back from James Milner and spun away from Issa Diop, who was almost left on the floor by the speed of Mane’s turn.
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    It would be wrong to call that goal a carbon copy, though. It’s not — it’s a mirror image, and that only hammers home the point.
     
  16. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    The ball, the song, the dream’ – The Champions League isn’t perfect, but it is a reminder of what we almost lost
    Oliver Kay Sept 14, 2021[​IMG] 111 [​IMG]
    In those head-spinning few days in April, when 12 of Europe’s leading clubs came together to declare the end of football as we knew it — only for half of them to lose their nerve within 48 hours and pull out — something interesting happened.
    There was an outpouring of love for the existing Champions League format.
    Ander Herrera, Mesut Ozil, Bruno Fernandes and other current players spoke up against the European Super League (ESL) proposals and the naked greed behind them.
    As Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Herrera put it, “I fell in love with popular football, with the football of the fans, with the dream of seeing the team of my heart compete against the greatest. If this European Super League advances, those dreams are over (…). I believe in an improved Champions League, but not in the rich stealing what the people created, which is nothing other than the most beautiful sport on the planet.”
    Perhaps the most poignant words of all came from Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Daniel Podence, who previously played in the Champions League for Sporting Lisbon and Olympiakos. “The ball. The song. The dream,” he posted on Instagram. “The Zidane volley … Kaka’s solo … Liverpool in Athens … Ole in Barcelona … Cris and Seedorf. There are some things we just can’t really pay for it.”
    Presumably, Podence meant Liverpool’s dramatic comeback against AC Milan in the 2005 final in Istanbul, rather than the Italians’ revenge victory in Athens over two years later, but the meaning and sincerity behind was clear. Manchester United’s Fernandes clearly agreed, saying that dreams cannot be bought.
    There is of course a degree of irony behind all of this. When Luis Figo — now a UEFA ambassador and adviser — said the Super League “is all about greed and keeping the game for a few elite clubs while killing the other clubs and leagues that fans love”, it was possible to wonder whether he had been too busy playing brilliantly for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter Milan to notice the way those clubs and others began transforming the European football landscape to their design in the 1990s and 2000s.
    In 2001-02, the 32 teams in the Champions League group stage included representatives from Scotland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Ukraine and Czech Republic, as well as two apiece from Russia, Turkey and Greece. Galatasaray and Sparta Prague both reached the last 16. Panathinaikos got to the quarter-finals. Even if the make-up of the semi-finalists was largely predictable (two from Spain, one from Germany, one from England) there was still a sense that anything could happen in the earlier rounds of the competition.
    Twenty years on, it feels like the Champions League has become too predictable. Not because of its format but because of how power, wealth and talent has become so concentrated at a handful clubs in a handful of leagues. In the past two seasons, Porto are the only team from outside the “Big Five” leagues — the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 — to have got through the group stage. Ajax came within seconds of reaching the final in 2019, but that is the only time since 2005 that a team from outside the “Big Five” leagues has made the last four.
    And yet… for all the competitive imbalance it has brought, there remains something alluring about the Champions League.
    It’s Lionel Messi mesmerising us, it’s Cristiano Ronaldo defying time and gravity to break one goalscoring record after another, it’s those incredible, unforgettable comebacks in the knockout stage — Manchester United, Deportivo La Coruna, Barcelona, Roma, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur — when two-legged ties have been turned on their heads. It’s Chelsea longing for it and then winning it (twice) when they least expected it. As Podence said, it’s the ball, the song, the dream.
    That song will ring out from Tiraspol to Malmo this week. For a club like Malmo, who reached the European Cup final in 1979, even qualifying for the Champions League is now the stuff of dreams. Even for AC Milan, the second most successful club in the competition’s history, hearing that anthem for the first time in eight seasons will feel special. They make their long-awaited return to the Champions League on Wednesday at Anfield, a ground where every European night feels like an occasion.
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    Liverpool’s fans have been missing from Champions League nights at Anfield since March 2020 (Photo: Getty Images)
    The number of heavyweight clashes is one of the most appealing things about this season’s group stage.
    With Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool all missing out on a place among the top seeds, the draw threw up some mouthwatering fixtures: Barcelona vs Bayern Munich on Tuesday evening, followed 24 hours later by Inter Milan vs Real Madrid and Liverpool vs AC Milan. The second round of group matches, in a fortnight, include Paris Saint-Germain against Manchester City, a heavyweight clash between the two clubs transformed by Middle Eastern ownership, and Juventus against last season’s winners Chelsea.
    These are match-ups of the type that Florentino Perez, Andrea Agnelli and the motley crew behind the ESL fiasco cannot get enough of — so much so that they thought it was worth destroying football as we know it. It can be underwhelming when big teams meet in the group stage when there is little jeopardy in an imbalanced group, but while that might apply to Group D (Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk and Sheriff Tiraspol) and Group H (Chelsea, Juventus, Zenit Saint Petersburg, Malmo), there is potential for real intrigue elsewhere.
    Jurgen Klopp says he “laughed pretty loud” upon seeing Liverpool drawn in a group with Atletico Madrid, Porto and AC Milan because “it’s a tough group obviously”. Perhaps such appraisals of Porto and Milan are based primarily on the clubs’ historic pedigree in European competition, but, in addition to established names such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Olivier Giroud, Milan possess some eye-catching young talent in Theo Hernandez, Brahim Diaz, Ismael Bennacer, Franck Kessie and Rafael Leao. Of course, Liverpool need no introduction to Atletico, who ended their Champions League reign 18 months ago.
    Barcelona definitely need no introduction to Bayern, who inflicted that remarkable 8-2 defeat on them in a quarter-final in Lisbon in August 2020. Life has only got more complicated for Barcelona since then, with financial turmoil leading to Messi’s departure last month, and they could certainly have hoped for a gentler draw than they will face in Group E. Benfica struggled last season but look stronger this term. If post-Messi Barcelona — or indeed Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern — are vulnerable, Benfica could feasibly take advantage.
    Then there is Group A, where two of the favourites, City and PSG, are joined by Nagelsmann’s previous club RB Leipzig, now under the management of Jesse Marsch, and poor Club Bruges. Leipzig would have fancied their chances with a group like this a couple of seasons ago. Less so, perhaps, now that Nagelsmann, Timo Werner, Dayot Upamacano, Ibrahima Konate and Marcel Sabitzer have all left for clubs higher up the food chain and City and PSG both look so formidable.
    City and PSG have established themselves among the best teams in Europe but they still don’t have a European Cup to show for it. PSG made the 2019-20 final, only to be beaten 1-0 by Bayern. City suffered the same fate last season against Chelsea, when Pep Guardiola succumbed to that strange urge of his to pick an eccentric line-up for a big European game and Thomas Tuchel and his players got everything right.
    What will it take to go that final step? Chelsea’s experiences in this competition might suggest it is less about being the perfect team and more about being in the right mindset at the right time. It is perfection that Guardiola craves and at times his City team have threatened to achieve it, but their failure to sign a centre-forward this summer remains a frustration. Mauricio Pochettino and his PSG team can have no such complaints after a summer that brought in Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Ramos, Nuno Mendes, Danilo Pereira, Georginio Wijnaldum and, of course, Messi.
    The nagging question about PSG is less about talent and squad depth than about cohesion. The image of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Messi in full flow is one that will give opposition defenders and coaches nightmares. But Pochettino is a coach who believes in systems — most of the best ones do — and it might not be quite so easy to find one that plays to the strengths of Mbappe, Neymar and Messi without leaving certain weaknesses exposed.
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    Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi have made PSG favourites for this year’s competition (Phot: Getty Images)
    In the UK at least, every bookmaker has PSG, City and Chelsea as the three leading contenders. And maybe, with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Manchester United in varying states of transition and the two Milan clubs unsure whether this season’s Champions League campaign has come a year too soon or a year too late, that is about right. And maybe, for all their complaints about petrodollars and state-owned clubs, Juventus, Madrid and particularly Barcelona should reflect that they took their eye off the ball by making bad decisions while lusting after a system that would make them even richer, even more powerful and even more unassailable than the current one.
    Even now, though, the various predictive models suggest that this season’s Champions League is hard to call. Infogol has PSG as favourites with an 18.2 per cent chance of winning the tournament, followed by City (14 per cent), Bayern (12.9 per cent), Chelsea (11.7 per cent), Liverpool (7.7 per cent) and United (5.8 per cent).

    We can all question the selection of teams and percentages, but the most striking thing here is the suggestion of an 81.8 per cent chance that the favourites will not win and a 67.8 per cent one that neither the first nor second-favourites will prevail. It suggests that picking a Champions League winner before the group phase begins is a fool’s errand. In an age where so many domestic title races have become processions — though not necessarily last season — those percentages feel reassuring.
    The last few years have seen a different dynamic in the Champions League.
    Liverpool were seventh-favourites at the start of their victorious 2018-19 campaign. Bayern were sixth-favourites a year later. Chelsea were fourth-favourites when last season began, but eighth-favourites at the start of the knock-out stage. There were periods in the late 2000s and the early-mid 2010s when the same teams seemed to be reaching the semi-finals and final more often than not. By contrast, the past five seasons have seen 20 last-four places filled by 14 different clubs, and the past four seasons have seen seven different finalists.
    The small geographical spread is depressing, reflecting the way the game has come to be dominated by those “Big Five” leagues but the variety of clubs reaching the later stages has been refreshing, even if it has owed much to mismanagement among some of the elite. From a position of such strength when they won the Champions League in 2015, Barcelona have made one semi-final in six seasons. Juventus haven’t gone that far since 2017. Manchester United made three finals in four seasons between 2007-08 and 2010-11. Over the subsequent decade, the quarter-finals (twice) is as good as it has got for them.
    Could United finally re-emerge as a credible force in Europe’s premier competition this season? Like PSG, they have invested hugely in elite talent and Champions League-winning experience, signing Raphael Varane from Real Madrid and Ronaldo from Juventus. Villarreal, their conquerors in last season’s Europa League final, and Atalanta will pose very different tactical challenges over the next three months. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his team will have to show they have learned from last season, when they went out after the group stage.
    Chelsea’s success last season was built on a resilient, compact defence and the intelligence and energy of Jorginho and N’Golo Kante in midfield. With summer signing Romelu Lukaku bringing a more consistent goal threat, they look stronger now, but perhaps that just means they are better equipped to challenge for the Premier League. Winning a knockout competition is a different kind of test, one at which they excelled last season to overcome the contrasting challenges posed by Atletico Madrid, Porto, Real Madrid and Manchester City.
    That is the thing about the Champions League. Playing against Diego Simeone’s Atletico, Julen Lopetegui’s Sevilla or Unai Emery’s Villarreal is very different to the expansive style of Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta or, while it is early days for both, Marco Rose’s Borussia Dortmund or Marsch’s Leipzig. Wolfsburg, Ajax and Red Bull Salzburg, boasting outstanding talents such as Maxence Lacroix, Ryan Gravenberch and Karim Adeyemi respectively, will have their moments too. So too, perhaps, Shakhtar, whose young wingers Manor Solomon and Tete are attracting rave reviews.
    It is still tempting to suggest that the usual suspects from England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain will make up at least 10 of the last 16 next February and probably seven of the last eight, but there is still an increased air of vulnerability among some of the elite.
    It is unlikely to be the case for long. Those biggest, most powerful clubs will get their houses in order again and, in any case, they have already clamoured for changes that will see the introduction of a new Champions League format from 2024 onwards — a lot more matches between the elite clubs and, disappointingly, a lot less jeopardy.
    As such, we are entering the final phase of the Champions League as we know it. The simplicity of eight groups of four, with the top two going through to a knockout stage, will become a thing of the past. The never-ending desire for more matches, more broadcast and commercial revenue will see to that, as indeed it has done throughout the Champions League era.
    For now, we have to be grateful for whatever small degree of equity remains: a tournament featuring 32 teams from 15 different countries. Even if many of those teams will end up making up the numbers in this group stage, it is preferable by far to the closed-shop monstrosity the ESL clubs were proposing last April.
    And from Malmo to Tiraspol, there is still the possibility to dream when that song rings across Europe again on Tuesday evening.
    At least until the action starts and the usual suspects start to impose themselves once more.
     
  17. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Loris Karius: Dogged by misfortune or his own worst enemy?
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    By James Pearce Sept 15, 2021[​IMG] 147 [​IMG]
    “I’m sorry,” mouthed Loris Karius, his hands apologetically held up to the devastated supporters in the stand in front of him.
    As the tears streamed down his face, he was begging for forgiveness. The biggest night of his career had turned into a nightmare.
    “I know that I messed it up with the two mistakes and let you all down. I’d just like to turn back the time but that’s not possible,” he later posted on social media.
    The Champions League final is the pinnacle of club football. Shine, and your heroic deeds echo for eternity. It’s why names such as Jerzy Dudek, Djimi Traore, Vladimir Smicer and Divock Origi are now cemented in Anfield folklore.
    But when it goes so painfully wrong, there is no hiding place.
    From the depths of despair against Real Madrid in Kyiv, glory soon followed for Jurgen Klopp’s side, but it was achieved without Karius after Liverpool invested £65 million in Alisson less than two months after that 3-1 defeat by Gareth Bale and Co.
    Over three years later, the German goalkeeper continues to be defined by the events of May 26, 2018.
    Medical tests carried out in the days that followed showed Karius was concussed when he inexplicably rolled the ball straight to Karim Benzema, who scored the first goal of the night, and then made a hash of Bale’s long-range strike that made it 3-1. Moments before the Benzema goal, he had been struck in the head by Sergio Ramos’s stray elbow at a corner, and the offence had gone unpunished.
    “We don’t use it as an excuse, we use it as an explanation,” insisted Klopp, who vowed to help Karius get his career back on track.
    [​IMG]

    Karius has not been seen in a Liverpool first team since his errors in Kyiv (Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)
    However, more than 1,200 days on, there has been no shot at redemption.
    That final in Kyiv remains Karius’s most recent competitive appearance for Liverpool. There will not be another one.
    Three seasons out on loan at Turkey’s Besiktas and Union Berlin in his homeland failed to lead to a permanent move and the summer transfer window closed with the 28-year-old, who has entered the final year of his contract, still on the club’s books.
    The Athletic understands there was an offer on the table from Basel, but Karius could not agree personal terms with the Swiss club. Basel then tried to negotiate a loan but that did not materialise either because the player was only willing to sacrifice a small part of his salary. “That’s not a criticism of Loris,” insisted one senior club source. “That was his choice to make.”
    Karius has effectively written off the first half of his 2021-22 season. Liverpool have no intention of paying up his contract so he will train under the guidance of goalkeeping coach John Achterberg until January at least.
    In recent weeks, he has been given permission by the club to spend time in Berlin as he recovers from a shoulder problem that hampered him at times in pre-season. Staff speak highly of the attitude and work ethic he showed during July’s training camp in Austria.
    When he returns to Kirkby, he will find himself behind Alisson, Caoimhin Kelleher and Adrian in the pecking order.
    From life as Liverpool No 1 and starting a Champions League final to vying with Brazilian 18-year-old Marcelo Pitaluga to be Klopp’s fourth-choice goalkeeper.
    It has been some fall. But has Karius been dogged by misfortune or is he his own worst enemy?

    There was a murmuring of disbelief on the Kop.
    It was late November 2016 and Liverpool were en route to a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Sunderland in the Premier League.
    As full-back Nathaniel Clyne moved to the right-hand side of the home penalty area ready to accept a pass, new-boy Karius took the goal kick and… knocked it straight out for a corner. Que looks of bewilderment.
    It did not prove costly, but it was another sign of the nerves affecting the man who had arrived from Mainz, one of Klopp’s old clubs, for £4.7 million that summer.
    Karius’s Anfield career was far from plain sailing long before Kyiv.
    He broke a hand accidentally punching team-mate Dejan Lovren during a pre-season friendly four weeks after his transfer and the required surgery sidelined him until the end of September. “The timing couldn’t have been worse,” he admitted.
    When he belatedly replaced Simon Mignolet in the team, he struggled to adapt to the pressure and expectation of life at Liverpool. Rather than command his penalty box, he spread uncertainty.
    “You don’t realise until you’re here how big this club is, followed by millions all over the world and everyone wants to understandably have an opinion because of their passion,” Karius said. “In Mainz sometimes when we lost a game, people would say, ‘Don’t worry. All good. We’ll do better next time’.”
    Some glaring blunders, most notably in a 4-3 loss away to Bournemouth in early December, resulted in Mignolet being recalled before Christmas. It was the Belgian who grasped his chance and helped Klopp’s men kick on and secure Champions League qualification one point ahead of fifth-placed Arsenal.
    To his credit, Karius rallied.
    He had become the youngest keeper ever to play in the Bundesliga after being handed his debut by Thomas Tuchel at 19. He played 95 more times for Mainz, keeping 32 clean sheets, and represented Germany Under-21s. Klopp had watched his development closely and believed he would fulfil his potential at Anfield.
    For the 2017-18 season, Klopp announced Mignolet would be the No 1 for the Premier League but Karius would start the Champions League matches. It was a compromise that suited neither keeper, and there was friction between them.
    In the January, before the knockout phase began, Klopp ditched that approach and put his faith solely in Karius.
    “It was tough to take. It wasn’t easy to sit and watch,” Mignolet told The Athletic last year. “You ask questions. You want to know why. You try to find answers but they aren’t always given to you. One minute I was being told I was just being rested, and then I wasn’t playing again for the rest of the season.”
    Personality-wise, the two players were polar opposites. Karius had an array of tattoos, an affinity for fashion and model-level good looks. He hung out in Miami with Justin Bieber and had a TV-star girlfriend. Mignolet in contrast kept his head down and lived the quiet life.
    Karius struck up a friendship with countryman Emre Can but was close to few others in the Liverpool squad. “He just seemed comfortable being on the outside of things,” one dressing room source recalls. “Not in an arrogant way, as he’s a nice guy; just a bit of a lone wolf.”
    It should not be forgotten that Karius helped Liverpool get to Kyiv, starting all 13 Champions League games and keeping six clean sheets, but there were alarm bells ringing.
    When the first leg of the semi-final against Roma at Anfield was still goalless, he lost the flight of Aleksandar Kolarov’s strike and unconvincingly helped it onto the crossbar. In the crazy second leg, when Liverpool survived a late scare to go through 7-6 on aggregate, he gifted Edin Dzeko a goal that made it 2-2 on the night early in the second half by pushing Stephan El Shaarawy’s shot straight out to him.
    Many were sceptical when, a week after his calamitous errors in Kyiv, Liverpool made public the details about his concussion.
    In the immediate aftermath of the match, Karius had not complained of discomfort and the club’s medical staff had not picked it up.
    It was four days after the final that Klopp had taken a call from German football legend Franz Beckenbauer, who first alerted him to the possibility that Karius had been concussed in the Ramos incident. By then, the distraught keeper had flown to America on holiday. He was advised to visit specialists Dr Ross Zafonte and Dr Lenore Herget at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
    Brain scans showed Karius had visual spatial dysfunction, which can result in an inability to judge where objects are.
    “Loris had 26 of 30 markers for a concussion still,” Klopp said. “He was influenced by that knock, 100 per cent.”
    As well as the best medical treatment, Liverpool ensured Karius, who had received death threats on social media following the final, had all the emotional and psychological support required.
    Klopp felt that duty of care keenly. “We start completely new,” he assured Karius when the player reported back to Melwood for pre-season in the July.
    But the psychological scars of Kyiv were clearly evident and the spotlight unforgiving. Team-mates felt Karius did not help himself by releasing a compilation video on Instagram from his summer holiday in Los Angeles as he dived into a swimming pool, played table tennis and ate ice cream. “He should have just kept his head down. It just drew more attention to him,” says one senior player from that squad.
    Karius was mercilessly mocked online after viewers on the club’s own LFCTV channel saw him allow a weak shot to squirm through his legs in the warm-up before the opening friendly of that summer against Chester.
    More brickbats followed after he gave away a goal in the next warm-up game, against Tranmere Rovers three days later, by spilling a free kick.
    Behind the scenes, plans had long since been in place to buy a new No 1. Liverpool had first contacted Roma about Alisson during the January 2018 window. “If Alisson was on the market and we’d won the final, we would have still gone for him because he’s the goalkeeper we want,” insisted Klopp.
    Achterberg had built up an extensive dossier on Alisson over five years, after Liverpool old boy and fellow Brazilian Alexander Doni had urged him to keep tabs on the then-21-year-old goalkeeper for Porto Alegre club Internacional in 2013.
    What delayed the process was Roma’s £90 million asking price, one year after Liverpool had got them to part with Mohamed Salah for £34 million.
    Sporting director Michael Edwards sat tight and once the fee dropped to £65 million, they got their man.
    Klopp was going to keep Karius as the back-up and sell Mignolet. But, despite strong interest from Italy’s Napoli, the club’s £10 million valuation of the Belgian was not met so, in late August 2018, the decision was made to offload Karius instead.
    Liverpool pocketed a £2.25 million fee for a two-year loan to Besiktas. It was also agreed that the Istanbul outfit would pay £7.25 million to make the move permanent in 2020 if certain performance criteria, based on appearances and qualifying for Europe, were met. In order to protect his value if Besiktas did not end up buying him, Liverpool gave Karius a one-year extension on his contract to take him up to 2022.
    The move to Turkey offered a fresh start, but Karius’s time there was turbulent.
     
  18. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Part 2

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    Karius trains with Liverpool in the summer (Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    “Karius was a world-renowned goalkeeper, so Besiktas fans were very surprised when he first transferred here,” Istanbul-based football journalist Gokmen Ozcan tells The Athletic.
    “However, a significant number of the fans were worried about what happened in the Champions League final. And those fears were realised. Overall, his Besiktas career was a disappointment. His first season was promising but after that it was a disaster.”
    Karius made 35 appearances for Besiktas in 2018-19, as they finished third. After being left red-faced when a deflected cross dipped over him against Malmo in a Europa League group game, he posted to his 1.6 million followers on Instagram: “ To succeed in life, you need two things: Ignorance and confidence.”
    In the March, he was publicly criticised by Besiktas’s manager Senol Gunes, a former goalkeeper himself, who accused him of going “a bit stagnant” following a game against Konyaspor.
    “Something is wrong with his electricity, motivation, enthusiasm. It has been like that since the beginning,” Gunes said. “He does not really feel a part of the team. He is talented but it hasn’t worked out and we have a problem.”
    Around the same time, Karius was asking FIFA to take action against Besiktas after it emerged he was owed four months wages. He did return for the second loan season, playing another 32 matches, but he terminated his loan early during the COVID-19 lockdown in May last year due to the club’s failure to pay their debts.
    “It’s a shame it comes to an end like this but you should know that I have tried everything to solve this situation without any problems,” Karius posted on social media. “I was very patient for months telling the board over and over again. Same things happened last year. Unfortunately, they haven’t tried to solve this problem and even refused my suggestion to help by taking a pay cut.”
    That cuts no ice with journalist Ozcan.
    “He performed poorly and left the team in the midst of the pandemic, citing economic problems. His self-confidence was very high, but he conceded many amateurish goals,” he adds.
    “Senol Gunes is one of the most important goalkeepers in Turkish football history. He’s a teacher and tried to help Karius with his problems, but he went even further back with his performances.
    “Karius belittled the Turkish League. He thought he could easily succeed here. But when everything went bad, he fled at the first opportunity. Even if Karius had completed his contract at Besiktas, they wouldn’t have bought him because the new administration decided to downsize economically and they were also dissatisfied with him.”
    Anfield officials have always felt Karius was unfairly treated in Istanbul.
    “The fact is that Besiktas didn’t want to buy him. It was too much money for them, so they wanted to create a situation where him staying wasn’t an option,” one senior source tells The Athletic.
    “There were a lot of games where he did well for them. When you haven’t been paid for months, that’s bound to have an impact on you. They didn’t like the fact Loris got FIFA involved.”
    Karius’s return to Merseyside last summer proved to be brief. In late September, he joined Union Berlin on a season-long loan.
    “The good performances I showed have been somewhat forgotten in Germany. That’s a shame,” he told reporters at his unveiling. “My goal is to prove myself again. My drive is to show that I’m still a really good Bundesliga goalkeeper.”
    Karius was spiky when asked about that night in Kyiv. “That was two years ago. I’ve played over 60 matches since. That doesn’t play a role anymore — I long put it behind me. The only people who want to talk about it are the journalists. It’s boring now.”
    But rather than remind his countrymen of his quality, Karius spent most of last season warming the bench, playing second fiddle to 34-year-old Andreas Luthe.
    Karius had to settle for four Bundesliga appearances, starting three, when Luthe was absent due to compassionate leave and an injury in February. He conceded just one goal in those matches but as soon as Luthe was available again, he was recalled by coach Urs Fischer. Karius described his plight as “extremely bitter”, yet Union finished an impressive seventh in just their second-ever Bundesliga season and qualified for the Europa Conference League.
    “He was a bit unlucky during his time here,” German football journalist and author Christoph Biermann tells The Athletic.
    “When Union brought in two keepers last summer, everyone expected that Karius would become the No 1. But he was the last to arrive and that meant Luthe had his chance. Luthe did well and Karius couldn’t get into the team.
    “When Karius did play, he did OK. He didn’t make any big mistakes and he didn’t look nervous. He looked like a reliable No 2. I know that the goalkeeper coach was happy with Karius but it wasn’t like they were in awe because he was so fantastic.
    “You wouldn’t expect him to be sitting on the bench for a just-above-mid-table Bundesliga club.
    “Signing him created a lot of interest. Firstly, given he was arriving on loan from Liverpool and secondly because of his then celebrity girlfriend, Sophia (Thomalla, a former winner of the German version of Strictly Come Dancing/Dancing With The Stars). That was one of the attractions for him as she was living in Berlin, but they ended up splitting during his time here.”
    Karius confirmed on Twitter in June that his relationship with model and TV presenter Thomalla had “fallen apart”.
    [​IMG]

    Liverpool loanee Karius was second choice at Union Berlin last season (Photo: Boris Streubel/Getty Images)
    “I don’t think keeping him at Union was even discussed,” adds Biermann.
    “He doesn’t really get talked about in Germany. If he hadn’t played in a Champions League final, it would be a very ordinary story in the world of football.
    “It’s sad what’s happened to him. I feel for him. He’s a very decent goalkeeper, just not a top one — not one for Liverpool. But there should be a lot of clubs around who would be happy to have him. One of the problems is that he earns so much money.”
    Karius is now back at Liverpool with no prospect of playing any first-team football before January. He may decide to sit tight until he is a free agent next summer. He may not have a choice if there is not another option available.
    Although Karius has always dismissed the idea that the Champions League final three years ago still preys on his mind but it appears to affect how he is viewed, given the lack of interest in signing him.
    “Clearly, it would have been best for all parties if Karius had found a solution with his agent this summer,” says one senior Liverpool source. “He’s good enough to play somewhere as a No 1. He’s a natural keeper in so many areas. He’s been unfortunate but when you go somewhere, you have to make people want you. You have to make things happen, make your luck, your career.”
    Staff who worked with him when he was a teenager at Mainz talk about how his “mental toughness” and “ice-cool character” set him apart.
    “Play him in front of a hostile 25,000 crowd and he would be unflinching. He had everything to be a top-class keeper,” one of the coaches tells The Athletic.
    “That’s why what’s happened to him since is so strange. The main problem is that he moved to Liverpool too young. He had a fantastic season with Mainz, helping them get into the Europa League. But he was only 22.
    “If he had got more experience in a more forgiving environment before making a transfer, maybe things would have turned out differently.”
    Not securing a move this summer means more time has been lost in Karius’s mission to change the narrative around him.
     
  19. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Liverpool have enjoyed a more iconic fightback against AC Milan – but this was still immensely satisfying
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    By James Pearce Sept 16, 2021[​IMG] 109 [​IMG]
    If there is one nagging concern about Liverpool’s ability to compete for the biggest prizes this season, it surrounds the depth of Jurgen Klopp’s squad compared to those of their rivals.
    It’s a lively topic brought into sharp focus by a quiet end to the transfer window and the subsequent loss of Harvey Elliott for most of the season with a serious ankle injury in last weekend’s win over Leeds.
    Klopp has a star-studded starting XI capable of beating anyone but does he really have enough in reserve to be able to handle the challenges ahead? Will Liverpool pay the price for not splashing the cash this summer?
    A thrilling 3-2 victory over AC Milan in their Champions League opener at Anfield last night added weight to the Liverpool manager’s bullish claims that he’s got what he needs. Tougher tests lie ahead but this was a productive evening for some of those on the fringes.
    Klopp gambled by giving Virgil van Dijk a night off and consigning Sadio Mane and Thiago to bench duty. In their absence, others stepped up and delivered. Not least Divock Origi, who gave another kiss of life to an Anfield career which is into its eighth season but had long since looked beyond rescuing.
    Having not even made the bench for the previous three games, the Belgian striker was brought in from the cold and tasked with leading the line against Milan. It was his first Liverpool start since the 3-1 win away to West Ham nearly eight months ago. Klopp admitted he’d expected Origi to move on this summer.
    “We all thought there would be a proper offer,” he said. “I thought he would maybe leave, but the football world is a crazy place and people obviously forgot how good he is. Obviously, people don’t watch football enough.
    “Div is a sensational striker and he did really well (against Milan).”
    [​IMG]

    ‘People forgot how good he is,’ Jurgen Klopp said of Divock Origi (Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)
    In truth, if Origi had performed like this last season then there would have been suitors prepared to pay £20 million for him. He was aggressive, he pressed, he forced mistakes, his movement was intelligent and he linked play effectively. His exquisite scooped pass enabled Mohamed Salah to make it 2-2 early in the second half.
    When Origi limped off with cramp shortly after the hour mark, he was afforded a standing ovation.
    “In 10 years’ time, when we look back, Div will be a Liverpool legend but he is too young to be already seen as a legend now so he has to play football,” Klopp added of the 26-year-old.
    “It is really difficult to get into this team. I have to decide about different positions, who I bring on, how I want to react, before a game. That’s why Div was not in, he did nothing wrong. He trains, he gives everything and sometimes you still don’t make it. I’m really happy I could give him the opportunity and that he used it like he did.”
    Liverpool had threatened to run riot after Fikayo Tomori turned Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross into his own net in the first 10 minutes. A youthful Milan side couldn’t handle the tempo and the intensity with which Liverpool hit them. But Salah’s run of converting 17 successive penalties was ended by Mike Maignan’s save on 14 minutes and other chances went begging.
    Klopp’s men slackened off and paid the price as Ante Rebic and Brahim Diaz both netted in the space of two minutes shortly before the break to give Milan the half-time lead.
    “We lost the plot and got carried away by our own football,” explained Klopp. “We didn’t keep it simple anymore offensively, and defensively we were not well organised. When spaces are too big, not even Fabinho can sort it and the last line were slightly too deep.”
    It’s unimaginable that Liverpool’s back line would have been carved open so easily if Van Dijk had been out there. Communication let the home defenders down as runners weren’t tracked but the Dutchman has to be handled sensibly following his long absence after rupturing an ACL 11 months ago.
    A degree of rust was understandable given that Joe Gomez was making his first start since he suffered season-ending knee tendon damage three weeks after Van Dijk’s injury. Getting those 90 minutes under his belt will be invaluable for Gomez. It’s been a long time since he and last night’s partner Joel Matip played together.
    Summer-buy centre-back Ibrahima Konate’s debut will follow either at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday or away at Norwich City in the Carabao Cup three days later.
    “It’s really difficult,” said Klopp. “Everybody who saw Virg warming up probably thought, ‘Why is he not playing?’, but we have to be sensible in these moments.”
    What was most impressive was how Liverpool shrugged off that disastrous end to the first half, regained their composure and dominated the second half.
    They have enjoyed a more iconic fightback against Milan, of course. Istanbul belongs in a class of its own but this was immensely satisfying nevertheless.
    Naby Keita showed flashes of quality on his return to the starting line-up and there was a lively 20-minute cameo from Curtis Jones in his first outing of the season. Both can help to fill the Elliott void with their creative spark.
    The glory belonged to captain Jordan Henderson, who swept home an emphatic winner from the edge of the box after Alexander-Arnold’s corner had been headed out to him. It was his first Champions League goal since a draw away to Ludogorets in November 2014. It was Gerrardesque.
    [​IMG]

    Liverpool match-winner Jordan Henderson celebrates with the Anfield crowd (Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)
    The emotion of the night was raw.
    Not since Atletico Madrid in March of last year had Anfield been packed to the rafters for a European showdown. The deafening noise certainly inspired the hosts and intimidated the visitors.
    After the final whistle, Klopp headed across to the Kop and delivered a flurry of fist-pumps by way of thanks. There was relief as well as satisfaction after he made those changes.
    “As we won, I can say it was the right thing to do,” he smiled. “Playing every three days, it’s just not possible to play always the same guys. The boys who came in did incredible. A spectacular European night at Anfield. I love it.”
    Liverpool can count on a fresh Van Dijk, Mane and Thiago for Palace at the weekend.
    To be able to rotate and still take charge of Group B after one game bodes well for what’s to come.
     
  20. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Bobby Clark: The Liverpool U18s recruit who scored on his debut and has been in demand since the age of nine
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    By Caoimhe O'Neill 5h ago[​IMG] 10 [​IMG]
    Bobby Clark made a uniquely difficult decision this summer when he chose to wave goodbye to boyhood club Newcastle United and join Liverpool.
    The 16-year-old attacking midfielder’s father, Lee Clark, is a Newcastle fan favourite who, having come through the youth ranks himself, went on to make over 200 appearances for the club across two spells. His son, an England youth international, supports Newcastle and spent seven years in their academy system. Newcastle head coach Steve Bruce highlighted Clark as one of the club’s emerging talents two years ago — and more recently aired his frustrations over the teenager’s departure.
    It was after extensive talks with academy director Alex Inglethorpe and various key personnel at Liverpool — combined with a visit to the club’s training base in Kirkby, as well as to Anfield — that Clark’s young mind was made up about moving to Merseyside.
    Manchester City, Manchester United, Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur are all credited as having shown an interest in Clark, who can play on the wing or cut it up more centrally. And even for his limited years in the game, he is already familiar with being on the radar of multiple clubs. It is something he experienced at the age of nine.
    During his dad Lee’s time as manager of Birmingham City, his son trained at the Midlands club’s youth development centre. When his father’s two-year tenure came to an abrupt end with his dismissal in October 2014, the family returned to the north east. This switch back to Tyneside saw the three local pro clubs Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough all roll out the welcome wagon for Clark junior. After visits to each, Newcastle emerged as his chosen club.
    Seven years on, it is Liverpool’s infrastructure and stature which are credited to have won Clark over this time around. Another key factor, and perhaps the most crucial of all in helping persuade him to relinquish his Newcastle dream, is the pathway to first-team football in place under Jurgen Klopp.
    The German manager has given youth players his backing throughout his near six years as manager. Harvey Elliott’s recent run in the side, until his unfortunate ankle injury last weekend, is the latest example of the German’s ability to overlook age and inexperience when a player impresses him.
    Clark, who scored on his debut for Liverpool Under-18s against their Nottingham Forest counterparts at the weekend, will be hoping he can emulate Elliott and others by forcing his way into Klopp’s thinking — though in some respects, he already has.
    [​IMG]

    The Liverpool youngster’s dad is former Newcastle midfielder and ex-Birmingham and Bury boss Lee Clark (Photo: Pete Norton/Getty Images)
    During the last international break, Clark was invited to train with the club’s remaining first-team players on a couple of occasions. A training ground source described both Klopp and his assistant Pep Lijnders as “big admirers” from what they have seen so far.
    Matt Newbury, the club’s head of senior academy recruitment, is the man who got the ball rolling on Clark’s move to Liverpool.
    Newbury had “strongly and persistently” presented the player to the club’s wider recruitment web.
    He then worked in coordination with head of recruitment Dave Fallows and chief scout Barry Hunter.
    The video summary, scouting and character reports presented to the team were all very convincing. This culminated with the strong recommendation that Liverpool sign the player, something they did officially on August 26.
    The move itself was financed by the departure of former Liverpool youth player Ethan Ennis, who has gone to Manchester United.
    Ennis, also an attacking midfielder, left for a fixed fee of £750,000 with add-ons potentially rising to £1.5 million. As well as this, there was a sell-on clause inserted into the deal, which was negotiated by assistant sporting director Julian Ward. The terms with Newcastle for Clark are thought to be almost identical, The Athletic understands.
    What kind of player can Liverpool fans now expect to see?
    “He is more of an offensive midfielder. In a 4-2-3-1 system, he would be the midfield player closer to the striker in the No 10 role,” his father told The Athletic in 2020. “He is very athletic, has a good change of pace, and he is tall for his age. He has good leadership skills. We have had good feedback from the coaches on how he captains both on and off the field.
    “I didn’t get to see a lot of his football. His mum was always taking him because I was away myself. When I was hearing these good reports, I was taking them with a pinch of salt. Then, when I was out of work and I had the chance to see him on a regular basis, I was like, ‘Wow, there is a decent, young player there’, but what I keep stressing to him, just as I did when I was a manager, is that they are on the lowest rung of a very big ladder. It takes a lot of work and dedication.”
    That work and dedication, which started at Birmingham and continued at Newcastle, now carries on at Liverpool.
    Clark, who is living with a host family in the city and has settled into his new surroundings well, is among the youngsters to have received coaching sessions from former Liverpool stalwarts Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman in recent weeks.
    The highly-rated teen has already put those tips to good use, getting off to a goalscoring start at the weekend as his mum watched on from the sidelines.
    The main aim for the England Under-16 international will now be to impress his way out of Marc Bridge-Wilkinson’s under-18s side and into the under-23s set-up overseen by Barry Lewtas.
    Clark has plenty of work to do and numerous coaches to impress before that happens, of course.
    Though, for a player who made his Newcastle Under-18s debut aged just 14, would it be that much of a shock to see him play for Liverpool Under-23s before he turns 17 in February?
     
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