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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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    Daniel Agger: Hurt by Rodgers, learning from Liverpool lessons and back in football after ‘100 per cent’ leaving it
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce Nov 27, 2021[​IMG] 62 [​IMG]
    It is cold, wet and grey. The breeze whipping in from Koge Bay brings with it an icy blast. The Danish winter is closing in.
    Daniel Agger emerges from the doorway inside the Capelli Sport Stadium and extends a welcoming hand.
    During his playing days at Liverpool, the classy centre-back was adamant that he would walk away from football for good the day he hung up his boots. Coaching did not appeal. He had other business interests to pursue. He craved life away from the limelight.
    When he decided to retire in 2016 after a second spell with Brondby, he relocated with his young family to the luxurious villa his wife Sofie had designed in the foothills of the Ronda Mountains near Marbella, Spain. It was peaceful and idyllic.
    But here we are back in his homeland five and a half years on. He is six months into his first managerial role in Denmark’s second tier with HB Koge. The 36-year-old takes a seat after training for the following night’s visit of Esbjerg.
    “When I used to say to you that I’d never come back to football I was 100 per cent sure about that,” he tells The Athletic.
    What changed? “Over time I realised that I’d stopped playing way too early. I wasn’t finished. I felt like I still had a lot more to give.
    “The other thing is that although I’ve got a lot of companies and things have gone well with them, none of them give me what football gives me. I had a feeling of emptiness.
    “A lot of former players talk about missing the dressing room, but I don’t miss that. What I miss is the feeling of winning, of being on the pitch and making a difference.
    “The buzz comes from winning. You can’t replicate that. I’m not talking about trophies, I’m talking about trying to win every single game. As a player that’s what gave me the motivation. It took me from being a kid in Denmark to walking out at Anfield. It’s the same now as a coach. If I do well then I just want to be better.”
    [​IMG]

    Agger is loving life as a manager (Photo: Lars Ronbog / FrontZoneSport via Getty Images)
    A conversation with former team-mate and friend Steven Gerrard fuelled his belief that management might help him fill the void.
    “Stevie knew that my attitude previously was always ‘no chance’ but he told me that he thinks it’s even better than being a player,” Agger says.
    “I thought that if he says that, with everything he’s achieved in the game, then there has to be something about it. I wouldn’t say that chat a few years ago pushed me into it. I was going that way but it played a part.
    “Taking this job wasn’t a sudden change of heart. I just waited and prepared myself until I felt I was ready. I spent time at Brondby and at a local club in Spain where my sons played. I started watching football from a completely different angle. I thought about different ideas and scenarios, and how I wanted to work. Earlier this year I told myself ‘OK, now it’s time’.”
    Over the course of an hour and a half, Agger is engaging company. Nothing is off-limits. He opens up about the glorious highs and the crushing lows of an eight-year stay at Anfield which was hampered by a succession of injuries.
    He reveals for the first time just how close he came to signing for Barcelona and the regrets that still linger over how his playing career reached an underwhelming conclusion at the age of 31. He details how his relationship with Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers deteriorated and why he decided to accept the challenge of trying to transform the fortunes of Koge.

    Agger played 232 times for Liverpool and was adored by the Kop for his quality and loyalty. He is loved at his boyhood club Brondby, who he helped secure title glory before his £5.8 million move to Anfield in January 2006. His hero status was enhanced by the fact he went back to Brondby in the twilight of his career. He won 75 caps for Denmark and captained his country. Twice, he was named Danish Footballer of the Year.
    But despite that list of accomplishments there is a nagging sense of what might have been.
    [​IMG]

    Agger celebrates scoring against United in January 2012 (Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
    “Yeah, unfulfilled, 100 per cent,” he admits. “It just ended so quickly. I didn’t feel that I had given the best of me. I always thought I could go to the next level.
    “I always worked hard, I was clever, I lived the right way but I could have done more. To have had a bit more luck with injuries would have been good. They always came at the wrong time. That also provides motivation for me to go back into the game again.”
    Agger, wife Sofie and their three sons Jamie, 12, Mason, nine, and Billy, three, moved back to Copenhagen from Spain this year. The town of Koge is a 40-minute drive away from the Danish capital.
    They left behind their house in the resort of La Zagaleta in Benahavis, which offers stunning views of Gibraltar. On a clear day they used to be able to see the African coastline.
    “It’s the best place in Spain,” says Agger, who takes out his iPhone to reinforce the point. “The properties there are different-level.
    “Jurgen Klopp and his players came over to visit when they were in Marbella before the Champions League final (in 2018). We sold our first place and had another one built 500 yards away. We do some nice projects.
    “My wife, who is an architect, didn’t really want to come home. The weather is amazing there. When it’s cold and raining here she’ll say to me, ‘Daniel, what are we doing?’
    “But she always says it with a laugh. She’s very supportive. The boys have had to get used to small things like wearing a jacket all the time but the international school they go to in Copenhagen is good.
    “We lived in such a beautiful place but I felt empty. I hated the fame side of being a footballer when I played but I even missed that after I stopped.”
    Signed by Rafael Benitez at 21, Agger was influential alongside Jamie Carragher in Liverpool’s march to the Champions League final in Athens in 2007.
    His clinical finish after Gerrard had played a free kick into his path wiped out Chelsea’s lead in the second leg of the semi-final at Anfield. Liverpool held their nerve to win on penalties before being beaten by AC Milan.

    “Stevie and I never tried that in training, we only talked about it,” Agger says.
    “We scored from it two times out of two. Benfica away a few years later was an even better goal but we lost that game.
    “People talk about that semi against Chelsea but the last-16 tie against Barcelona was the best atmosphere I ever experienced at Anfield. That was one of the best Barca teams ever with Ronaldinho.
    “They had won the Champions League the season before but somehow we managed to win 2-1 over there. I remember Carra and me looking at each other in the Camp Nou after we went 1-0 down and thinking, ‘This could be bad’.
    “Carra and me complemented each other well. We were different types but we had a similar attitude and winning mentality. You could always rely on Carra. As a young player settling into a new team it was good to have someone like Carra alongside me. Football isn’t about what’s your top level, it’s about what’s your bottom level and his was very high.
    “The noise at Anfield when we walked out for the second leg against Barca, I’d never felt anything like that. I saw in the faces of their players that they were thinking the same.
    “Losing in Athens was my biggest disappointment in football. They weren’t better than us that night.”
    A broken foot wrecked the 2007-08 season for Agger and in July 2009 he suffered a back injury playing in Singapore during a pre-season tour, which had serious consequences.
    “I went up for a header, my legs got taken out and I landed straight on my back,” he says.
    “That evening we had to fly back to Liverpool and I couldn’t sit down. From that day, it all went wrong with my back. By compensating, I got all different kinds of muscle injuries. It was always either my back or something linked to my back.
    “I had pain all the time. I took so many painkillers and anti-inflammatories. At one point I had a prolapsed disc. I kept playing with injections. After my son was born, I couldn’t even lift him up from the bed. I said, ‘Enough is enough, we need a surgery’.”
    Agger the coach has been shaped by what he experienced as a player — good and bad.
    “Michael Laudrup was my first professional manager (at Brondby) and I took a lot of things from him,” he says. “My national team coach Morten Olsen was really good. Rafa Benitez’s great strength was when it came to tactical things.
    “I loved playing for Kenny Dalglish and Steve Clarke. Kenny and his man-management, his way of handling and motivating players was brilliant.
    “Even Brendan, he’s a top, top manager. I loved his training sessions. I took a lot from working with him. But I took some things where I said, ‘I’m never going to do something like that’.
    “It’s important to be clear about what you definitely don’t want to do and what direction you definitely don’t want to go in. What I learned also, with the way I am as a person, is I want to be 100 per cent clear and direct. Players can disagree but they can never, ever say I didn’t tell them the truth.
    “Everyone knows where they stand. Everyone deserves that. Sometimes hearing the truth can hurt but in time people will appreciate it. It’s better than saying one thing and doing something else. That’s almost the worst thing for me, not only in football but in life. I had a few managers who were like that.
    “Some not on purpose, some maybe because they were too scared to say things straight, but as a player you see it coming, especially when you see other players treated like that you know that some day you’ll be in that place. It will never work out because players talk together.”
    The chain of events that culminated in Agger’s exit from Liverpool in August 2014 clearly still rankle. He remains in the dark over why he fell out of favour under Rodgers shortly after being given the vice-captaincy in the summer of 2013 following Carragher’s retirement.
    Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho became Rodgers’ preferred defensive combination during a title challenge that ended in heartbreak. Kolo Toure was picked ahead of Agger on occasions.
    “At the time I was shocked and I wanted an explanation but no one could give me one,” he says. “Still to this day I’d like to know what happened. Why did I go from being the new vice-captain and first choice to being fourth centre-back in the space of a few weeks? It was very strange.
    “I tried to speak to Brendan back then but he told me that nothing was wrong. He said I was a big part of his plans but he didn’t show that. I played 20 league games that season and we won almost all of them (17). I’m not saying it was my best season, but in terms of results we did very well and kept a lot of clean sheets. It just seemed that every chance he had I was out of the side.”
    Why does Agger think he was cast aside?
    “I don’t know, maybe because I can be quite direct and I’m a strong character,” he says,
    “All the other players in that team who had a big voice and spoke their mind, everybody went out either that season or shortly before or after — me, Pepe Reina, Dirk Kuyt, Glen Johnson, Stevie and Carra.
    “Maybe it was part of changing the whole team. I met Brendan a few years ago at a charity event that Kasper Schmeichel and his wife put on in Denmark. I asked Brendan if I could speak to him after and he said ‘yeah’ but then he disappeared before we could talk.
    “I still want to speak with him. There are no bad feelings now but there must be something he can tell me about what changed. From what I hear, he’s a different manager now. You learn from your mistakes.
    [​IMG]
     
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  2. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Part 2

    Agger would still like to speak to Rodgers to discuss what happened at Liverpool (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool/Getty Images)
    “The media at the time wrote that I went into see Brendan crying, saying that I wanted to go home to Denmark to play. But the exact opposite was true. I went to see Brendan and said I didn’t understand why I wasn’t playing but I respected his decision. I did everything I could in training to force my way back into the team. Every time I played I delivered but in the end I just had enough.”
    The situation reached a head in April 2014. After a 4-0 rout of Tottenham Hotspur, Agger was desperate to keep his place. He was carrying a minor knee problem but with a home clash with Manchester City on the horizon he didn’t want to miss the trip to West Ham United.
    “We had a meeting and Brendan said, ‘Don’t worry about this game, I really need you for the City game. We’ll handle this one’. I told him I really wanted to play and I was ready but he was adamant it was best to hold me back for City.
    “So I sat out the West Ham game and then trained all week to get ready. Then the City game arrived and I was left out. Brendan told me ‘Yeah, I can’t change a winning team’. That annoyed me so much. I said to myself, ‘Right, no more bullshit, I’ll do it my way’. It just seemed like a soap opera. Like he said stuff but he didn’t really mean it.”
    To fully understand Agger’s strength of feeling you have to appreciate the loyalty he showed Liverpool during a turbulent period in the club’s history. In the summers of 2012 and 2013 he had Barcelona desperate to secure his services. City were also keen to take him to the Etihad.
    “Whenever I had a good offer to go, I told Brendan that if he didn’t see me as part of his plans I’d leave but if he wanted me to stay then I’d fulfil my contract,” Agger says.
    “I loved being at Liverpool. My family loved it there. But if Brendan had said to me he wasn’t 100 per cent sure I would have gone. Brendan said he wanted me there but I don’t think he really did.
    “How close was I to Barcelona? I had the contract in front of me. I just needed to put the signature on it. I could have done it as Liverpool actually agreed a price with Barcelona. Back then it was a lot of money for a defender (around £17 million).
    “They accepted, I accepted my terms. I remember I had to go down in salary but I was fine with that. The day I was meant to sign it, City came in with an offer that was bigger. Liverpool then went to Barcelona and said, ‘Now this is the price’.
    “Barcelona said, ‘Fuck off, we have an agreement, you can’t change this now’. My agent told me that Barcelona didn’t want to be part of an auction, especially not with City. I went to the club and told them ‘I don’t care how much City have offered, I am never going to play for them, so forget it’. Liverpool tried three times with me because City kept raising what they were willing to pay for me.
    “I said there was no chance. I was never going to play for a rival of Liverpool. The only club I would have gone to was Barcelona. Liverpool pissed off Barcelona so much that in the end nothing happened.
    “I didn’t mind staying. Maybe I should have been more aggressive but that’s not my style. I loved it at Liverpool and that’s where I wanted to finish my career. However, I could only do that if the manager wanted me.
    “Looking back, if I knew how 2013-14 was going to pan out, I would have said the previous summer, ‘OK, I want to go to Barca’.”
    Agger, whose only major honour at Liverpool was the 2012 League Cup, believes a move to Catalonia would have significantly extended his career.
    “Yeah, by three, four or even five years,” he insists. “It’s a different type of football there. It’s not as physical. You have the warm weather as well that would have helped me with my back.”
    Instead, 12 months after being pursued by Barca, he moved back to Brondby, who were managed at the time by Brentford boss Thomas Frank. From the outside, it looked to be a strange move for an elite defender who was still only 29 and had two years left on his contract. The fee was just £3 million.
    A number of bigger offers from higher-profile suitors across Europe were also on the table but Agger simply refused to budge.
    “I told Liverpool I wouldn’t even look at them. I said I’d go to Brondby or just sit tight,” he says.
    “After I said it was time to leave, Brendan told me, ‘But we need you here’. Liverpool wanted to sell me to another club but I was so annoyed with them that I said, ‘I make the rules now’.
    “That was typical me because when I get something in my head, especially when I feel like I’ve been pissed on, I think ‘I’ll show them I’m in charge’.
    “The way it ended with Liverpool was one of the things that ended my career. Footballing-wise, it wasn’t a clever move. I made a big mistake not knowing what I was going back to.
    “I loved every day at Brondby. The fans were unbelievable. When I returned home I’d never experienced anything like it. But looking back that was another bad decision. I didn’t fully check what kind of state Brondby were in. They were close to going bankrupt, they had saved themselves on the final day from relegation. The club was in chaos.”
    [​IMG]

    Agger with The Athletic’s James Pearce in Koge
    Agger played 45 times across two seasons for Brondby before calling it a day in 2016. Pain sapped his enthusiasm. He stopped taking anti-inflammatories after exceeding the maximum dose led to a blackout during a game against Copenhagen a year earlier.
    “I couldn’t see myself continuing at Brondby but I couldn’t go out again,” he says.
    “It felt like it was either take one more year at Brondby or retire. I remember thinking it’s freezing cold half of the year here. My back was bad, my knee was bad. I was struggling to get warm every day.
    “I don’t regret that decision to retire, it’s more the decisions that led me to that point.”
    The way things ended at Liverpool did not dent his affection for either the club or the city. He has YNWA — the initials from the club’s iconic anthem — tattooed on the knuckles of his right hand.
    “It means a lot. That’s the feeling me and my family had when we were in Liverpool. We were never alone there. My family always felt good there. Whenever we talk about Liverpool at home, the kids smile.
    “We lived near Calderstones Park. I remember my wife was in shock after she got the bus into the city when she was working at the Radisson hotel. One lady next to her on the bus started talking to her and then it happened every day. In Denmark that would never happen.
    “What I found was that in Liverpool they are happy for other people’s success. I like that. There’s nothing worse than people who can’t accept other people’s success. Even my kids and my wife, who have no connection with football, felt it in everyday life in Liverpool so it must be real. It’s a city we will keep returning to for the rest of our lives.”

    “Daniel Agger is a rock star in this country. The Danes respect people but when you are a guy like Daniel who played for Liverpool for so many years and has the personality to go with it then so many people just want a little bit of you,” says Anders Bay, Koge’s head of projects.
    Bay was instrumental to bringing the former Anfield defender to the club. They worked together at Brondby. The same goes for Koge’s charismatic sporting director Per Rud, who is speaking to agents before the January transfer window.
    “When Daniel stopped playing he said, ‘It’s over, I won’t be returning to football’. But I could feel that it was all about timing,” explains Bay.
    “When he was in Spain we talked and I told Per that I thought we had a shot at Daniel becoming manager.
    “I knew he had several offers. The way it works with Daniel, if he does something then he’s all-in. We were talking for two or three months. We had a number of meetings and then he said ‘OK, I’m ready’. For a club like this, his presence helps lift the whole profile. He trusted us and we were there when he wanted to start his career as a coach.”
    Koge’s majority shareholder is Lebanon-born and New York-based entrepreneur George Altirs, who owns sportswear company Capelli Sport.
    An annual wage bill of around £1.5 million is a world away from the bright lights of the Premier League. But the club has a three-year plan to push for promotion to Denmark’s Superliga.
    Planning permission has been granted to build two new stands to create a 6,000 all-seater stadium. In January, a new artificial playing surface is being installed.
    “We’ve promised each other that we will create something together in the coming years,” adds Bay. “We want to go to the Superliga. If we didn’t have that ambition then Daniel wouldn’t be here. But we also want to build the club up in the right way.
    “This isn’t a free ride for Daniel. He’s eager and he’s got a strong winning mentality but patience isn’t his strongest side. This is developing him as a trainer and as a human being.”
    Agger’s first season at the helm has been far from plain sailing. Koge are in mid-table with the two-month long winter break approaching. An injury crisis left him with a dozen first-team players missing for the visit of Esbjerg.
    Among the absentees was former Liverpool full-back Jon Flanagan, who was signed on a free transfer after leaving Charleroi in Belgium. He made two appearances before damaging his foot.
    “Flanno had surgery back in England and now he’s doing his recovery,” says Agger. “We need his experience. We need his qualities. We need him to lead by example. I expect a lot from him.”
    “Of the 12 players we have out, seven or eight would go directly into the starting XI.
    “Eleven players left after last season and we brought in seven or eight. We have a big squad but a big part of it is youth players. They have done well but you know with youth players they go up and down.
    “I’ve had to adapt to try to get into the heads of these players. What do they understand and how do they understand it? Whereas some things for me are just natural, that’s not the case here.
    “That’s been good experience, especially in small details in some of the training exercises. You think, ‘OK, we can manage here’. But we have to manage here first before we go there.
    “Technically, these are top players. Physically, some of them, the same. It’s mainly up here (pointing to his head) where the difference is. The way to live and breathe football.
    “I see it week after week in this league. Mistakes happen because players are not aware. They are watching football rather than playing it. That’s the biggest thing I need to change.
    [​IMG]
    “One thing I’ve learned is that as a coach you need to be prepared for the unexpected and deal with the unexpected. Simple things like you plan a whole session and then suddenly you have two or three injuries so what the fuck are you going to do? It’s been good so early in the process to experience these things. You have a Plan A but you also need a Plan B, C, D and E.”
    Agger, who is assisted by former Denmark team-mate and ex-Everton full-back Lars Jacobsen, is excited about what’s happening off the field.
    “The new pitch will be massive for us,” he says. “We’ve picked up a lot of injuries from playing on that worn surface.
    “You can’t play the ball into space for someone to run on to. It’s so quick you have to play it straight to the man. That’s not the type of football we want to play. We want to be able to make the right runs and play the right pass. Instead of having to delay the pass and then make the run.
    “Now the facilities are starting to come together. It will be a nice stadium when it’s finished. We’re getting crowds of just over 1,000 which is OK in this division but there’s the potential to attract a lot more fans in this city.”
    “I had a lot of offers in Spain and other Danish jobs. But as soon as I realised what Koge was and what they wanted to become I was on board. The more I heard about this project, the more I thought ‘this is perfect’. Me and Lars are quite equal but at the end of the day it’s my responsibility. We have come here because there’s a plan. Part of it is to build a youth academy and be strong enough to use those players if they’re good enough. We want to build this club from scratch.”

    Agger has not turned to management in search of a big payday. His shrewd business investments away from football provide a healthy return.
    Eight years ago he set up KloAgger with his brother Marco, a sewerage company in Denmark which has expanded into a multi-million pound business.
    “My brother had a summer job many years ago in a business like that and he felt that he could do much better and take it to another level by digitalising it. It’s grown and grown. Now we have 18 big trucks,” says Agger.
    “We also have a building company in Spain and I’ve just set up something I’ve worked on for a long time. I never had any sponsors as a player. I didn’t need them at the time and I didn’t like to do photos or filming. But I always got a lot of offers. I always wondered, ‘Why are they looking at me? Is it because I play for Liverpool or is there something else behind it?’
    “What I realised when I digged deeper was a lot of companies put their sponsorship money into something that they like rather than what would benefit the company most. I’ve been working with people over the past three years creating an algorithm. I can match the right person or team to the right brand, and the right brand to the right person or team. We’re working for a few football clubs as well as in Formula One and handball. In 2022 we want to take it to the next level.
    “I also have the world’s biggest tattoo community — 20 million users a month, 12 million downloads of our app. We’ve built a community over the past eight years. All the best artists in the world are a part of it. Now we are building a booking platform so you can book a tattoo online with the artist you want.”
    He also has the charitable Agger Foundation which helps raise funds for children in need.

    “Agger was my idol when I was young,” Koge centre-back Nemanja Cavnic tells The Athletic.
    The former Montenegro Under-21 international defender was signed from fellow Danish First Division outfit Fremad Amager last summer.
    “I’m a big fan of Liverpool. My first game was against Sao Paulo (in the final of the World Club Championship in 2005). We lost but that’s when I started to feel love for the club.
    “When Daniel called me I knew I had to say yes. It was the chance to play for a legend.
    “You can see why Daniel was so successful as a player. He has this focus. When he works, he works. He’s 100 per cent into it. He’s very open with the players and always there for us. I expected him to be more aggressive and shouting but he’s extraordinarily calm, even after a defeat.”
    Cavnic is standing in the tunnel chatting after an emphatic 3-0 victory over Esbjerg. Hopes of clambering into the top six before the 12-team league divides into two in the new year have been enhanced.
    Seven of the starting lineup were aged 22 or under but, despite being heavily depleted by injuries, Agger’s team played with a swagger.
    Pierre Larsen’s penalty was followed by a fine finish from Nigerian striker Effiong Nsungusi and an own goal from Esbjerg’s Viktor Tranberg wrapped up the points before the break. Young Ghanaian centre-back Frank Assinki was a commanding presence.
    “Daniel is extremely happy with us,” adds Cavnic.
    “We made him proud and now we have to keep doing that. We will give everything to get into the top six.
    “He’s building a culture. His style is like he was as a player. He wants us to look after the ball. He wants us to be confident in possession.
    “This is just the start for Daniel. I’m sure he has a big future as a manager. I have no doubt that he will get to the top. The only question for me is how quickly he will get there. I hope he will make miracles like Steven Gerrard.”

    Agger remains close to Gerrard. He has watched with interest his friend’s managerial journey, which has taken him from Liverpool’s academy to Rangers and now Aston Villa.
    “Villa is a good step for him,” says Agger. “I don’t want to downgrade Rangers because it’s a huge club, but he’s been there, won what he could win and it was time for him to take the next step.
    “I know Stevie. He likes progression, he likes to be the best. To be the best you need to challenge yourself. He’s got a challenge at Villa. It will be good for him.”
    What about the prospect of Gerrard succeeding Klopp at Liverpool? The latter’s contract runs until 2024.
    “I hope so but I also hope Klopp will be there for a few years more. Stevie has to work now and prove himself where he is. If he does that then he will be a good match. If you want to achieve something you need to take risks. Taking the Liverpool job is a risk, especially trying to follow on from Klopp. But I like that. You don’t get anything in life unless you are prepared to risk something. I think he’s prepared to do that.”
    Agger intends to return to Liverpool with his squad for a bonding trip in January. He wants his players to experience a game at Anfield. What about his career path? What’s the target?
    “I took this job because I could see a future in it,” he adds.
    “I like to create and I like to build. Not just in football but in life as well. The idea the owner sold me was to build a self-sufficient club. He wants to show the world it’s possible to create results when you’re making money. Building off the field helps you build it on it.
    “The idea is to challenge for promotion within three years. Maybe that’s even too early but that’s the target. We really wanted to be in the top six this season and that’s still possible.
    “What I have to work on is my patience because I like to see results. Sometimes you have to sacrifice results to get further in the long run. That’s taken me some time to realise.
    “I don’t switch off much, I spend a lot of time doing this — always pushing to get a bit extra out of everyone. That’s how we become better.
    “We’ve only just started. Now it’s about keeping the things we believe in, going 100 per cent in the direction we trust, no shortcuts. I’m enjoying it. This is what I wanted and needed.”
     
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  3. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Liverpool’s fab three is now a fab four and console king Jota is sparkling on and off the pitch
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce Nov 28, 2021[​IMG] 31 [​IMG]
    Diogo Jota is the undisputed champion in the Liverpool squad when it comes to playing the video game FIFA.
    Shortly before moving to Anfield last year, he won the inaugural ePremier League invitational tournament after beating Trent Alexander-Arnold in the final.
    In fact, he’s so good with a controller in his hands that in February he was ranked No 1 in the world on the FIFA Ultimate Team Champions leaderboard after securing 30 successive wins.
    It’s his passion away from the AXA Training Centre and he has set up his own esports team. It’s no publicity stunt, it’s a serious business and Jota is genuinely elite. On Saturday, he was scheduled to compete in the fourth round of the qualifiers for the FIFA 22 Global Series but he had to message his opponent and politely withdraw.
    The Portugal international had a decent excuse. Jurgen Klopp needed him to lead the line against Southampton at Anfield.
    The day job took precedence and he delivered in style. His celebration after he had tucked away Andrew Robertson’s cross inside two minutes involved sitting on the turf and pretending he was playing on his Playstation before he was mobbed by his team-mates.
    There was another close-range finish after Mohamed Salah put one on a plate for him. Jota was a menace throughout. He tormented the visitors’ overworked back line with his energy and intelligent movement. He departed late on to a standing ovation and a bear hug from his manager.
    Liverpool desperately needed him to step up in the absence of the injured Roberto Firmino and Jota hasn’t let them down. That’s five goals in his past five starts.
    With the Africa Cup of Nations on the horizon, which will deny Klopp the services of prolific attackers Salah and Sadio Mane throughout January, the responsibility on Jota’s shoulders will keep growing. He looks ready to embrace that.
    “Diogo is an exceptional player and an exceptional boy,” says Klopp. “He was a perfect signing for us because he has everything that a Liverpool player in this squad needs. He has the technical and physical skills, and he is very smart, so can learn all the tactical stuff quickly.
    “On top of that, he can play all three positions (across the front line) and in a 4-2-3-1, he could play as the No 10. Very helpful. He has the speed and the desire to finish attacking moves. His goal record is pretty impressive.”
    It is. He has 21 goals in 46 appearances (32 starts) since his £45 million move from Wolverhampton Wanderers in September 2020.
    The decision to pursue a deal for Jota rather than Watford’s Ismaila Sarr has proven to be a shrewd one. The speed at which Jota adjusted to his new surroundings was remarkable.
    Jota, whose girlfriend Rute gave birth to their first child this year, became the first player in Liverpool’s history to score in his first four home top-flight matches and he walked away clutching the match ball after a Champions League hat-trick against Atalanta.
    He would have achieved much more last season but for the knee injury that kept him sidelined for three months and he was sorely missed as results nosedived.
    Assistant manager Pep Lijnders described him as “a pressing monster” and team-mates quickly warmed to his humility and burning desire to succeed. His steely personality was shaped by the knockbacks he received en route to the top. He told The Athletic last season how he was still paying to play football up to the age of 16.
    Growing up in Massarelos in the Porto municipality, he didn’t learn his trade in an elite academy but at lower-league Gondomar before moving to Pacos de Ferreira. He was signed by Atletico Madrid but was shipped out without playing a competitive game for them.
    Some players would have been deterred by the prospect of having to compete with the established front three of Salah, Mane and Firmino for a starting spot. But Jota embraced that challenge and has proven he is much more than a high-calibre back-up. Only Salah and Jamie Vardy have more than his seven goals in the Premier League this season.
    “When you hypothetically talk to a player and he says, ‘Where will I play?’, you decide that with your performances,” adds Klopp. “It’s not written in stone that we always start with the same line-up. In the end, it’s about making 35 really good games instead of getting somehow through a season and playing 50 games. It’s completely normal that you have to get rested.
    “You need more than three strikers, even when you play with three strikers, and that’s what we have, thank God. Diogo was smart enough to see that and that’s why he made the move and that’s why he can contribute so well.”
    The service Jota was provided with on Saturday was a striker’s dream. It certainly helped that Robertson looked back to his brilliant best on his return to the starting line-up. Jota went agonisingly close to sealing a hat-trick when he skied another enticing delivery from the Scot at full stretch.
    Since defeat to West Ham, Liverpool have scored 10 goals without reply on home turf against Arsenal, Porto and Southampton. “They are a team on fire. It was unbelievable how well they played,” admitted a weary Ralph Hasenhuttl.
    Their total of 39 goals from 13 games is their highest at this stage of a top-flight season. They are also the first top-flight team in English football to score at least two goals in 17 successive matches in all competitions since Sunderland in 1927.
    With Klopp able to give midfielders Jordan Henderson and Thiago a breather in the second half, this was the perfect preparation for the derby against Everton on Wednesday.
    Liverpool head for Goodison in a buoyant mood with their console king Jota full of confidence and eager to wreak more havoc.
     
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  4. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Fenway Sports Group, owner of Red Sox and Liverpool, agrees to buy Penguins
    By The Athletic Staff
    November 29, 2021Updated 2:53 PM GMT
    9 Comments

    [​IMG]
    Fenway Sports Group has agreed to purchase a controlling interest in the Pittsburgh Penguins, adding the NHL team to a ownership portfolio that includes the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool FC. The sale is believed to be for around $900 million, The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun reports.

    Current Penguins owners Mario Lemeiux and Ron Burkle will remain part of the ownership and will be "closely aligned with FSG," the team said in a news release. The deal is subject to approval by the NHL's Board of Governors. It's expected to close by the end of the year, the team said.

    "The Pittsburgh Penguins are a premier National Hockey League franchise with a very strong organization, a terrific history and a vibrant, passionate fan base," FSG chairman Tom Werner said in a statement. "We will work diligently to continue building on the remarkable Penguins' tradition of championships and exciting play.

    "We are particularly excited to welcome Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle to FSG and have the utmost respect for all they have done to build the Penguins into the perennially successful franchise we know today. We look forward to working with Mario, Ron and the entire Penguins front office team."

    Lemieux and Burkle have owned the team since 1999. Lemieux will continue guiding hockey operations, the team said, and the club's senior management team will remain in place, including general manager Ron Hextall and coach Mike Sullivan.

    Fenway Sports Group, principally owned by John Henry, is also a part owner of the Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing NASCAR team. In March, Fenway Sports Group confirmed an investment by RedBird Capital Partners that valued FSG at $7.35 billion. Fenway Sports Group bought the Red Sox in 2001 and has owned Liverpool since 2010.
     
  5. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Why are Liverpool attacking down their left side less often this season?
    Mark Carey and Caoimhe O'Neill Dec 1, 2021[​IMG] 32 [​IMG]
    Liverpool are having no trouble finding the back of the net this campaign. Not only is their total of 39 goals from 13 Premier League games the highest tally of any team in the division, it is also the highest in the club’s 129-year history at this stage of a top flight season.
    It feels like normal service has resumed, with the attacking potency shared between the fab four of Roberto Firmino, Diogo Jota, Sadio Mane and Premier League top goalscorer Mohamed Salah.
    What felt particularly notable after Saturday’s 4-0 home win over Southampton was that there was also normality on the flanks, with equal attacking threat being provided by both full-backs.
    Andrew Robertson gave a particularly inspired performance, with four open-play chances created — more than any player on the pitch — and an assist. It seemed the Scotland captain was back to his marauding best, having had a quieter start to the campaign by his own previous standards.
    Those below-par early weeks are reflected in the data.
    When looking at the touch locations of Liverpool’s attack this season, that combination of Robertson and Mane down the attacking left looks notably less potent when compared with the right side.
    [​IMG]
    This is perhaps made all the more salient when considering how balanced the attack was last season…
    [​IMG]
    …and was actually slightly tilted more towards the left side — but ultimately pretty equal — during the title-winning 2019-20 campaign.
    [​IMG]
    Granted, we are only one-third of the way through the season and there can be many reasons for this imbalance in the attack. There has been more disruption on the left side of the pitch this season, for example, where Kostas Tsimikas has proven to be an able deputy when Robertson has been injured.
    Nevertheless, this slight shift in the balance compared to last season is interesting.
    Where previously Robertson would be carrying the fight on the left with Mane, and Trent Alexander-Arnold would equally be linking with Salah down the other flank, we now see a skew towards the right in the opening months of this campaign.
    So, the question is: Why might that be?

    Some things in football don’t always require a complex explanation.
    Liverpool are most likely to be channelling their attack down the right more this season for the simple reason that Alexander-Arnold and Salah are arguably in the form of their lives from an attacking perspective.
    Alexander-Arnold battled gamely against injury and illness last season but his form dipped, which culminated in the 23-year-old being dropped from the England set-up.
    There were a multitude of reasons why Alexander-Arnold did not play as well last year, but he appeared to be the living embodiment of Liverpool’s fortunes compared with their previous title-winning campaign.
    So far this season, he has been back to his best.
    No full-back has created more chances in open-play, with his five open-play assists only bettered by two players in the Premier League — team-mate Salah and Paul Pogba of Manchester United.
    Add in his devastating set-piece delivery, and a total of seven assists in 11 games highlights how frequently Alexander-Arnold has put the ball on a plate for team-mates.
    [​IMG]
    Looking at the locations of the chances created in open play, you can see just how many have been delivered deeper from the right half-space — referring to the zone between the centre of the pitch and the wing — where Alexander-Arnold has tucked inside to deliver such dangerous crosses to around the penalty spot.
    Such an area can be hugely lucrative, and you can see that when Liverpool’s attack-minded right-back gets within such zones near the byline, it will lead to a goal more often than not. His expected assists (xA) — which measures the expected goals value of the shot that is assisted — in open play has doubled from 0.2 per 90 minutes to 0.4.
    It has been a common feature among full-backs recently, but the data backs up what we have seen from Alexander-Arnold — he is drifting inside notably more and finding dangerous pockets of space in which to operate.
    As you can see below, he is having more touches per 90 in that right half-space and also more in the centre of the pitch compared with last season.
    [​IMG]
    More touches in dangerous areas is one thing, but fewer touches in his own half is also important, as it highlights how Alexander-Arnold is able to receive the ball higher up the pitch. This is likely to be thanks, in no small part, to the return of Virgil van Dijk on the left side of defence after missing most of last season with his ACL injury.
    While there were many centre-backs who filled in for Van Dijk last season (Ozan Kabak, Nat Phillips, Rhys Williams, plus midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson), Liverpool’s build-up from the back was often a little slower, with Alexander-Arnold more likely to receive a square pass in his own half for him to then progress forward.
    The fit-again Dutchman provides the option of one of his raking diagonal balls from front to back that turn the opposition around to face their own goal. And such is the attacking intent of Alexander-Arnold, nearly half of the balls he has received from Van Dijk this season have found him in the opposition half.
    [​IMG]
    If it is not Alexander-Arnold who receives the ball directly from Van Dijk’s long passes, it is usually a midfielder.
    Liverpool have profited from a rotation between right-back and midfielder to receive these high and wide hits — with one memorable example being the combination between Harvey Elliott and Alexander-Arnold in the lead-up to Mane’s goals against Burnley back in August.
    Here, Van Dijk receives the ball with plenty of time and space to pick his pass before pinging it cross-field to Elliott, who has pulled wide.
    [​IMG]
    The 18-year-old brings it down perfectly and allows Alexander-Arnold to maintain a high position in the half-space, playing a simple, square ball inside to his right-back…
    [​IMG]
    …with Alexander-Arnold spotting the run across goal from Mane, he bends a ball around the corner…
    [​IMG]
    …for Mane to finish first time.
    [​IMG]
    And this is what is interesting about Mane’s goals this season: five of his seven goals have come from build-up down the right hand side. The 29-year-old is not having a quiet goalscoring season at all, but his chances to score are coming less frequently down his own left flank.

    So, has Robertson been quieter himself on the left side?
    It is perhaps important to note that the Scot has been crucial to Liverpool’s success since he arrived.
    Only Salah has played more minutes for the club since they both came to Anfield in the summer of 2017.
    [​IMG]
    Having played so much football in recent years, you can forgive Robertson for feeling a little fatigued. The 27-year-old has already missed more Premier League games in this season than he did in the whole of the previous one.
    On the ball, he is averaging fewer touches overall (90.5 per 90, down from 97.9 per 90 last season), but the difference in the locations of those touches is also interesting. He is receiving the ball less frequently out on the touchline and coming inside more with underlapping runs to drag his direct opponent out of position.  
    [​IMG]
    The Liverpool left-back’s numbers were boosted by his four chances created at the weekend, and he too is finding that the most profitable areas to create from are in that left-sided half-space.
    When he is on the ball, Robertson’s creativity has actually improved from last season. He’s creating chances worthy of an assist once every five games (0.2 xA per 90), which is twice the rate he registered in open play in 2020-21 (0.1 xA per 90).
    [​IMG]
    This shows that Robertson’s creative output is actually as strong as it’s ever been in the red shirt.
    What will be key from Liverpool’s perspective is simply getting the ball to him and ensuring he doesn’t pick up any more niggling injuries as we enter a period of the season where the schedule is at its most gruelling.
    Fortunately, Liverpool have not seen a significant drop off in quality when Robertson has been out of action because Tsimikas has been a revelation.
    After a difficult 2020-21 debut season in which he featured just twice in the Premier League (both in the final minutes of games against Manchester City and Burnley) the 25-year-old Greece international has now found his feet.
    The Greek Scouser, as he is now affectionately known by the fans, has featured six times in the top flight so far this season, including four starts. He has impressed with his work in attack and in particular his crossing ability. There is no nosedive in quality when Tsimikas starts instead of Robertson.
    Manager Jurgen Klopp recently pointed out how it took Tsimikas a year to get up to speed with the demands that are placed on full-backs at Liverpool. It notably took Robertson four months to push Alberto Moreno out of the starting line-up in 2017-18, having joined the club from a Hull City side who got relegated to the Championship.
    Klopp will be relishing the fact he no longer has to rely on midfielder James Milner, who turns 36 in just over a month, to deputise at left-back. Indeed, Tsimikas is no longer just standing in for Robertson — he is now battling with him for that starting place.
    The only small concern with the 25-year-old is that there have been occasions where he has been a little more clumsy defensively. Despite a smaller sample of minutes to go from, Tsimikas has committed 3.5 fouls per 90 thus far, compared with just 0.7 per 90 from the composed, more experienced Robertson.
    Nevertheless, Tsimikas has also endeared himself to Liverpool supporters at Anfield, much like Robertson did after his memorable press in pursuit of the ball against Manchester City in the January of his debut campaign.
    Tsimikas’ version was in that Burnley game in August, as he held off three players and threw himself into challenges to keep possession for Liverpool.


    So, back to the core question: Why are Liverpool attacking down the left side less often this season?
    One final thought to ponder is how the left side of their central midfield is less settled than it was in 2020-21.
    The loss of Georginio Wijnaldum on a Bosman to Paris Saint-Germain was a big one for Klopp. The Netherlands international comfortably played more Premier League minutes (2,947 in total) than any other Liverpool midfielder last season. And he was deployed most often on the left of central midfield, where he had a great understanding with Robertson both in and out of possession.
    Already this season, six players have started on the left side of central midfield, which is more rotation than we have seen in Liverpool’s defensive or right-sided midfield roles.
    [​IMG]
    Couple that with the enforced rotation of Robertson and Tsimikas, and it is clear that, particularly during build-up play in attack, the personnel on the left is less settled than it is over on the right.
    Thiago’s recent form from the left has helped in that regard, and the Spain international appears to have put some fitness issues behind him as he looks to have an extended run in the team. Indeed, it is rather astonishing that Liverpool’s widely considered “best” midfield three of Thiago, Fabinho and Henderson have only started together twice in the 13 Premier League games so far.
    So, the numbers suggest that the attack has been a little quieter down the left than the right this season, but no less potent when Liverpool’s left-sided players are on the ball.
    With Saturday’s convincing performance reminding us of that threat from the left, it only bodes well for Liverpool building upon their record-breaking goalscoring start to the season.
     
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  6. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Liverpool’s ultimate payback
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce 7h ago[​IMG] 93 [​IMG]
    Liverpool had waited 410 days to return to Goodison Park. Revenge truly is a dish best served cold.
    To fully grasp the significance of Wednesday night’s glorious demolition job, you have to consider the scars they carried from that previous visit on October 17 last year.
    Back then, a cocktail of fury, frustration and worry led to a sleepless night for many of Jurgen Klopp’s players.
    Virgil van Dijk left the ground on crutches, his season ended in the fifth Premier League game in and his European Championship, probably as Netherlands captain, gone thanks to a ruptured ACL inflicted by Jordan Pickford’s reckless challenge. Thiago was sidelined with a knee injury of his own for 10 weeks after being poleaxed by Richarlison.
    Liverpool’s burning sense of injustice was intensified by the fact that Pickford escaped punishment and Jordan Henderson’s late goal, which would have been the winner, was ruled out for offside by the VAR so the match ended 2-2.
    That day cost Liverpool much more than two points.
    Shorn of their defensive talisman for the campaign’s remaining 33 games, their hopes of retaining the Premier League crown disintegrated. Resentment lingered.
    Insult was added to injury when a centre-back injury crisis left them powerless to prevent Everton from sealing their first win at Anfield for 22 years when the teams met again in February.
    [​IMG]

    Henderson celebrates his opening goal and was outstanding throughout (Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
    “The last time we were here, we had two massive injuries. We are like a family and when someone is badly injured, you feel it,” says Klopp.
    So last night was about payback. About exorcising those Goodison demons. And for Van Dijk, who was bizarrely booed by the home supporters, this was about clearing another psychological hurdle and getting closure as he gets back to his commanding best after those painful nine months out.
    Every single box was ticked as Everton weren’t just beaten but humiliated in their backyard.
    Normal service has been resumed on Merseyside. Geographically, these two teams may be close, but on the field, there are light-years between them.
    Whereas that nightmare trip across Stanley Park 14 months ago effectively ended Liverpool’s title challenge, this one was plain sailing and only served to enhance their credentials for the big prize when it’s handed out again in May.
    They scored four goals of the highest quality to take their tally to 43 from 14 league games this season — 10 more than the next-best, Manchester City. Liverpool are the first top-flight team in history to score two or more goals in 18 successive games in all competitions. They are ruthless and rampant in equal measure.
    Klopp knew that emotions would be running high in the away dressing room for this fixture. He simply urged his players to channel it correctly with a display of “controlled aggression”. That the best way to make Everton pay was to expose a gulf in class rather than get drawn into a physical battle. His orders were carried out to a tee.
    This was arguably Klopp’s strongest XI after he recalled Joel Matip at the expense of Ibrahima Konate, and they ran riot.
    They could have been 3-0 up inside eight minutes before Andrew Robertson’s pass found Henderson, who swept a left-footer beyond Pickford from the edge of the box to open the scoring.
    Henderson, who then expertly created the second for Mohamed Salah, led by example throughout with his energy and dynamism. This was the captain’s best display of the campaign as he showcased his range of passing. The tactical ploy of Trent Alexander-Arnold staying deep or darting inside as Henderson stayed wide on the right worked a treat.
    No wonder the fans in the Gwladys Street End kept hold of the ball. It was the only respite Everton enjoyed during the first half before a sloppy defensive lapse enabled Demarai Gray to reduce the deficit.
    Suddenly, the game was back in the melting pot — Liverpool have previous for throwing away comfortable leads this season. Think Atletico Madrid and Brighton & Hove Albion.
    But Klopp darted across the turf towards the temporary away dressing rooms in the car park when the half-time whistle sounded like a man on a mission to focus minds and he certainly succeeded.
    The second half was a procession.
    It is preposterous to think that Salah was this week deemed to be just the seventh-best male player in world football in the Ballon d’Or voting. The reality is that, since August, he’s been in a class of his own.
    Pouncing on Seamus Coleman’s blunder, the Egypt forward ran half the length of Goodison before slotting past Pickford. That is 19 goals in 19 games in all competitions this season.
    When Diogo Jota turned away from Allan and emphatically hammered home from a tight angle on 79 minutes, Liverpool had their biggest league win at Goodison since a 5-0 mauling in November 1982 when Ian Rush scored four times.
    It was akin to triggering a fire alarm as demoralised Everton fans headed for the exits in their thousands. The gleeful away end responded by chanting the name of Rafa Benitez vociferously.
    “Rafa’s at the wheel”, and ‘“Liverpool are magic, Everton are tragic” also got airings.
    It was merciless.
    When the board went up to indicate the amount of stoppage time, they sang, “You’re gonna boo in a minute.”
    And they were right as chairman Bill Kenwright and director of football Marcel Brands endured a torrent of abuse.
    Forget how outclassed Everton were. Liverpool, who had not won at Goodison since 2016, have gone into plenty of derbies in recent years as favourites and come up short. Eight of the previous nine meetings there before last night’s had ended in stalemate.
    But this is a different Liverpool. In the past six weeks, they have gone to Old Trafford and Goodison and won both by a combined score of nine goals to one.
    For context, Klopp did not win any of his first six trips to Manchester United and his only victory in five attempts at Goodison before Wednesday was courtesy of Sadio Mane’s stoppage-time winner almost five years ago.
    “It was for sure the best performance we’ve shown since I’m at Liverpool at Goodison,” says Klopp. “We had some good games here but we were never as good as tonight, we were never as calm as tonight, we were never as convincing — and that’s why we won the game.
    “The two derbies for us, against Everton and United, are big games and you have to learn to keep yourself calm and together to play your best football.”
    There is no better place to put on a show like this.
     
  7. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    When the city of Liverpool needs solidarity between its football fans, supporters will stand together
    [​IMG]
    By Simon Hughes 1h ago[​IMG] 4 [​IMG]
    Too much information, perhaps, but I have never worn a mask during sex and this is how I imagine it would feel.
    I am standing in Goodison Park’s Gwladys Street End among thousands of Evertonians as Jordan Henderson strokes home the first goal in the Merseyside derby.
    The satisfaction on his face is clear as he spurts past me, arms aloft.
    Yet I stay rigid and expressionless — apparently empty of excitement.
    The disguise of a snood and a heavy winter hat helps hide what is really happening.
    Like Jason Bourne, I have prepared for this eventuality by assessing the exit routes.
    I am separated from the nearest gangway by a row of strong-looking men. This ensures any pleasure is internalised.
    I am Kodos or Kang amongst Earthlings, trying to seem natural.
    The lad next to me knows I am a Liverpudlian because I have taken his best mate’s ticket for the night.
    In my paranoid state, I wonder whether my eyes reveal anything to those around me who are far less happy about the drama unfolding right in front of them.
    They are too busy in their own dark thoughts to appreciate they have an intruder in their midst. I like it. I want it to happen again.
    Make it happen again, please.
    It does happen again.
    Before 10pm, a tantric climax is reached on four occasions.
    For this description and the imagery it inspires, I apologise in advance.

    “You’re doing what?” A father’s response to the revelation earlier in the day that a ticket in the Lower Gwladys had fallen onto my lap.
    It would be tempting to suggest I was going way too far into enemy territory but I have never seen the relationship between Everton and Liverpool like that, despite what people sometimes say.
    In the days when Liverpudlians stood on the Gwladys Street and Evertonians went on the Kop, it was known as the “friendly derby” but that tag was exaggerated, just as the claims of hostilities are now.
    From a distance, maybe things have got worse but too much attention is given to the hard cases in a crowd fronting fans on the opposite side of a ground with cruel songs as well as those who type furiously into keyboards at other warriors who similarly, I suspect, sleep every night in their mum’s spare bedroom.
    [​IMG]

    A banner demanding nil satis nisi optimum, Everton’s Latin motto for “nothing but the best is good enough” (Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)
    Ultimately it should never be forgotten that day to day, week to week, month to month, Evertonians and Liverpudlians that live on Merseyside especially remain part of the same tribe and despite a ton of bravado and desperation to beat one another in a game of football, they get along absolutely fine.
    My stag-do was in Hamburg and aside from the wedding the following weekend and the birth of my daughter, they were the best and funniest few days of my life.
    Twelve lads were involved and six of them were Evertonians. Friendship matters more than any commitment to a football club. If backed into a corner by a gobby Liverpudlian, I know who would be getting my support.
    Still, I approach Goodison and the bear pit of the Lower Gwladys with respectful caution. I have operated from the main stand’s press box on many occasions since but the last time I was in this part of the ground, I was a teenager in an awful tracksuit.
    Everton were struggling against Newcastle and Kieron Dyer scored a glorious lob at the Park End. My mate Paul’s dad Steve couldn’t go that day for some reason and when he asked whether I fancied it I just thought, why not?
    That was longer than 20 years ago. As I’ve grown older, I’ve taken more care with my decisions. Probably down to parenthood, which makes you feel vulnerable all over again because most of the time you do not know for certain what the hell is happening.
    I pick up my ticket in Liverpool’s city centre from a lad called Gaz when he is on his lunch hour. Gaz, an Evertonian, knows Tom, with whom I went to university.
    Tom, a season ticket holder at Goodison, is from North Wales and he’s decided not to attend the derby because of a bad cold that he doesn’t want to spread. I met Tom in a pub during my first week living in Sheffield. He was sitting at the next table watching whatever football match was on the big screen with Rich, his flatmate and a Coventry City fan.
    We gravitated towards one another because of football and ended up moving into a terraced house on Everton Road, as unbelievable as that sounds.
    The three of us, along with my first-year flatmate, Dave, were always out and about — Dave usually in his Tranmere Rovers shirt. At that time, I assumed these friendships would last forever and that after our studies, everyone would experience full lives.
    When Rich died in the summer of 2017 following an accident on holiday, the four of us hadn’t sat in the same room for more than a decade. Tom and I made a commitment to make more of an effort but we only saw each for the first time again a few months ago.
    Beneath a warm sun at a Falkner Street restaurant, I felt like crying. Neither of us knew what to say about Rich. We both think about him a lot. I regret not doing more to maintain what we had.
    The last time I had a pint with him, it was in a London pub and he was due to get married. I can still see him skipping across Tottenham Court Road. He was a happy man.
    For Tom and I, the fortunes of Everton and Liverpool saved the conversation.

    Lots of mates were in the Lower Gwladys, each one of them Everton to the core.
    I am closest these days to Matt and Billy.
    Matt, I have known since primary school. He is a fine musician whose name I have recently changed on my phone to Sefton Matt because of his appetite for community gossip.
    Billy joined our gang through fat-man football on a Thursday night. He is the only Evertonian I know daring enough to have a tattoo of the liver bird. What a weirdo, I like to tell him. Exasperated, he reminds me he loves Liverpool the city and Liverpool FC do not have a monopoly on who uses the liver bird despite their badge.
    [​IMG]

    Everton’s Jordan Pickford looks dejected after conceding the third goal last night (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)
    Graham, meanwhile, I have known since the late 1990s. He played for a crap Sunday league side managed by his dad whom my team used to batter. Graham’s bedroom wall was decorated with posters ripped out of old Everton programmes. He even had a seat, apprehended at the end of one season from Goodison. It had a peculiar scent and I thought it smelt of BO.
    The pair of us started following Marine, the non-League team from Crosby and for a few years we travelled across the north of England, watching them. This bond led to us going on holiday together in Cyprus at the age of 17, albeit escorted by my parents.
    More recently, I have gotten to know the self-effacing Tom (not Tom from university) and I like him a lot. Another Marine nut called Jordan introduced us and they became mates working at Walton Prison, of all places. Tom, who has discovered golf to the extent you might think he tees off with Colin Montgomerie and is familiar enough to call him Monty, had sorted me a ticket in the Lower Gwladys a couple of seasons ago, though the game was postponed because of the pandemic. There was a chance Liverpool could have won their first league title in 30 years at Goodison had the fixture ended in an Everton defeat. Understandably, Tom did not want to be around to witness that.
    Then there is Rob, who has a season ticket in the Park End. He has spent the last three weeks fitting my kitchen.
    As it turns out, I see Billy and Matt on the concourse of the stand for a pint before kick-off and then again at half-time when Billy tells me he’s missed what transpires to be Everton’s only goal of the evening because he had his hands full while accessing one of the urinals.
    Unlucky, mate.

    Everton are in a bad way and all of the lads know it. Liverpool could have been six goals to the good inside the first 20 minutes and the early bombardment mollifies the atmosphere.
    Obviously, I didn’t get to find out what happens to a Liverpool supporter who celebrates even one of his team’s four goals from a vantage point in the Gwladys Street End.
    This used to happen all the time, we are told.
    One of my earliest memories is being sat in front of a television watching highlights from the 1985-86 season on a VHS tape.
    A vivid goal belongs to player-manager Kenny Dalglish after 21 seconds of a derby at Goodison, prompting celebratory limbs in the Lower Gwladys.
    Later that season, Everton’s Kevin Ratcliffe scored a pea-roller at Anfield and from the Kop, Bruce Grobbelaar was told he was a clown by Evertonians.
    [​IMG]

    A tribute to Everton fan Ava White who recently passed away (Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
    Segregation, the rise of all-seater stadia with smaller capacities and lower ticket allocations for away fans stopped any tradition that once existed.
    On Merseyside, parents have adhered to stricter birth policies so there is less opportunity for split-allegiances between families and more room for entrenchment to be passed from generation to generation.
    Still, when Liverpool as a city needs solidarity between its football fans, you can almost guarantee it.
    The blue and red “no knives” banner in the Bullens Road Stand in the wake of a 14-year-old boy being charged for the murder of a 12-year-old girl, Ava White, is a reminder that people can and will unite when it really matters.
    So did the sight of the purple Fans Supporting Foodbanks van located beside the Winslow Pub in the hours before kick off.
    Perhaps I was the only Liverpudlian on the Gwladys Street last night but I wouldn’t know. My feet remained firmly on the cold of the concrete of the terracing throughout what I cannot deny was a strangely exhilarating experience. When Everton scored, I felt like a dandelion in a storm.
    “We’ll get an Uber home from the Black Horse, meet us there,” Matt suggested at half-time. I told him it was fine with me if he could face no more and decided to leave earlier without me. The warning signs for Everton were obvious and both he and Billy knew how this would end.
    He would make it to the 86th minute before slipping into the darkness of Walton. On the platform of Bankhall Station, I finally pulled down my snood and grinned at his text.
     
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    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Cox: Benitez going 4-4-2 was a gift for Liverpool’s midfield and they dominated at Goodison
    [​IMG]
    By Michael Cox Dec 2, 2021[​IMG] 65 [​IMG]
    Top-level football matches these days are rarely dominated by a simple battle of formations.
    Generally, the key tactical concept is about one side’s disjointed pressing, or a player making a particular type of run, or a group of players rotating their position to evade the opposition, or something more complex than what you expected when seeing the pre-match line-ups.
    But last night’s Merseyside derby felt more simple.
    With Liverpool using their usual 4-3-3 with Diogo Jota as a false nine, Everton manager Rafa Benitez surprisingly elected to use a 4-4-2 system. Richarlison was fielded in tandem with Salomon Rondon, rather than as a replacement for him, and had no obvious responsibilities to drop off and become a third midfielder without the ball.
    Everton’s shape was two banks of four, and two strikers hoping for direct passes.
    [​IMG]
    This caused problems from the outset in their eventual 4-1 defeat, and Everton effectively lost this game in its first 20 minutes — by which point they were fortunate to be only 2-0 down.
    With Jota’s movement into deeper positions, Everton weren’t simply two-against-three in the centre of the pitch, but often two-against-four, with Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure unable to cope with, effectively, a Liverpool midfield diamond.
    [​IMG]
    In these types of situations, the side with a numerical disadvantage in midfield find themselves gradually dragged apart by the opposition’s possession play.
    But last night was simpler, and in a frenetic first half which featured five bookings and lots of 50:50 challenges, Liverpool often just had more players on hand to collect the second balls.
    Take this midfield battle, where first Doucoure and Thiago both go to ground trying to win the ball…
    [​IMG]
    …and then Jota picks up the pieces, but is dispossessed by a sliding Allan…
    [​IMG]
    …which basically means that Everton’s two midfielders have already committed to tackles, leaving Jordan Henderson to pick up the pieces and drive forward.
    That sort of thing kept on happening…
    [​IMG]
    …and Liverpool demonstrated their advantage in midfield in typically aggressive style.
    When Fabinho, Liverpool’s deepest midfielder, enjoyed time in possession, he didn’t simply wait for one of the Everton midfielders to be attracted to him and then pass beyond them — he actively drove into space.
    Here’s one example of where he suddenly dribbled forward, committed both Everton midfielders towards them, and then passed to Sadio Mane, who shot at goal from long range.
     
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    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Part 2

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Here’s a similar situation, where Fabinho is in his usual holding role behind Thiago and Henderson, but drives forward between Everton’s holding midfielders and passes to Mohamed Salah, before receiving a return pass in behind Everton’s midfield duo.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    This move ended with Mane having the ball on the left flank, and playing a low ball in towards Salah, who had darted inside looking for the pull-back. His shot was saved.
    But the more significant thing here is Fabinho’s position, now on the edge of the D and completely unmarked as Everton’s midfield duo have dropped back into their own penalty area.
    [​IMG]
    That was a warning sign because Liverpool’s first goal came from a similar situation — albeit with Henderson the player in space for a cut-back.
    With Mane in possession by the corner of the box, Henderson already realises his freedom in midfield and is shouting for a pass.
    He was never going to get the ball here…
    [​IMG]
    …but Mane slips in Andrew Robertson and the Scot’s cut-back rolls all the way to the edge of the box for their captain, who meets the ball with a crisp left-footed shot that curls perfectly into the corner.
    [​IMG]

    Everton’s second warning came in relation to Doucoure’s typical runs into the opposition penalty area.
    This is a major part of his game, but in this system, it meant the Everton midfield was left undermanned and Allan was exposed. So, when Demarai Gray’s ball from the left into the Liverpool box didn’t find Doucoure…
    [​IMG]
    …Thiago and Henderson were able to bring the ball forward under no pressure at all. Liverpool could actually have worked this situation more intelligently than they did.
    [​IMG]
    It was the same thing for Liverpool’s second goal on 19 minutes.
    This time, it’s a cross from the Everton right, with Doucoure again storming into the box and shouting for the ball…
    [​IMG]
    …but again the ball is cleared and, after some midfield scrappiness, Thiago can again slip in Henderson on the run…
    [​IMG]
    …and from there, he releases Salah, who curls one past Jordan Pickford to double the lead.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    It would be unreasonable not to point out that Everton’s goal, towards the end of the first half, also stemmed from the formation battle.
    With Virgil van Dijk dragged towards Richarlison and Joel Matip watching Rondon, Liverpool’s centre-backs were exposed to Gray’s run in behind, and Richarlison found him with a clever pass. If Liverpool had been facing only one striker, Matip probably wouldn’t have been dragged across.
    In this situation, right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold should probably have been covering in a narrower position.
    [​IMG]
    There was always a likelihood that the home side wouldn’t be able to match Liverpool technically, but last night it felt like they lost the tactical battle.
     
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    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Liverpool’s John Achterberg signs new contract until 2024 following arrival of Brazil legend Taffarel
    By James Pearce
    December 3, 2021Updated 1:32 PM GMT
    1 Comment

    [​IMG]
    Liverpool goalkeeping coach John Achterberg has been given a new contract to keep him at Anfield until the summer of 2024.

    It underlines Jurgen Klopp’s ongoing faith in the long-serving Dutchman following the addition of Brazilian legend Taffarel to the coaching staff earlier this week.

    That inevitably led to speculation over Achterberg’s future but Jurgen Klopp has reiterated that Taffarel has been brought in to complement the existing set-up rather than replace anyone.

    “Taffa is a really good guy and I’m excited,” says Klopp. “It is important because he's older than me so I am no longer the oldest member of the coaching staff!

    “When I see all our really talented goalkeepers, we think we have an outstanding group starting with Alisson. We have a lot of games, constantly on the road in hotels, so we wanted a real solution for these boys.

    “We want to create our own goalkeeping philosophy and we thought it made sense to bring in a coach who was a world-class player and already works with Ali.

    “By the way John Achterberg has signed a new contract and he’s still the head of the goalie department.”

    (Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)
    How much of a boost is this to Liverpool?

    Klopp has previously referred to Achterberg as “a goalkeeping maniac”, praising his encyclopedic knowledge of shot-stoppers across the world.

    He’s a popular figure with both the players and the staff, having worked at the academy when he initially joined the club in 2009 before being promoted to the first-team set-up in 2011.

    It was Achterberg who identified Alisson as the perfect signing when Liverpool were in the market for a new No 1 in 2018.
    What is Achterberg’s role compared to the coaches under him?

    He oversees the goalkeeping department, plans training sessions and and liaises closely with the academy staff.

    He's assisted by Jack Robinson, who joined Liverpool in 2018 after a spell working for the Football Association.

    Achterberg is understood to have fully embraced the idea of tapping into the expertise of Taffarel, who was Alisson's idol as a child and is also the current Brazil national team goalkeeping coach.
     
  11. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    ‘It is like seeing Michael Jordan’: Watching Salah and Liverpool in the flesh for the first time
    [​IMG]
    By Caoimhe O'Neill Dec 3, 2021[​IMG] 12 [​IMG]
    What’s it like watching Mohamed Salah play football in the flesh for the first time?
    “It’s like seeing Michael Jordan play basketball,” answers NBA expert Leigh Ellis. “Seeing Michael Jordan play basketball was not one of those things everybody got to see. It was one of those things you remember and cherish forever. So for me seeing Salah play I was just like… ‘Wow!’”
    Ellis, now based in the US city of Atlanta, makes up one-fifth of The Athletic’s hugely popular basketball podcast, No Dunks.
    During a break in his schedule, the Australian took time to return to England — a country he called home for six years. Though in that time he never visited Liverpool the city nor Anfield the stadium.
    Staying in Manchester before heading to London gave this self-professed “soccer snob”, who has watched football matches in Brazil, Italy, Spain and beyond, with the perfect chance to finally get to Merseyside.
    Liverpool did not disappoint and neither did Salah, who scored the third goal as Jurgen Klopp’s side defeated Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal 4-0 last month.
    “Seeing Salah out there… he is a bit like Lionel Messi. He is not a big, imposing figure but once he gets that ball there is always that hope something magical is about to happen,” says Ellis, who watched from the Main Stand.
    In the week before the game, Ellis monitored Egypt’s World Cup qualifiers against Angola and Gabon closely, in the hope Salah would return from the year’s final international break unscathed.
    “I was like, ‘Don’t pull a hamstring… Don’t tweak an ankle’. I know there is more to Liverpool than Salah,” he explains, “but when you make that effort to get there, you just want to see this guy in the flesh.
    “His goal was a combination of build-up play — he just sort of tapped it in. It wasn’t the one he scored against Manchester City or Watford weeks earlier, when he dazzled the defence and smashed it past the keeper. He had a couple of those plays and I was like, ‘Come on. Give me one, give me one of those for the memory’. It was Diogo Jota who scored an incredible goal (in the Arsenal game) where he just made the defenders and goalkeeper look foolish.”
    When asked what current NBA player Salah compares to, with Jordan long retired, Ellis is quick to pick out Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry.
    “That is probably the most accurate comparison,” he says. “Steph isn’t a hugely physical player, like a LeBron James. He is more like a magician, you can’t stop this guy. He is too fast, too clever and seemingly has a deep bag of tricks he can pull from at any time. That’s where I see Steph and Salah right now. Even if you are seeing these guys perform and dominate, it feels like they always have another trick up their sleeve.”
    With Ellis having been nestled into a seat just beside the Kop, how does the experience of watching a football match at Anfield differ from travelling across America and watching NBA games? Other than the latter being indoors, of course…
    [​IMG]

    Salah celebrates after scoring Liverpool’s third goal against Arsenal last month (Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
    “The big difference here in America is fans kind of turn up once the game has started; they are on their phones… it’s a social occasion. Whereas I found at Liverpool that 10 or 15 minutes before the game it felt like everyone was already in their seats singing and chanting. There is that build-up,” Ellis says. “The fans make the atmosphere. Every game is meaningful — it’s not just like, ‘Hey, it’s Saturday, we’ve got nothing else to do, let’s just go to the football’. It’s meaningful for everyone.
    “When the team is winning — like the New York Knicks, for example, Madison Square Garden is just an incredible place,” he adds on which NBA arena and fanbase are the closest match to Liverpool’s. “The Knicks have had a few games already (less than two months into the 2021-22 season) where it feels like the fans are on the court. It is like every basket is the key basket. That’s gonna be the game-winning basket. When they win, it’s probably the best place in basketball to watch a game because the fans are just crazy.”
    Arguably the defining moment of the Arsenal game happened on the sidelines rather than the pitch itself, as managers Klopp and Arteta furiously squared up to one another.
    “You do get those moments in basketball,” Ellis reflects. “When a special play or a clash between two players can change the outlook or momentum of the game. Sometimes you see when the home team is losing a player might even instigate something like that to try and get the crowd involved.
    “In basketball, you get a technical foul, which (in football) is like a yellow card. If you get a second technical foul, you are ejected (sent off) from the game. Sometimes, a coach or a player will use a foul just to try and create that little spark between the players and crowd. It definitely works.
    “The thing I liked about Klopp after he got into it with Arteta, he turned around to the crowd as if to say, ‘Come on you guys, liven up here’. Liverpool hadn’t scored at that point but they did score soon after.”
    It was Sadio Mane who scored the opener for Liverpool, followed by second-half goals from Jota, Salah and Takumi Minamino to wrap up a comfortable win.
    “The entire experience was exactly what I was hoping for,” Ellis concludes. “It was dark, cold and misty, but for me, that is perfect weather for what you expect for a November game in Liverpool.
    “If you go to the Caribbean, you want perfect skies and sunshine. If you go to northern England for a football match, you want it to be cold.”
     
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    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Divock Origi: A Liverpool legend like no other
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce Dec 5, 2021[​IMG] 87 [​IMG]
    Seventy-one players have scored more goals for Liverpool than Divock Origi. The Belgium striker stands a long way down the list of iconic names in the club’s all-time list.
    A tally of 39 in 166 appearances is hardly prolific. An Anfield career which has spanned seven seasons has, at times, lurched alarmingly off track.
    Yet few in the club’s illustrious history boast such a remarkable collection of spine-tingling moments. Few have been responsible for so many splayed limbs. His ratio of goals that resonate is truly unprecedented.
    “Divock Origi is a legend,” beamed Jurgen Klopp. “People will write books about him hopefully. If not, then I’ll do it.”
    Just when you think Origi’s story at Liverpool is finished, he adds another chapter. Just when you convince yourself that his race is run, he drags you back in by proving that he’s still got so much more left in the tank.
    “Go out there and be Divock,” were Klopp’s parting words to him when he replaced captain Jordan Henderson after 68 minutes at Molineux.
    It was a bold substitution. Origi gave Liverpool’s attack a different dimension. He held the ball up and linked play intelligently. Four minutes into stoppage time, he turned an afternoon of frustration into one of jubilation.
    Mohamed Salah’s first touch was exquisite as he latched on to Virgil van Dijk’s raking cross-field pass and burst past former team-mate Ki-Jana Hoever. The Egyptian picked out Origi, who controlled with his right foot six yards out and spun before firing home with his left. Cue wild scenes of celebration. What a way to mark his 100th outing for Liverpool off the bench.
    The true value of those extra two points will only be clear come May but this was a cherished victory reminiscent of the dramatic triumph at Villa Park two years ago in Liverpool’s title-winning season. Klopp would have preferred a more straightforward afternoon against Wolves to maintain momentum but a hard-fought win like this provides the kind of lift you simply don’t get from sticking three or four past an opponent.
    [​IMG]

    Origi fires home his dramatic late winner against Wolves (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)
    Origi, whose only goal in the 2020-21 season was the seventh in the 7-2 rout of Lincoln City in the League Cup, would have been sold last summer if Liverpool’s asking price of around £15 million had been met.
    He didn’t even make the standby list for Belgium’s European Championship squad after playing just 181 minutes of top-flight football all season. He only stayed at Liverpool because no suitable offers were forthcoming.
    “If I’d have been in another club, I would have gone for him. I thought that would happen, that’s true, because he didn’t have massive game time,” admits Klopp. “I cannot believe that people think if you don’t play for Liverpool, you cannot be good. This team is outstanding and if you are our number 12, 13 or 14, you have to be outstanding — and Div is.
    “I am very happy that he is still here. I just didn’t expect it to happen. He is a top striker, a top boy. He is already here at Liverpool for a long time. He came here very young and has scored some of the most important goals in the history of this club.”
    It really is some highlights reel. The £10 million signing from Lille got off the mark with a hat-trick in the League Cup tie against Southampton at St Mary’s six years ago.
    His debut season at Anfield also included the 96th-minute equaliser at home to West Bromwich Albion which famously led to Klopp urging his players to hold hands in front of the Kop.
    Origi scored crucial goals in both legs of the Europa League quarter-final against Borussia Dortmund before his progress was halted by an ankle injury inflicted by Everton’s Ramiro Funes Mori. He struggled to get back to where he was and remained on the periphery of Klopp’s squad before being loaned out to Wolfsburg in the 2017-18 season.
    The 26-year-old could have been playing against Liverpool on Saturday. A fee of £22 million was agreed with Wolves in the summer of 2018 but he wanted to stay and fight for his place.
    Out of favour in the first half of 2018-19, he revived his fortunes in dramatic fashion with the 96th-minute winner against Everton when he punished Jordan Pickford’s blunder. It was his first Premier League goal for 19 months.
    There was the late header at Newcastle that took the title race down to the last day and his double in the miraculous fightback against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals. The tie was settled by him coolly sweeping in Trent Alexander-Arnold’s quickly taken corner in front of the Kop.
    Origi came off the bench to hammer home the killer second against Tottenham to settle the 2019 Champions League final. One of the Liverpool banners in Madrid declared: “Lionel Messi wears Divock Origi pyjamas”. He was rewarded with a new contract as interest from Roma, Sevilla and Bayer Leverkusen was rebuffed.
    That balmy night in the Spanish capital really should have acted as a launchpad for a player whose progress has been hampered at times by a lack of self-belief but Origi has only scored six Premier League goals in the two and a half years since.
    Mainly used as an impact substitute in 2019-20, he found his importance dwindled last season following the arrival of Diogo Jota. On Saturday, he saved the birthday boy’s blushes after Jota had inexplicably slammed a shot against Conor Coady with the net gaping.
    “I’ll take my grandkids to visit the Divock Origi statue one day. What a man,” tweeted Andy Robertson.
    [​IMG]

    Scoring against Tottenham in the 2019 Champions League final is just one of Origi’s many vital goals for Liverpool (Photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)
    Of Origi’s 39 goals for Liverpool, 11 have been scored off the bench. The same number have been netted in the 83rd minute or later. No wonder Henderson described the striker’s latest heroic act as happening in “Origi time”.
    The Ostend-born frontman has only played 313 minutes in all competitions so far this season but now boasts four goals and two assists. Despite his desire to feature more regularly, he has always been reluctant to move on from Liverpool because he knows he would be taking a step down.
    “I really wish for him that, at one point, he finds a manager that plays him much more often than I do,” adds Klopp. “I love the boy because his skill set is outstanding. He’s one of the best finishers I’ve ever seen in my life.”
    Origi isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. His importance to Klopp will grow further when Salah and Sadio Mane leave for January’s Africa Cup of Nations.
    He’s come back from the brink once again.
     
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    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Mohamed Salah insists he wants to stay at Liverpool but urges ‘the management’ to solve his contract impasse
    By The Athletic UK staff
    December 6, 2021Updated 2:16 PM GMT
    35 Comments

    [​IMG]
    Mohamed Salah has insisted he wants to stay at Liverpool but wants “the management” to resolve his contract situation.

    The Egyptian forward has 18 months left on his contract with the Anfield club.

    Jurgen Klopp said last week that there had been no update on talks and Xavi, Barcelona's new head coach, has expressed an interest in him.

    Salah, 29, made it clear he did not want to leave the Premier League in an interview in his home country but said a deal still had to be struck with Liverpool.

    He said: “The decision is in the hands of the management and they have to solve this issue.

    “There is no problem but we have to reach an agreement for the contract. It's up to them.

    “Your financial value shows how much the club appreciates you and that they are ready to do anything for you to stay, but the decision itself is not based on those financial matters only.”

    Klopp, speaking in his press conference ahead of Liverpool's Champions League match against AC Milan on Tuesday evening, said: “We are talking. You don't just meet for a cup of tea in the afternoon and come to an agreement."

    (Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
    What did Salah say about Barcelona's interest?

    He did admit that he took pride in Barcelona's interest.

    “I read what was said about Xavi's interest to sign me.

    “This is something that makes me happy that a team like Barcelona is interested in me, but I'm happy in Liverpool and we will see what happens in the future.

    “At the moment, I prefer to stay in the Premier League as it's the strongest league in the world.”
    What is the latest on his contract situation?

    Discussions over an extension which would make Salah the highest-paid player in the club’s history are ongoing. His current deal runs until the summer of 2023.
    How has Salah performed this season?

    His record is exceptional. Salah has somehow stepped it up for Liverpool this campaign.

    He has 19 goals in 20 appearances across all competitions for Klopp's side.

    Salah has 13 goals and nine assists in just 15 league appearances this season. He is playing a key part in their early title challenge.
     
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    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Harvey Elliott injury update: Remarkable progress but there are still plenty of hurdles to come
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce Dec 6, 2021[​IMG] 11 [​IMG]
    Liverpool’s first-team physiotherapist Chris Morgan was on the scene within seven seconds of Harvey Elliott wincing in agony. Club doctor Jim Moxon was just behind him. Within 20 seconds they had put the stricken teenager’s dislocated left ankle joint back in place.
    Their speed and medical expertise on a traumatic afternoon for players and staff at Elland Road in September proved crucial in terms of limiting damage to the surrounding nerves and blood vessels.
    Twelve weeks on and the care Elliott received — coupled with his unwavering professionalism and dedication to a gruelling rehabilitation programme — has helped him to make rapid strides.
    He’s back running outside at the club’s AXA Training Centre under the guidance of the club’s rehab fitness coach David Rydings. His load is being gradually increased. There is still some stiffness in the joint but that is to be expected at this stage of his recovery.
    Since Moxon expressed his confidence shortly after the surgery that Elliott would play again this season, Liverpool have been reluctant to put a timeframe on his return and that remains the case.
    “When Harvey will be back I have no idea,” manager Jurgen Klopp said recently. “He’s our long-term prospect and we will not rush it.“
    There are still significant hurdles for Elliott to clear as twisting, turning and ball work are added to his programme in the coming weeks. As the intensity levels are cranked up, minor setbacks can occur.
    However, The Athletic understands that if everything continues to go smoothly he should be given the green light to resume team training at some point in January. Then it’s a case of getting fully up to speed before making his comeback. Nothing is set in stone at this stage but the prospect of having him back available for the final three months of the season is deemed realistic.
    Losing Elliott in such cruel circumstances just weeks after he had established himself in a new midfield role in Klopp’s team was a bitter pill to swallow for player and club. But as far as fracture dislocations go, the damage around the joint could have been much worse.
    That’s why four to five months of recovery has been regarded as a reasonable target for Elliott rather than six to seven. Currently, he’s bang on course.
    “The key thing to consider with this sort of injury is that it’s different for every player. There are a lot of intricacies around it,” explains vastly experienced physio Matt Konopinski, who worked for Liverpool for 10 years before leaving to join the Football Association in 2018. He also had a spell as part of Steven Gerrard’s staff at Rangers. Specialising in lower limb rehabilitation, Konopinski is the co-founder of south Liverpool-based centre Rehab 4 Performance.
    “It’s the same with a ruptured ACL, for example,” he continues. “That’s why the timescales vary for different players. No two fracture-dislocations are the same. It depends on what’s happened to the structures around the injury.
    “We don’t know what ligaments associated with that area Harvey injured. Typically, with an injury like this, if the fibula is damaged I would suspect some associated ligament damage due to the forces and mechanism involved.
    “The likelihood is a syndesmosis injury, which refers to a collection of ligaments around the ankle joint. But I am hypothesising. It’s pretty clear from where he’s at currently that it wasn’t an open fracture or fractured tibia, which is the second biggest bone in the body.
    “The fibula is a smaller bone and there’s less weight-bearing associated with it. Consider the bone as a soft tissue structure and the healing timeframes for the bone and ligaments would be similar in this instance.”
    Two days after he was stretchered off at Elland Road, Elliott underwent successful surgery in London to repair the fracture and the damaged ligaments. He had a metal plate and screws inserted in his left ankle.
    “It’s called an ORIF (open reduction and internal fixation). It’s standard procedure for bone fractures,” says Konopinski. “It’s to help ensure the bone alignment is maintained as it heals. Generally, that metal remains in place unless it’s causing irritation.”
    The mature manner in which the 18-year-old handled such a devastating setback impressed team-mates and staff alike.
    Struijk was sent off by referee Craig Pawson but Elliott swiftly absolved him of any blame, describing it as “a freak accident” on social media. When Leeds’ subsequent appeal against the red card was thrown out, Elliott messaged the centre-back to say “I think it’s wrong but it’ll soon blow over brother and you’ll be back in no time smashing it again”.
    As he waited in the X-ray department at Leeds General Infirmary that Sunday evening with his family, Elliott got chatting to a 13-year-old boy in the next bed called Jacob, a Liverpool fan who had broken his arm earlier that day playing for North East Leeds JFC Pumas Under-14s.
    Elliott took off his Liverpool shirt and asked his dad Scott to give it to Jacob along with his right New Balance boot. Scott still has the left one.
    “I was at my lowest point but Harvey really lifted me and made me feel so much better,” Jacob told Sky Sports. “He told me we all have to face challenges and it’s just a case of trying to find a way through them.”
    “That was typical Harvey. He’s always been very generous both with his time and with material things,” his former coach Dan Thomas tells The Athletic. Thomas worked with Elliott at Fulham from the age of 12 to 16.
    “It was also classy what he did with Struijk,” he continues. “We all know what social media can be like. There could have been a pile on but Harvey diffused all that at a difficult time when a lot of players in his position would have just been feeling sorry for themselves.
    “It was horrible seeing Harvey like that on the field but knowing the lad that he is I’m not surprised his rehab has gone so well so far. He will have used the time wisely to get stronger in the gym. He’s in great hands and he’s given himself the best chance of getting back as quickly as possible.
    “He loves football. It’s almost freakish for someone so young to be so driven and focused. The support from his family will certainly have helped. They won’t have allowed him to take his foot off the gas.
    “There have been a few messages back and forth. Everyone at Fulham wishes Harvey all the best. We’re looking forward to seeing him back out on that pitch in the new year.”
    As well as the physical challenge, there’s also a mental battle to conquer when it comes to fighting back from a serious injury.
    “I think back to when I broke my leg,” former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher tells The Athletic. “For the first week or two you’re getting lots of attention and people are saying lots of nice things about you. Then people get on with playing their football and you’re left in the background.
    “You’re the one whose leg is in plaster and you can’t go out of the house. Then you’re the one that’s in the treatment room. Psychologically, that will have been tough for Harvey.
    “You don’t look at an injury and think, ‘Right, I’m out for this number of months’. It’s more, ‘When am I getting the cast off? When can I get in the gym? When can I get outside again?’. There are all sorts of little steps to build to and that’s what you have to focus on. The most difficult days are behind him now.”
    Klopp recently saluted Elliott’s positive mindset. “From a mental point of view, Harvey is rather an old soul,” he says.
    “He’s very mature for his age. He’s completely fine with the situation. He has accepted it. He deals with it. I try and cheer him up some days but it is rarely needed. He has a brilliant family at home.”
    Those closest to Elliott talk of a youngster whose glass is always half full. No time has been wasted feeling sorry for himself.
    The support and advice of senior pros like Jordan Henderson, Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, who have been through similarly lengthy rehabs themselves, has meant a lot to him.
    [​IMG]

    Elliott during a rehabilitation session (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    By early October, just three weeks after the surgery, Elliott was already out of the cast and starting work in the gym. He used an anti-gravity treadmill that enables staff to slowly increase what percentage of body weight a player runs with.
    “Typically, full weight bearing would be achieved at around six weeks,” explains Konopinski.
    “The first step once the cast is off is pool work because the water provides buoyancy and reduces weight-bearing load. Then when you move to the gym it’s all about trying to restore some of the muscle function around the foot. These muscles will lose mass very early when load is restricted.
    “At the very start of the rehab staff would concentrate on other areas of the body as you don’t want to lose lean muscle mass in other parts due to inactivity. The athlete can be doing cardiovascular work early when still wearing the boot.
    “It’s vital that you maintain the cardiovascular fitness and strength in the rest of the limb and body as a whole so when you get back outside on the pitches you’re not compromised.
    “It’s very much a gradual process. Building up the muscle strength around the foot and the ankle. Restoring physical qualities of force absorption and force production before moving on to plyometric activity (a type of exercise training that uses speed and force of different movements to build muscle power).
    “You need the ability to store energy in that area and then release it efficiently. These are the physical capabilities required of the ankle on the pitch — they absorb force when you’re slowing down and then explosively release the force when you want to speed up. Changing direction is a good example. Rehab is all about restoring the physical qualities required to play.”
    By the 10-week mark, Elliott was back outside jogging at Kirkby. His spirits were further boosted after he was crowned Rising Star of the Year at the 2021 North West Football Awards. He’s been a regular at first-team home games to cheer on his team-mates and he has been overwhelmed by all the messages of goodwill he has received from supporters.
    Last year, Everton’s Andre Gomes made his comeback from a similar injury after just 112 days out. Elliott won’t be back playing as quick as that but shouldn’t be too far behind.
    “It’s brilliant to see Harvey running again already but that’s not unheard of after an injury like this. It’s about what we would expect at this stage. These guys get the best care available 24-7,” adds Konopinski.
    “Football is a multi-directional sport and you have to be able to replicate those demands in the rehab. It’s all about the intensity at which you are doing those things and the mechanics involved.
    “It will be broken down into stages. From a low level to a high level. After so long out, you’re then looking at several weeks full training before a player would be at a sufficient level to perform in a match situation. That timeframe varies.
    “Rehab is designed to ensure that when a player returns to full training he has full confidence in replicating physical tasks that concern the player and help overcome any hurdles. These players will also have access to sports and performance psychology to assist in these matters. We don’t know the exact nature of the injury but there shouldn’t be any long-term consequences. The speed at which he’s progressed would certainly add weight to that.”
    After waking up from the surgery in September, Elliott posted a photo on Instagram of him smiling in his hospital bed. Part of the message to his 1.2 million followers read: “At the end of the storm there’s a golden sky.”
    It’s not over yet but the outlook is certainly a lot brighter.
     
  15. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Liverpool launch new supporters’ board in light of Super League row
    By James Pearce
    December 6, 2021Updated 4:13 PM GMT
    1 Comment

    [​IMG]
    Liverpool have launched a new supporters’ board which will provide fan representation at main board level.

    The new model of engagement was agreed by owners Fenway Sports Group in the wake of April’s Super League debacle and it has now been confirmed after 99 per cent of Spirit of Shankly members voted in favour.

    Liverpool CEO Billy Hogan said: “The idea for the Supporters’ Board came from an understanding and recognition that there was a lack of engagement with supporters on some important fan-facing issues and that was something we wanted to address.

    “We had the ability to engage directly with a number of our different supporter groups, and we started with our official supporters’ trust, Spirit of Shankly.

    “It was clear that we needed to address our levels of dialogue and put a process in place that was more formal. Ultimately we’re really proud of where we’ve ended up. We think the Supporters’ Board concept is a really good one and it allows us to engage in a really meaningful way.”

    The supporters’ board will be made up of a group of supporters that represent the club’s diverse fanbase. There will be regular meetings with the club and the chair will be invited to attend LFC’s main board meetings when fan-facing strategic matters arise.

    The supporters’ board will consist of 10 Spirit Of Shankly committee members, plus six other representatives drawn from other fan organisations including Liverpool Disabled Supporters Association, Kop Outs, Spion Kop 1906, Official Liverpool Supporters Clubs, Liverpool Women’s Supporters Committee and faith and ethnic groups.

    The existing fan forums structure will remain in place but will be reshaped into three main working groups to cover ticketing, matchday experience and equality, diversity and inclusion.

    The new engagement process will be enshrined in the club’s articles of association and a legally binding memorandum of understanding between the club and the Official Liverpool Supporters Trust will be entered into.

    Joe Blott, chair of Spirit of Shankly, said: “We’ve been working really hard as a union to work alongside the club, to hold the club to account but at the same time to work in harmony to try and get the best for supporters. The supporters’ board will be led by democracy, with an invitation to affiliate groups, not individuals, so when you work on the Supporters’ Board, you’re operating at a level of speaking on behalf of supporters, not just yourself.

    “Another feature of the agreement is that it will be formally written into the club’s articles of association, which future-proofs the relationship between supporters as it would form part of any transfer of undertaking to new owners.

    “We’ve come such a long way from the challenges of the past, and it was critically important to make sure the supporter voice is heard. We know that fan representation is critically important to maintaining football. I think what we have now is a real synergy and organisational approach that ensures stronger representation and greater engagement.”

    (Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
    Is this a new initiative from Liverpool fans’ groups?

    No, it’s something that leading supporters’ groups have been pushing for since FSG bought Liverpool in 2010.

    Fans played a significant role in bringing down the previous regime of Tom Hicks and George Gillett with their protests and have repeatedly urged FSG to listen more to the lifeblood of the club. However, the Super League debacle has given the campaign fresh impetus.

    FSG have previously been resistant to fan representation on the board but then again they have never had to deal with a backlash quite like the one in April.

    Their previous promises about consulting with fans’ groups before making big decisions have proved to be hollow.
    How did Liverpool fans respond to the Super League?

    Following the announcement of the Super League, Liverpool supporters’ group Spion Kop 1906 removed all their banners and flags from the Kop.

    It meant the iconic stand, which has been adorned with tributes to legendary players, managers and trophy successes during the pandemic, was bare for Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Newcastle United on April 24.

    A Spion Kop 1906 spokesman told The Athletic: “We feel we can no longer give our support to a club which puts financial greed above the integrity of the game.

    “It’s disgraceful and absolutely disgusting what the owners have done. We don’t know how it’s got this far without fans being consulted.”
    Where can I find out more?

    Plans are already underway to revive the Super League after April's failure and one potential version involves not 20 clubs but 140.

    To find out what the Super League will look like when it comes back, Go Deeper below.
     
  16. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    The rise of the underlap
    John Muller 6h ago[​IMG] 17 [​IMG]
    Imagine you’re Andrew Robertson in the Merseyside derby and you see Sadio Mane up ahead about to gather a loose ball at the corner of the box and dribble at the defence.
    You’ve got a quick decision to make.
    One thing you could do is hang back and let Mane try to beat his man one-on-one. After all, you’re nominally a defender, and if Liverpool lose the ball someone will have to stop Andros Townsend and Richarlison from counter-attacking up your flank.
    Then again, you’re a full-back in a modern back four, and everyone knows the job is as much about getting forward to help the attack as it is about defending. The textbook thing to do here would be to swing around the outside of Mane on an overlapping run. If he slides you the ball at the right moment, you’ll be in behind the back line with space to look for a cross.
    But there’s also a third option: instead of sweeping around the outside, what if you cut inside, into the channel between the opposing full-back and centre-back? The angles on this so-called underlapping run are more difficult than an overlap for the passer and the receiver, but if it works it can create all kinds of headaches for the defence.
    [​IMG]
    Last week, Robertson took the road less travelled, pointing to where he wanted the ball and underlapping behind Everton right-back Seamus Coleman. It left Coleman no chance to switch on to the run.
    [​IMG]
    The nearest centre-back Ben Godfrey was reluctant to leave his partner Michael Keane alone with Diogo Jota, and by the time he closed down Robertson near the byline, the Liverpool left-back had already stepped around Mane’s pass and cut the ball back to a wide-open Jordan Henderson
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    … who curled a shot past Jordan Pickford from the edge of the penalty area.
    [​IMG]

    The underlap felt like an inspired bit of improvisation from Robertson, but it was part of a larger shift in Premier League tactics. Over the past six seasons, attacking full-backs have increasingly varied their positioning and movement, overlapping less automatically than they used to and underlapping more often.
    If you’ve noticed the trend of full-backs attacking inside, it’s not just your imagination. Data can not only help track the league-wide change over time — it can also give us some ideas why it might be happening.

    The statistical rise of full-back underlaps

    The tricky part about measuring overlaps and underlaps is that event data logs where things like passes and dribbles happen but cannot tell you how players are moving off the ball. To infer what kind of runs full-backs are making, you need to know not only where they are taking their touches but how the ball got there.
    The quintessential attacking full-back run happens in a situation similar to the Mane and Robertson example above. Overlaps and underlaps can be useful in lots of other ways, but they’re most common when an attacker has the ball somewhere around the corner of the box and needs a team-mate in support to help overload the defence.
    For measurement purposes, if a team-mate in the half-space near the corner of the box passes at least five yards to a full-back on the wing, we’ll label that an overlap. If the players are the other way around, that’s an underlap. This won’t capture every full-back run, but will narrow it down to passages of play where the data gives us a relatively clear idea of how players are interacting on the pitch.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    If we compare overlapping and underlapping plays to each other, there’s a noticeable historical trend. For the first half of the last decade, full-back overlaps made up around 90 per cent of the combined set of passes. Wingers and midfielders were passing from the inside out to full-backs who advanced almost exclusively up the sideline.
    But ever since overlapping peaked in the Premier League in 2014-15, underlaps have been on the rise. Last season, 17.5 per cent of the full-back moves in this set of passes were underlaps, up from 9.5 per cent seven years ago. It’s still relatively uncommon for a full-back to come inside in the final third to receive a pass from a wider team-mate, but there’s a lot more variety than there used to be.
    [​IMG]
    To get a better handle on how and why this part of the game is changing, it’s worth taking a closer look at four different kinds of full-back moves.

    Diagonal overlaps

    It’s not actually the most common, but maybe the most iconic of our four pass types is the diagonal pass to an overlapping full-back. It came into vogue in the last couple of decades thanks to the rise of the 4-2-3-1 formation and inverted wingers who like to play narrow and dribble in to shoot on goal. Fast full-backs could time their runs up the open wings to receive an easy lay-off pass from a winger or midfielder for a cross.
    Tottenham’s lone goal against Arsenal in September doesn’t come off cleanly but the crisp timing of Sergio Reguilon’s overlapping run and Bryan Gil’s valiant attempt at a one-touch relay point to a team that have practised this wide pattern in training.
    In fact, Spurs stand out as one of the few big clubs whose tactics have cut against the league trend, with overlaps on the rise and underlaps declining under Mauricio Pochettino, and rebounding only slightly since.
    Tottenham’s conventional full-back play has its advantages — Reguilon leads the team for expected assists — but if you can imagine how exposed they would have been if Bukayo Saka had recovered the loose ball here and launched a counter-attack up the wing behind Reguilon, you’ll see why these swashbuckling overlaps aren’t as popular as they used to be.
    [​IMG]
    Out of 4,808 completed diagonal passes to overlapping full-backs in our custom dataset, only 84 have produced goals for the attack on that possession, a rate of 1.7 per cent. On the other hand, 12.2 per cent of those passes have been followed within the next 15 seconds by a counter-attack that reached the opposing half on the flank of the full-back who overlapped.
    Even if you’re good at it, sending a defender all the way up the wing is risky business.

    Lateral overlaps

    Of course, an overlapping full-back doesn’t have to sprint all the way to the corner flag. Sideways passes from the half-space to a wide full-back are more than twice as common as completed passes of the diagonal kind.
    These lateral overlaps are the least threatening of our four pass types, producing a goal from the sequence only 1.2 per cent of the time. They’re less a dynamic threat than a simple way to provide consistent width outside of narrow wingers. But full-backs in these positions can still stretch the defence in useful ways, as Diogo Dalot showed last weekend against Crystal Palace.

    Lateral overlaps are slightly less likely to lead to a counter-attack up the flank behind the full-back, but they’re also 31 per cent less likely than diagonal overlaps to produce a goal — not an especially enticing trade-off.

    Lateral underlaps

    The growing alternative to overlaps is a narrow full-back working the half-space in the attacking third. Instead of committing a defender wide and high, where he’s not in a good position to counter-press or track back after a turnover, some coaches are experimenting with a return to using wingers for attacking width and tucking their full-backs inside.
    Like a lot of tactics trend stories, this one has a lot to do with Pep Guardiola, who really, really likes wide wingers. If you’ve watched even a little bit of Manchester City lately, you have probably noticed the outsized attacking role Joao Cancelo has been playing inside the left winger.
    But Guardiola’s tactic of stretching the back line early — by pushing a winger high and wide who then passes back inside to a full-back between the lines — isn’t exclusive to one player. Against Aston Villa, it was Oleksandr Zinchenko running up the left channel after a long ball to Raheem Sterling. As Villa’s defenders ran out to close down Sterling, Zinchenko received an easy lateral pass between the lines and tried his luck from distance.
    [​IMG]
    Even if we leave out City, who do far more lateral full-back underlaps than any other team in the Premier League, this kind of outside-in pass produces a goal nearly as often as a diagonal full-back overlap, while leading to the fewest counter-attacks of any of our four pass types. An inside full-back can support the attack and stay in a good position for “rest defence” — a term for preparing to defend after a turnover while still in possession — at the same time.
    Underlapping full-backs can produce a fun variety of attacking patterns. In Manchester United’s game against Leeds, for example, Luke Shaw beat his man-marker by passing up the wing to Bruno Fernandes and then cutting inside to take the return pass into the channel for a shot.
    [​IMG]
    Or take this clever rotation from Crystal Palace against Newcastle. The right-back, Joel Ward, starts the play from deep with a pass out to Michael Olise on the wing (out of shot).
    [​IMG]
    Instead of waiting for a full-back overlap, which would have taken too long, Conor Gallagher makes the inside-out seam run from midfield to give Olise a passing option up the touchline.
    [​IMG]
    Ward runs straight up the channel into the vacated midfield space and first-times a ball out to Gallagher, and suddenly Palace have managed to achieve the effect of an overlapping run — a ball-carrier in space on the wing with time to pick out a good cross — with a more efficient pass-and-move pattern.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Diagonal underlaps

    The last of our four full-back runs is the one we started with — Robertson’s sprint up the channel for a diagonal pass into the box from the wing. When they come off, passes into this prime cutback zone are deadly: a 2.9 per cent scoring rate from diagonal underlaps is nearly double that of any of the other three.
    But these passes aren’t completed very often at all. Across the Premier League, only 13 diagonal passes have reached a full-back in the box this season. Those passes led to three shots and two goals, but they also produced counter-attacks at the highest rate of the four run-types. Maybe that trade-off is worth it for the higher scoring chance from the half-space, but it would take more advanced math (and a greater sample of completed passes) to find out for sure.
    It’s also possible that these runs are effective even when they do not lead to a completed diagonal pass. In that Liverpool goal from the opening example, Coleman could have cut off the passing angle to Robertson by dropping off of Mane a step or two, but the difficulty of knowing exactly when to move to block a run behind his back might have opened space for Mane to cut inside, which isn’t exactly an ideal outcome for the defence either.
    Unfortunately, that is probably beyond what event data can measure. Some of the tactics driving the rise in underlapping full-backs aren’t easy to track with numbers alone. But after all, isn’t being hard to track why they make the runs?
     
  17. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Nat Phillips might leave Liverpool soon – but he’ll always have Milan to cherish
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce 4h ago[​IMG] 58 [​IMG]
    Liverpool defender Nat Phillips was bemused when he heard recently that Jurgen Klopp had mentioned him in the same breath as Robert Lewandowski.
    After all, comparisons with one of the most potent strikers in world football aren’t immediately evident.
    But when the Bolton-born centre-back looked closer at his manager’s comments, he discovered that Klopp had paid him the ultimate compliment.
    “People often ask me which player made the biggest improvements under my leadership and I say, ‘Robert Lewandowski’,” said the Liverpool manager, who worked with the Poland international for four years at Borussia Dortmund. “That’s probably right. But not far off that is Nat Phillips. His development is absolutely insane. People love him because of his heading but with his feet, he is unbelievable.”
    Phillips’ unlikely rise to cult hero status on the Kop was the feel-good story of last season.
    He was so far down the pecking order at the start of it, he wasn’t even registered for the Champions League group stage. He only stayed at Anfield because Swansea City pulled the plug after agreeing a deal to sign him. He even had his bags packed for the drop down into the Championship.
    But an unprecedented defensive injury crisis propelled him into the limelight and he ended up playing a crucial role in helping Liverpool retain their status among Europe’s elite as he clocked up 20 appearances in all competitions.
    Earning both the trust of his manager and the respect of his team-mates, he grew in stature. Klopp recently admitted that he should have put his faith in Phillips sooner rather than playing midfielders Jordan Henderson and Fabinho out of position in central defence.
    The 24-year-old proved he belongs in the Premier League but, through no fault of his own, he hasn’t graced that stage since May.
    The returns to fitness of Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez — plus the arrival of £35 million signing of Ibrahima Konate — put him back on the fringes of Klopp’s squad. He would have been sold in the summer if anyone had been willing to meet Liverpool’s £12 million asking price but, with no suitable offers forthcoming, he was given a new four-year contract on improved terms and kept around as cover.
    Given Klopp’s embarrassment of riches defensively, Phillips has slipped to fifth choice at centre-back and has been starved of senior football this season. There were 45 minutes in a Carabao Cup tie at second division Preston North End in October and a substitute outing so brief at home to Atletico Madrid a week later that he didn’t even touch the ball.
    Although his attitude at the training ground has remained impeccable, he has missed the buzz of playing. No wonder he was beaming from ear to ear after the final whistle at San Siro last night.
    Ninety minutes in the bank, a big contribution to a highly impressive 2-1 win over AC Milan and a timely reminder of what a reliable and commanding presence he provides. Zlatan Ibrahimovic may not have been familiar with Phillips’ work before Tuesday but he certainly is now after the veteran frontman was barely granted a kick.
    It was a fitting venue for the man affectionately nicknamed the “Bolton Baresi” to add another meme to his collection with the ice-cool dragback and turn inside his own box that bewitched Ibrahimovic and Franck Kessie.


    “That was the situation of the game!” smiled Klopp. “We spoke already in the dressing room about it. I can’t wait to watch it back. Nat played outstandingly well.”
    Phillips deserved a night like this because, without him, there would have been no Champions League football for Liverpool this season. It was also a useful exercise for both club and player in terms of putting him in the shop window.
    They are open to selling Phillips at the right price next month and he will consider his options. It would be a major surprise if he isn’t snapped up.
    This was a triumphant end to a historic Champions League group campaign as Liverpool became the first English club to win all six matches.
    Despite making eight changes, Klopp saw his side comprehensively outclass the current Serie A leaders, whose dreams of joining them in the last 16 next February and March were shattered. Defeat means they don’t even finish third to go into the Europa League knockouts.
    Momentum was maintained while Henderson, Diogo Jota, Thiago and Van Dijk had their feet up watching at home, along with the suspended James Milner. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andrew Robertson and Matip travelled to Italy, but weren’t required.
    So many boxes were ticked.
    Mohamed Salah set a new club record for the most goals in the group stage with seven. In cancelling out Fikayo Tomori’s opener, the Egyptian also became the third-fastest Liverpool player to reach 20 goals in a season in terms of the calendar. Only Ian Rush (November 8, 1986) and Roger Hunt (November 25, 1961) got there quicker.
    Divock Origi, fresh from his weekend heroics at Molineux, looked energised after being rewarded with a start. He celebrated another winner — his first Champions League goal since the clincher in the 2019 final against Tottenham.
    Gomez and Naby Keita both made their comebacks from injury while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was at his dynamic best.
    What a night for the academy, too.
    Tyler Morton, making just his third senior start, was so composed in midfield and looked the part throughout. Fellow teenager Max Woltman was handed his debut late on, and there was another outing for Conor Bradley.
    Remarkably, six members of Tuesday’s match-day squad have been with the club since the pre-academy level (aged six or seven): Morton, Woltman, Alexander-Arnold, Neco Williams, Harvey Davies and James Norris.
    In negotiating the group stage with a perfect record, Klopp has also managed to rest Van Dijk for half of the six matches. He has juggled his resources expertly.
    Alongside Phillips, Konate excelled.
    The young Frenchman has had to be patient since his summer move from RB Leipzig as he adjusts to what Klopp wants from him.

    Matip remains first choice to partner Van Dijk and is expected to return to face Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa at Anfield on Saturday, but Konate couldn’t have done any more against Milan.
    He was strong, he read the game well, and dealt with all the danger that came his way. He made seven clearances, three interceptions and two tackles, including a crucial one on Kessie late on which ensured Liverpool kept their narrow lead.
    “I couldn’t be more proud. The performance was outstanding,” adds Klopp. “We defended with passion and organisation. Nat and Ibou played an exceptional game.”
    With the welcome sight of Gomez returning, centre-back is now an area of serious depth for Klopp. Talk about famine to feast compared to a year ago.
    Nobody will fancy getting Liverpool in Monday’s draw for the first knockout round.
    By the time that tie is played, Phillips is likely to have moved on.
    He will always have this night at San Siro. He earned that.
     
  18. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Karim Adeyemi: Red Bull Salzburg and Germany’s rising star who Bayern may want back
    Raphael Honigstein Sept 30, 2021[​IMG] 25 [​IMG]
    There’s an uncomfortable pause at the other end of the line. Janusz Gora is playing for time. “Well,” the ex-Poland international says, weighing up his possible replies, “the player he most reminds me of…” He stops himself. The 58-year-old knows he’s not doing Karim Adeyemi any favours by answering this question honestly. But he’s not going to lie either.
    “You know who he reminds me of, in his movements?” he says, taking another deep breath. “Lionel Messi. The way he glides inside from the right onto his strong left foot with quick little turns.”
    He laughs.
    Comparing the 19-year-old Red Bull Salzburg striker to the best player of all time feels way over the top, preposterous even. Yet here we are. Gora, a former defender with Stuttgarter Kickers and TSV Ulm, has seen many players come through as a youth coach at Salzburg (under-16s) and their feeder team FC Liefering in the second Austrian division. But not many left as big an impression on him as the 16-year-old boy who turned up in the summer of 2018.
    “You could immediately see that he was special, an incredible talent, fast, good technique, explosive on the ball,” Gora recalls. “Even though he played against grown men with Liefering, he was the sort of player who decided games, with a goal or an assist. As a coach, you knew there was something about this kid.”
    Salzburg felt the same. They had paid €3 million to SpVgg Unterhaching, a third division side on the outskirts of Adeyemi’s hometown Munich to take him across the border. Unlike in Germany, where under-17 players can only feature in adults games with special permission, there are no such restrictions in Austria. The plan was to give him game time with the seniors at Liefering and then promote him to Salzburg in a year or two. And that’s exactly what happened. Thirty-one starts and 15 goals later, he moved up to Jesse Marsch’s team in March 2020.
    The American carefully integrated the young centre-forward. Adeyemi was behind Mergim Berisha (now at Fenerbahce), Sekou Koita and Patson Daka (now at Leicester City) in the pecking order up front but he did enough to convince the club that he could lead the line in the current season. In a double-pronged attack next to Benjamin Sesko, Adeyemi has scored seven goals in nine games for the Austrian champions. The secret was definitely out when he was called up by Germany earlier this month and scored on his debut against Armenia.
    [​IMG]

    Adeyemi scored on his Germany debut (Photo: Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images)
    The 19-year old son of a Nigerian father and Romanian mother also made his mark in match-day one of the Champions League. He became the first player in the competition to win three penalties in one game in the 1-1 draw over with Sevilla. The Spaniards hadn’t been able to deal with his runs into the box. A missed penalty at the Sanchez Pizjuan did somewhat spoil his first start in the Champions League but there was no doubt that he was going to be one of the most watchable youngsters in this year’s tournament.
    His second match in the competition last night yielded two goals, both from the penalty spot, as Salzburg beat Lille 2-1 to go top of Group G. Adeyemi was a constant headache for Lille’s defence, and it was the forward that drew the foul from Sven Botman for the first spot kick.
    You’ve read this story before. Salzburg scout a teenager in some rather obscure place, develop him in their vertically integrated football group for a couple of years and get the biggest clubs in the world excited. What’s different about Karim, however, is that he had already played at one of those giants as a child. Aged eight, he was snapped up by Bayern Munich after the German record title-holders had seen him play for his local club TSV Forstenried at an indoor tournament.
    They loved his creativity at Saebener Strasse but the emphasis on schoolwork in German academies created problems. Adeyemi, by his admission, found it hard to concentrate in school and often blamed the teachers for his poor grades. Bayern eventually lost patience with him two years later. Sources in Munich say there was an altercation with a team-mate but Adeyemi denies ill-discipline was the reason he was let go. “Things simply didn’t work out with me and Bayern,” he told Goal.
    That might have been the end of it. The disappointment and stigma of having been kicked out by Bayern might have disheartened a less talented player but Adeyemi’s natural skills helped him get a second chance. Unterhaching chairman Manfred “Manni” Schwabl, a former Bayern midfielder, signed him up and made it his mission to fulfil the boy’s immense potential. Adeyemi wasn’t allowed to train unless he did his homework.
    At some stage, things clicked. He became a conscientious teenage footballer, eager to learn on and off the pitch. Shortly after he turned 16, Chelsea scout Vito Leccese invited Karim, his family and Schwabl to come to Cobham for a week. Karim held his own but all three parties harboured doubts that moving to London was the best next step for him. A trip to Liverpool didn’t prove productive either.
    The English clubs felt that Unterhaching were holding out for a big sum. And they were. The €3 million transfer fee they received from Salzburg — a record sum for a German 16-year-old — went some way to help renovate the Osttribune (east terrace) in the club’s 15,000-capacity Sportpark ground. “We should name the terrace after Karim,” Schwabl told Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Perhaps they will, one day.
    They are aware in Salzburg that offers are likely to come this January. A €15 million bid from Barcelona was turned down a year ago. Now he’s worth double that amount, at least. A few more goals in this year’s group stage will see a similar frenzy to the one that surrounded Erling Haaland’s move from Salzburg to Borussia Dortmund in January 2020.
    [​IMG]

    (Photo: Juergen Wassmuth/DIENER/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)
    Could history repeat itself? BVB manager Marco Rose knows Adeyemi from his time in Austria but that might not be enough to fend off RB Leipzig, who tend to have first dibs on Salzburg players. Bayern are still keeping an eye on the player, too. He’s talked about going back to the Bavarian capital in the past but his mentor Schwabl believes that England will be his “natural destination” eventually.
    Whoever wins the race won’t just sign an extremely promising prospect but a lovely guy, too, by all accounts. “Karim was a great boy who integrated quickly and always listened,” Gora recalls. “I’m happy that I was able to coach a player like him. He’s on the right path and can still get so much better.”
    Adeyemi’s positive and humble behaviour with the German national team won him praise from team-mates and the coaching staff as well last month.
    No, Adeyemi won’t be Munich’s answer to Messi, but if he continues to improve at this rate, he’ll be a pretty big name in his own right in no time.
     
  19. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    No nonsense, inspirational and sharp wit – Gerrard’s first season as a manager at Liverpool’s academy
    [​IMG]
    By Caoimhe O'Neill 6h ago[​IMG] 5 [​IMG]
    Just as Steven Gerrard’s playing career began at Liverpool, so too did his venture into management.
    Gerrard was unveiled as the Liverpool Under-18s manager for the 2017-18 season when he took over from now-Blackpool manager Neil Critchley. It meant a return to Merseyside for the retired midfielder who had spent the last of his playing days living in Beverly Hills and playing for LA Galaxy.
    The players in that under-18s set-up were naturally excited.
    “As a kid I would always watch him on TV,” Basel and Canada winger Liam Millar tells The Athletic. “He was one of my favourite players growing up — the stuff he could do with a football not many people can. When I heard he was going to be my coach I was like, ‘Wow, this is incredible’. When I met him he was exactly how I thought he was going to be.”
    It was straight to work for Gerrard and his coaching staff.
    “He knew what we needed to improve on from the get go,” Millar, who left Liverpool in the summer, says as he recalls Gerrard’s first training session. “I remember everyone was on it, everyone was running around wanting to impress him.
    “That year everybody raised their game. Me, Curtis Jones, Adam Lewis, Neco Williams… A lot of players really came out of their shells and that had a lot to do with Steven being there. You want to show somebody of his stature what you can do.”
    [​IMG]

    Millar (left, pictured in 2018) grew as a player under Gerrard’s management (Photo: Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    Millar thrived under Gerrard, scoring 13 goals and registering 10 assists in a season that saw Liverpool reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Youth League and finish third in their league.
    “He was very good at man-management,” Millar says. “If I was not picked for one game he would always talk me through his thought process. This was perfect. Every player wants an explanation when they aren’t playing and he was incredible at giving you one.”
    It was not only Gerrard experiencing a first year of sorts. Central defender Patrik Raitanen joined the club in the summer of 2017 — two months after Gerrard.
    “He is the type of person when just being around him gives off a level of expectation,” Raitanen, who is now back in his native Finland playing for Klubi 04 in Helsinki, says. “You could always feel that Steven Gerrard is here.
    “I couldn’t believe he was going to be my coach. When I met him I still didn’t believe it. He is a really charismatic person. Being there in that first training session and him coaching us — I won’t forget that. The first thing he said when I said I am from Finland was, ‘You know Sami Hyypia then?’. I actually do, so it was something we had in common. He joked that if I knew Sami then he could teach me how to defend.”
    Jordan Hunter featured in Gerrard’s first league game away to Derby County, a 1-1 draw.
    “Derby were getting out a lot by clipping the ball into my man,” the full-back, who now plays for South Shields in non-League, remembers. “I wasn’t being aggressive enough. We got in at half-time and Steven was telling me how to get in front of my man and to read when the goalkeeper is going to kick it. By the end of the game they didn’t get out there anymore and I was winning my headers. It was his first game and he helped me massively.”
    Hunter had been a central midfielder before Gerrard’s arrival, but an injury to Williams had the new manager re-assessing his options.
    “He changed me to right-back. He said, ‘I can see you playing there, how do you feel about giving it a go?’. He sat me down and said he had to play different positions when he started. You would try anything because he is your manager. It was a good decision — I have played there ever since.
    “Another thing he did for me which was absolutely class was after each game I would phone Alex Inglethorpe (the academy manager) and go over my statistics from the game. Gerrard took a real interest in this and phoned me after one match to say, ‘I heard you are doing these stats with Alex: this is great, show me on Monday’. That was really good.
    “The other moments when you were like ‘wow’ was when he would give demos in training which most coaches do. But he might have been doing a demo of a long pass and zinging the ball 40 yards, his foot barely coming off the ground. We were amazed by his technique.”
    Hunter was not the only player who changed positions under Gerrard. Edvard Tagseth was transformed from a winger into a box-to-box midfielder.
    “I was no longer just an offensive player. Steven taught me how important it is to do the defensive work,” the Norwegian, now at Rosenborg, says. “He gave me the No 8 shirt for some games and I tried not to think about it so much but in the back of my head I was playing in his shirt with Steven as my coach.”
    [​IMG]

    Gerrard passes on advice to Tagseth during Liverpool’s FA Youth Cup clash with Arsenal in 2018 (Photo: David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
    In Gerrard’s second game, against Blackburn Rovers, Tagseth — wearing that shirt — scored as Liverpool won 3-2. “After the game, Steven gave me some good comments to the media. It was all over the news in Norway. There were a lot of people sending me texts. I went to Anfield later that day and there were people coming up to me saying congratulations — that has never happened to me before so it was a surreal day, one I’ll always remember.”
    Gerrard being manager pulled a media spotlight onto the under-18s like never before and, naturally, he was swarmed by fans wherever the team would go.
    “When we would travel to away games you could tell he was a legend,” Tagseth says. “In airports knew you were with Steven Gerrard as he would have a flock of about 20 people behind him queuing for autographs and pictures. He had to have a couple of guards with him.”
    The weight of Gerrard’s words in that season have had a lasting effect on the players in the squad.
    Adam Lewis, who is on loan at Livingston in the Scottish Premiership from Liverpool, can testify.
    “In that first game against Derby I must have played my worst game ever,” Lewis says. “We got back to the academy and he called me into his office. He was like, ‘If you play like that again for me you will never play for this club again’. Something just clicked inside me because it was him telling me that. After that, I never had a bad game for him.”
    Goalkeeper Dan Atherton, now playing for non-League Warrington Town, remembers a similar incident.
    “We played Stoke City away and I got sent off so I was banned the game after,” he says. “I was known in the academy for being a bit of a clown and having a laugh. I had messed around in college and got in trouble and he didn’t know about it. Then after I got sent off he must have found out. He pulled me into the office and said to me, ‘You aren’t playing at the weekend and if I had known what you did in college you wouldn’t have played before’.
    “He gave me a telling off. That was something I had to stomach. It was my idol telling me. That one hurt. But it was a turning point for me as a person and a player. I bucked up my ideas after that.”
    Gerrard was approachable and determined to get the best out of his players — as well as win. Defeat was not something he took lightly.
    “I remember we got beat by Everton,” Lewis says. “He came in, got his coat, slammed the door, he never even spoke. He got on the coach and never said a word. If we lost he was fuming but on the Monday he would be like, ‘Right, let’s get back to work now’.”
    One moment Lewis cherishes is when Gerrard asked him to be captain.
    “He brought me into the office and introduced me to his coaching staff. Then he said, ‘I want you to be my captain’. I was like, ‘Bloody hell’. I was overwhelmed. I can always say I was his first captain as a manager. I will never forget that.”
    [​IMG]

    Back Row (l-r): Rafael Camacho, Curtis Jones, Abdi Sharif. Marley Blair, Ben Williams, Dan Atherton, Rhys Williams, Elijah Dixon-Bonner, Okera Simmonds, and Anthony Driscoll-Glennon; Middle Row: Gregg Blundell, Dr Jim Moxon, Jordan Milsom, Edvard Tagseth, Luis Longstaff, Alex Turner, Tom Clayton, Liam Millar, Morgan Boyes, Scott Mason, Neil Edwards, and Phil Bolland; Front Row: Neco Williams, Daniel Griffiths, Glen McAuley, Adam Lewis, Gerrard (U18 Manager), Tom Culshaw, Liam Coyle, Jordan Hunter, Paul Glatzel, and Diego Lattie (Photo: Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    In September, Gerrard organised tickets so that Lewis’s family could watch him play for Livingston against Rangers at Ibrox. It is moments of generosity like this which endeared Gerrard to his players.
    “I remember he bought the lads an iPad for the music in the changing room. He came to me and was like, ‘Right, you sort that out’,” Lewis adds. “He would always give us our own responsibilities on and off the pitch.”
    Every player from the team Gerrard coached has lasting memories of their interactions with the now-Aston Villa boss. Atherton adds his.
    “It is long days at the academy,” Atherton says. “On our dinner break we would go and play football in the indoor hall. I was in there with Glen McAuley and Anthony Glennon. We were shooting trying to replicate our favourite players. Every player has hit a ball as hard as they can on the half volley and shouted ‘Gerraaaarrrrdddd’. I did that in the indoor and absolutely shanked it.
    “It hit the roof, went out on the other side, it was nowhere near. My mate Glen burst out laughing and I just heard someone go, ‘At least I hit the target’ and I turned around and Steven was standing at the door. I don’t get embarrassed easily but I wanted the world to swallow me up.
    “I remember another time when LFCTV were in filming. We were doing penalties and I saved one of Gerrard’s. It was very rare that I did but I saved one. I was absolutely buzzing because the media team was filming — but then he scored five in a row past me.
    “On the night they showed the footage and shared it to Twitter there’s Gerrard hitting pens and me diving everywhere. They never showed my save; they only put the five in a row on. I still hold onto the fact I saved one of his pens.”
     
  20. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    The whip, the timing, the genius – Alan Shearer analyses Mohamed Salah’s Liverpool goals
    Alan Shearer 5h ago[​IMG] 9 [​IMG]
    Mohamed Salah is the best in the world right now. The best goalscorer and the best player, full stop. The little magician is doing his stuff in the best league in the world and he’s doing it the against the best teams and in the biggest games, whether it’s Manchester City or Chelsea, Manchester United or Everton, Atletico Madrid or AC Milan.
    Week-in week-out, year-in year-out, Salah performs magic. How he came seventh in the latest Ballon d’Or voting is anybody’s guess. There’s an obsession with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, which is understandable given how dominant they’ve been over the modern era, but if you gave me a choice of any player for my team it would be Salah.
    With 20 goals in 21 appearances in all competitions this season, Salah is setting new standards. I get that he’s playing in a brilliant side with superb players around him, but he looks quick and energetic and fresh. There’s no doubt in my mind that having last summer off has helped him in terms of sharpness, but at 29 he’s also at the peak of his powers, in the prime of his career.
    Liverpool are a forward’s dreamland. When my Blackburn Rovers team won the league title, we played a 4-4-2 system designed to get balls into the box, with two outstanding wingers in Stuart Ripley and Jason Wilcox. Under Jurgen Klopp, that responsibility falls to Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, the full-backs, but they have the same mentality of wanting to get in behind and supply ammunition.
    With nine assists to go with his 13 goals, Salah is leading two charts in the Premier League. He has the clinical instinct that all great goalscorers possess, but he is also constantly alert. The number of times he’s put the ball on a plate for a team-mate is phenomenal.
    For this piece, it’s all about his skill as a forward and what makes him so good and so difficult to stop. I’ve watched back and broken down all 20 of his goals. By and large, he plays on the right of a three-man forward line, with the licence to go where he wants, but most of the time, he’s lurking around that right-hand side, ready to come in on that brilliant left foot.
    We all know that’s what he wants to do. Defenders know it, too, but knowing and stopping it are different things and Salah is as quick with the ball as he is without it. Once he’s running at you with pace – that gorgeous pitter-patter shuffle of blurred feet – it’s curtains. One-v-one, he can go both ways, and he has the speed to shift the ball a yard or half a yard to get his shot away.
    [​IMG]
    As this shot map (not including penalties) compiled by Mark Carey, The Athletic’s data specialist, demonstrates, Salah likes being close to goal. He is a natural inside the six-yard box, as well as the second six-yard box that I was taught about as a kid. He is not a head-down, lace-the-ball striker. His goals are less about brute force than culture and placement and he is a master of the curling finish.

    August 14: Norwich City 0 Liverpool 3
    Look at Salah’s positioning — he’s outside the penalty area when the corner is played. How many other world-class forwards would be waiting back there? In the language of football, we often say “the ball fell to the striker” as if it was an accident, but this isn’t a fluke. Salah has sniffed out the chance, which is a big part of his genius.
    Granted, the defending from Norwich is shocking — there’s nobody close to him — but Salah is bright enough to know where the ball is going to fall. Watch it again and it’s as if he’s psychic. There he is, not quite central, in the perfect position to touch it on to his favoured left foot for that cultured little finish we’ve seen so many times.
    You can learn to be in the right place at the time. Most of is down to experience. The more you score, the more you understand where the ball will fall and how defenders will react. It becomes an instinct. You get the smell of it, the feeling for it. For some players, the instinct is just there, but the longer you’re in the game, the more intuitive it becomes.
    He grabbed two assists in this game, too.
    August 28: Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1
    A penalty. Not much to say about this, except that he’s perfectly capable of scoring to the keeper’s left or right. If it shows anything, it’s Salah’s relish for the big moments and the big occasion.
    September 12: Leeds United 0 Liverpool 3
    Salah’s 100th Premier League goal is all about staying alive and vigilant. There’s a give but no go and you can see him moaning when Joel Matip fails to return the ball. His reaction? No strop, no sulking. Salah keeps moving and anticipating and when a brilliant cross comes in from Alexander-Arnold he’s there for a tap-in, getting in front of Sadio Mane.
    September 15: Liverpool 3 AC Milan 2
    Salah had missed a penalty in this match, but there he is in that right channel again. Milan are holding a high line, which is a big risk because once Salah gives that little pass he’s off like a hare. Give, go, in behind, quick, intelligent, he’s waiting for a quality ball and he gets it. He’s never going to miss.
    September 18: Liverpool 3 Crystal Palace 0
    Salah’s starting position when the ball comes in is almost identical to Norwich, but his finishing position is completely different. What doesn’t change is the outcome.
    This time he’s being marked, but that’s fine — there’s a little shove on Jairo Riedewald and he’s off. What’s extraordinary is that while the defender is looking over to the ball, Salah is moving towards where it will be and by the time Riedewald realises what’s happening, it’s far too late, it’s flicked on and volleyed in. All of that takes place in a split second.
    The word I come back to time and again is “anticipation”. It’s what makes the greatest forwards so difficult to pick up.
    September 25: Brentford 3 Liverpool 3
    A goal awarded after an offside flag and a VAR check. This time it’s a long ball over another high defensive line and Salah is itching to get into the space behind. In those circumstances, with Liverpool having time on the ball, Brentford should have dropped deeper, but they didn’t and were punished for it. At pace, Salah comes round the ball to tuck it in with his left foot.
    There are so many things that need to be right to score here. You need to time your run, then you’re relying on the ball coming in and lastly, you have to make your connection. Salah’s connection isn’t great, but the run and the pass make it. Quality players who can pick you out when you’re making runs like that don’t half make a difference. Football is a game of movement. Unless it’s a set piece, the ball is never still and you’re never still, either, so shooting while running is routine. In itself, it’s not difficult. Your technique can be tested by circumstances, when you stretch or your movement takes you in the wrong direction, but Salah’s great skill is his control of himself and the ball. Being in the right place helps.
    September 28: Porto 1 Liverpool 5
    The best player in the world doesn’t need any help but, my god, Salah got it against Porto, whose defending was comical. For the first of his two goals, it’s no surprise that he’s the quickest to react to the goalkeeper’s parry and the botched touch that follows, but when you watch it again it’s like he’s expecting both of those things to happen.
    The second… well, he’s got time to take a touch and time to pick his spot. There’s nobody within yards of him. So what do you expect?
    October 3: Liverpool 2 Manchester City 2
    I want to give you insight. I hope to pass on technical knowledge. But I watch this goal and what I want to say is “fucking unbelievable”, because that’s what it is. Liverpool’s opener summed up Salah’s ridiculous ability to run with the ball — City couldn’t catch him — but what comes next trumps it. It’s one of the best goals we’ve seen so far this season.
    It’s a masterpiece of balance, of close control. It’s technique, sheer class. City are a great team full of great players, but he makes them look average. He goes past five of them. You can tell they’re thinking he’s going to come in onto that left foot, but he doesn’t and this is the problem. You can never be quite sure.
    As a kid, you’re taught how to dribble. You take the ball around cones. It is an improvable skill. As with most of those skills, the more you practise, the more comfortable you become, but practise doesn’t explain Salah’s artistry. It’s like Lionel Messi. For them, it’s natural, helped by those quick feet and a low centre of gravity. For me, it wasn’t, but there are different ways of moving the ball past other players.
    October 16: Watford 0 Liverpool 5
    Perhaps this goal is even better and it’s a classic example of the uncertainty Salah provokes. Don’t forget that he’s already produced one of the best passes you could wish for in this game, using the outside of his left boot to find Mane.
    There’s a touch, he’s past three players with those quick, dancing feet and this time, with what he did against City fresh in the memory — the Watford players will have seen that — there’s an expectation he’ll shoot with his right. It’s why he’s such a nightmare to play against because, on this occasion, he moves it to his left.
    His balance is exquisite, but what I marvel at is the speed of thought. Players have milliseconds to make decisions — it’s why so much of training is about drills and repetition — but Salah is always thinking more quickly than anyone else. His brain takes those messages down to his feet before anyone else can react. It’s poetry of the moment. Poetry of the instant.
    October 19: Atletico Madrid 2 Liverpool 3
    Salah gets a bit of luck with his first goal, which takes a deflection, but it’s that common theme of darting in from the right and bringing the ball onto his left foot. It’s followed by another ice-cold penalty. He can score every type of goal.
    October 24: Manchester United 0 Liverpool 5
    He ripped Manchester United to shreds, scoring a hat-trick. The first reminds me of Leeds. This time he shoots and is blocked, but look what’s behind him. There are three defenders closer to the goal than he is. Within another two seconds, he’s in front of them, even though his shot should make that hard and his body isn’t set up to run or turn.
    There’s more embarrassing defending for his second — he has time and space — and for the third, he benefits from another high line, but even allowing for that, he’s impossible to pick up. Salah receives a beautiful pass from Jordan Henderson, there’s a touch with his right foot and a less exact one with his left, which makes up his mind about what comes next. The goalkeeper commits and it’s a clever, dinked finish.
    November 20: Liverpool 4 Arsenal 0
    It’s a great Liverpool move and a great team goal, a kick from the goalkeeper, two headers, Mane reading the situation and his pace taking him forward, Salah drifting into space and finishing with the side of his foot. What I love is the little skip halfway through his run — he realises the defender has to go across to Mane. All he has to do is wait.
    And it strikes me again, none of these goals is a smash. None is a big hit. There are different ways of being a great goalscorer, but the constant is getting yourself in the right places and having the ability to finish it off. Salah is clever and technically adroit, brilliant at running with or without the ball and kicking with either foot.
    November 24: Liverpool 2 Porto 0
    How many times do we see Salah bend one into the far corner? When I talk about him being clever, it’s because he sets unsolvable problems for defenders and goalkeepers. He changes it up. They know he loves to shape it in with his left foot and that finish is on for him here, but he comes across the goalkeeper this time, going to his near side. The keeper is expecting something that doesn’t happen.
    How do you know where to put the ball as a striker? Unless it’s a dead ball, it’s a split-second thing, taken at the final moment. With data analysts now, I’m sure strikers are aware of a goalkeeper’s strengths and weaknesses, so you might go into a game with ideas, but for the most part, it’s instinct, dependent on a host of circumstances. It’s about where the keeper is, your position, how your last touch went for you.
    What we describe as a decision? It happens in an instant.
    December 1: Everton 1 Liverpool 4
    This is what I’d think of if you said, “Typical Salah.” This is that famous bend, the curl. In theory, Jordan Pickford has Salah where he wants him, narrowing the angle to the point where it’s ludicrously tight, but it doesn’t matter. Salah is ahead of the ball, but he wraps his left foot around it, which is exactly what he means to do.
    It’s that arching of his body that gives him the whip, coming around it with the inside of his left foot, spinning it like a golfer. It’s such a clever finish. In one-on-one situations as a forward, you’re waiting for the keeper to blink first, to make up his mind, but here Salah is left with only one option. The speed of his feet and those short strides are unbelievable. He’s always in control.
    The second capitalises on a dodgy back pass and Seamus Coleman’s hesitancy, but there’s more to it than that. Again, Salah is being drawn towards where the ball may go but usually doesn’t. You might make a run like that 100-150 times in a season, so it’s a reward for perseverance. Still, you can see Coleman thinking, “Shit, Salah,” because he’s sprinting at him, full tilt. There’s no catching him.
    December 7: AC Milan 1 Liverpool 2
    Salah moves. He’s behind the defenders when the shot comes in, but when the keeper parries it he’s three yards ahead. He anticipates it quicker than anyone else.
    This is a supreme forward who has everything you need in the modern game. There’s no weakness, no clear flaw. He’s rapid, he has a deadly left foot, he anticipates space in and around the box, his build is perfect, he’s strong and fast with and without the ball, he’s an instinctive finisher. He’s just a bloody good footballer. The best.
     

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