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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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    Michael Edwards — the visionary behind Liverpool’s remarkable rise
    [​IMG]
    By Daniel Taylor and Adam Crafton Jun 29, 2020[​IMG] 62 [​IMG]
    Perhaps the best place to start is the story Harry Redknapp tells when he is asked about Michael Edwards and the remarkable chain of events that has taken a frustrated IT teacher from Peterborough to a position of power and influence at the football club whose supporters now have a banner pronouncing, “Champions of Everything”.
    Redknapp had been Portsmouth manager when Edwards — or “Eddie”, as he is commonly known — got his big break there and, over a decade after they last worked together, got back in touch a while ago to request a favour.
    “I’d met a guy who had only a few weeks to live,” Redknapp says. “This poor guy was in his early 40s. He had been married only a couple of years and he knew he was dying. Someone had got in touch and said, ‘Harry, he’d love to meet you. He’s football mad.’ So I went round to his house one Sunday and spent a couple of hours with him, his wife and his in-laws. He was an amazing boy, so strong, and he told me it was his dream to go to Liverpool.
    “I rang Michael Edwards and, straight away, he went, ‘Harry, not a problem’. I arranged a car, I got a driver. Eddie sorted everything else. There wasn’t any of the, ‘Oh, Harry, I’m sorry, mate, you know how busy I am’, that you can get sometimes.
    “He put himself out, he organised the full day and treated him incredibly. We have to remember we are in a position where we can make a difference to people’s lives. Sadly, this guy died four or five weeks later. Eddie had got him into the directors’ box, introduced him to everybody — Kenny Dalglish, Jurgen Klopp — the boy had the best day of his life. Loved every minute of it.”
    It was all done with no publicity, of course, because Edwards has a strict understanding with Liverpool that, as far as the media are concerned, he would rather keep everyone a long arm’s distance away and speak about as regularly as Chief Bromden does in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
    Edwards is the sporting director who identified Klopp as an ideal manager-in-waiting and has been responsible for bringing in, among others, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Alisson and Virgil van Dijk.
    It is the collection of players that has helped Liverpool end their 30-year wait for a league title and turned a drifting giant into the champions of England, Europe and the world, surpassing even the achievements of the club’s sides from the 1970s and 1980s.
    Edwards is the University of Sheffield graduate who convinced Liverpool about the potential of Andy Robertson at Hull City to flourish at a higher level and become one of the outstanding full-backs in world football.
    Yet the paradox is that Edwards does not even have a Wikipedia page. Type in his name and, until recently, the first result was that of an ex-pro from Notts County.
    Edwards has kept so far under the radar that for a long time the only photograph of him in the media’s possession was from a Just Giving fundraising page for the 2018 Manchester half-marathon, for which the list of donations included £5,000 from a certain Mr J Klopp. Edwards’ primary concern when he was promoted to his current role, in November 2016, was the extra publicity it might bring. And the paradox is that he can still walk around Anfield without anybody recognising him.
    “He isn’t the most stereotypical football director,” Redknapp says. “In fact, he is probably the most un-stereotypical. You won’t often see him in a suit. He isn’t a go-getting, big-personality kind of guy. You look at him, he used to have this spiky hair… a very inoffensive, quiet guy. You’d probably think he should be standing behind the goal.”
    Others talk about a fiercely driven, intelligent and ambitious individual who possesses the streak of ruthlessness that is sometimes required to reach the top in football.
    Edwards has upset a few people along the way and was one of the three members of staff from Anfield cited in the alleged hacking of Manchester City’s scouting system in 2013. Liverpool offered a £1 million settlement, including a legally binding confidentiality agreement, to stop the matter going any further and Edwards’ presence is one of the reasons why relations between the two clubs are so strained at boardroom level.
    Not that Edwards will have cared too greatly about that detail when he and others from Liverpool’s scouting department gathered at a colleague’s house last Thursday to watch Manchester City surrender the title with a 2-1 defeat at Chelsea.
    Edwards was a youth and reserve-team footballer at Peterborough United who never fully made the grade and, released at the age of 18, trained to be a teacher before getting his first job in a local high school. He is the lorry driver’s son who grew up in Fareham, between Southampton and Portsmouth, in Hampshire and developed a fetish for numbers and statistics. The “laptop guru,” as he was called in one headline.
    When the final whistle sounded at Stamford Bridge to confirm Liverpool as Premier League champions, Tom Werner pulled out his mobile phone to get in touch with the relevant people.
    The first person to receive a congratulatory text from Liverpool’s chairman was not Klopp, it was Edwards.

    As Jurgen Klopp flashed that considerable smile, champagne bottles were uncorked and Kenny Dalglish’s phone started bleeping with text messages while he was trying to conduct a live television interview, it could feel like a trick of the imagination that Liverpool gave serious consideration to hiring Eddie Howe rather than the German who, according to Steven Gerrard, now deserves a statue outside Anfield.
    Howe was on a three-man shortlist with Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti for the manager’s position and it was part of Edwards’ job, then as Liverpool’s technical director, to determine who had the outstanding credentials to replace Brendan Rodgers.
    Ancelotti, who now finds himself on the other side of Stanley Park with Everton, passed all the criteria in terms of his record in the Champions League and the statistics relating to his teams at clubs including Juventus, AC Milan, Chelsea and Real Madrid. But his transfer record counted against him because the check system devised by Edwards and Liverpool’s analysts deliberately placed less emphasis on a manager’s recruitment in his first year.
    Their theory was that a manager might not have the ultimate say when it came to transfer business during his first season but, in years two, three, four and five, that manager’s influence would be greater and signings would not happen without his input.
    A lot of Ancelotti’s recruits were deemed to be on the older side and that jarred with Liverpool’s thinking. Edwards and the hierarchy wanted players aged 26 or under who were approaching their peak years and would still have a re-sale value three or four years later.
    Howe’s reputation at Bournemouth was for developing younger players and playing attractive football and, though his stock might have fallen recently, this was a time when he was considered for lots of elite jobs and being acclaimed as a future England manager.
    He had also been a player at Portsmouth when Edwards was working there at the start of the century but their friendship never came into it because, if there is one thing to know about the current Liverpool regime, it is that they do not let sentimentality influence their decision-making.
    Howe did not have the experience of competing in the Champions League whereas Klopp ticked every box in terms of achievement, transfer business and playing style. Edwards made his recommendation to Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), and left them to get on with the business of making it happen.
    Since then, perhaps the best indicator of Edwards’ influence is to consider Klopp’s line-up for his first Liverpool game, a goalless draw at Tottenham Hotspur on October 17, 2015, and compare it to the team that can expect a guard of honour on Thursday from Manchester City, the now-deposed champions.
    Simon Mignolet was in goal behind a back four of Nathaniel Clyne, Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho and Alberto Moreno. Lucas Leiva, Emre Can and James Milner formed the midfield and the front three had Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho either side of Divock Origi. Liverpool’s substitutes were Adam Bogdan, Kolo Toure, Jerome Sinclair, Joao Carlos Teixeira, Connor Randall, Jordon Ibe and Joe Allen, who never did fulfil Rodgers’ description as “the Welsh Xavi”.
    [​IMG]
    Edwards had to help Klopp build virtually an entirely new XI but, first of all, he had to get the confidence of the manager and create a relationship where they fully understood one another.
    “It is a very good relationship,” Klopp says. “He is a very thoughtful person. We don’t always have to have the same opinion from the first second of a conversation, but we finish pretty much all our talks with the same opinion. Or similar opinions.”
    It was Edwards, for example, who pressed Liverpool to sign Salah and convinced Klopp to disregard the fact the Egyptian had struggled previously with Chelsea. Klopp’s initial preference was said to be Bayer Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt, a future Germany international he knew well from his time managing Borussia Dortmund. Edwards persisted. Klopp listened, took it in and placed his trust in his colleague.
    Edwards’ success cannot just be measured, however, by the players Liverpool have signed because some of their more spectacular business has revolved around the ones they have moved out.
    Coutinho’s £142 million transfer to Barcelona was the biggest deal but Liverpool also raised significant sums by offloading fringe players. Ibe and Brad Smith went to Bournemouth for a combined £21 million. Kevin Stewart moved to Hull for £8 million. Leicester City paid £12.5 million for Danny Ward. Sakho went to Crystal Palace for £26 million and when the two sides met at Anfield last week he was the player many suspected Klopp’s team targeted as their “pressing victim”, namely the opponent who might be vulnerable to being chased down. Liverpool won 4-0 and it was noted in Anfield’s corridors of power that Sakho had looked “terrified”.
    All this is masterminded, to a large degree, from Edwards’ first-floor office up the stairs at the Melwood training ground then along the corridor on the right. His door is always open. It is directly opposite Klopp’s office and the poster-sized “Class of Melwood” picture on the wall is because every year the entire staff — from the security and kitchen workers to the first-team players and manager — pose for an all-in-it-together photograph.
    In his trade, Edwards is respected by his peers and one rival sporting director says he has become one of the most “prominent and eloquent” voices at the Premier League technical director meetings which take place every six weeks: “He is good at his job. He always has a clear position and he sets out why. He always cuts very strong financial deals for Liverpool and there have been times we couldn’t find a middle ground. They drive a hard bargain and the proof is in the pudding of his success.”
    [​IMG]
     
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  2. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Part 2

    Edwards, left, Klopp and FSG president Mike Gordon (Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    Edwards and Klopp, the older man by 12 years, are described by one colleague as “kindred spirits”, freely wandering in and out of each other’s offices. During the transfer window, Edwards’ television will be on and showing the rolling news coverage. The two men swap opinions, they debate and sometimes they disagree. They also spend many lunchtimes playing paddle tennis after getting hooked on the sport during a winter training camp in Tenerife. They even arranged for a court to be built at Melwood and it will be the same when the club move to their new £50 million training ground in Kirkby.
    Edwards ran the London marathon last year with three colleagues to raise more than £57,000 for Prostate Cancer UK. All four wore specially designed Liverpool shirts bearing the No 19 (to signify the calendar year, not the fact Liverpool were aiming for their 19th title). Mike Gordon, FSG’s president, donated $5,500, “as the son of a cancer victim, thank you”. Werner gave $5,000. Jorge Mendes, the “superagent”, €1,200. Ramy Abbas, agent to Salah, added £1,000. Jordan Henderson (£5,000), Andy Robertson (£1,000), Trent Alexander-Arnold (£500) and Daniel Sturridge (£1,000) all contributed. Gordon Taylor, the Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive, put in £250. Edwards himself donated £3,000.
    All of which demonstrates a level of togetherness that was not so evident, perhaps, before Klopp was in the building.
    Brendan Rodgers, the previous manager, saw Edwards as a threat to his authority at a time when the workings of Liverpool’s “transfer committee” had created all sorts of politics behind the scenes. It was an awkward title and an awkward time. Rodgers was not a fan of the set-up and it became such a big issue it was a permanent source of regret inside Anfield that the club’s American owner, John W Henry, had ever coined the name.
    In reality, it was the kind of operation that could have been found at just about every major club, where there was an understanding that the manager was too busy to go on overseas scouting missions himself and become embroiled in negotiations that could take months. Edwards was part of a group that included then chief executive, Ian Ayre, along with the analytics team, senior coaching and scouting staff and sometimes representatives of the club’s commercial department. “It is a group that makes sure a deal works for everyone,” one of the relevant people explains, “rather than an individual making a big call because their mate, who is an agent, has recommended some player.”
    Rodgers still had the power to veto transfers and, early on, was probably entitled to question Edwards’ knowledge. Liverpool had made a flurry of signings — Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto and Tiago Ilori, to name but three — who passed through Anfield without making a favourable impact. Lazar Markovic was the most expensive failure, costing £20 million, and not everyone appreciated Edwards’ occasionally blunt, very matter-of-fact manner.
    [​IMG]

    Markovic cost Liverpool over £1 million per league appearance (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    Edwards was trying to push a new way of thinking at a club where they had traditionally relied on old-fashioned methods and, inevitably, there was bound to be some resistance.
    A number of scouts were moved out, some unhappily. Mel Johnson, the talent-spotter who had recommended Henderson, claimed in one interview that Liverpool missed out on Dele Alli because of the club relying on their “computer and stats-led approach”.
    The game, Johnson complained, was “not played on a computer”, pointing out that experienced football people were being edged out. “Some of these IT guys have come straight out of university and landed jobs at top clubs, despite having no football background whatsoever.”
    Associates of Edwards say he was prepared for, and unmoved by, the opposition. “You cannot have a closed mind under Michael,” one says. “But to be clear: it is not a war between old and new. Liverpool’s biggest strength is they move with the times in terms of analytics but they also pay attention to old-fashioned scouting, too. They encourage people to go to games. It is a middle ground.”
    Another adds: “Rather than embracing the new concepts, there was that reluctance to move with the times. That was one aspect in terms of the resistance to change.”
    Rodgers never put it quite that bluntly but he, too, found it difficult to trust Edwards and did not try particularly hard to conceal the fact.
    The politics eventually contributed to Rodgers losing his job and, five years on, he might have to accept that he underestimated his former colleague, particularly when it comes to the £29 million signing of Roberto Firmino from Hoffenheim. Rodgers had not been keen on Firmino whereas Edwards and the scouting team were certain the Brazilian would be an ideal wearer of Liverpool’s colours. Chief scout Barry Hunter had tracked him in Germany and the numbers showed how, by being involved in 45 league goals in the two seasons up to 2015, Firmino was the second-highest performing Brazilian in Europe. He was second only to Neymar. Rodgers remained unconvinced and, to begin with, Firmino was used on the right wing.
    Everything came to a head with the Mario Balotelli signing and it remains a source of astonishment inside Anfield that Rodgers gambled his position on a player Jose Mourinho once described as “unmanageable”.
    Luis Suarez had been sold to Barcelona and, with a week to go before the new season, a training-ground match had made it painfully clear that Rickie Lambert was short of the level Liverpool wanted. Balotelli was available. Samuel Eto’o, too. Loic Remy had failed a medical and Rodgers cranked up the pressure internally.
    “He (Rodgers) was wielding his veto power a little bit,” one person with knowledge of the deal recalls. “So Liverpool said to him, ‘OK, fine.’ That (Balotelli) was not a deal Liverpool wanted to do but he insisted on it. Basically, it got to the point where there were a few transfers in which Brendan said, ‘It is my way or the highway. I need this player and you need to back me as manager. We have lost Suarez, so this is what we need to do.’
    “They (Liverpool) said, ‘OK, that is fine, but under our model if we all fuck up together on a few transfers, it is everyone’s responsibility and we share that. If you tell us you want to take the decisions, then you will have to take the responsibility for that.’ He went, ‘Yep, fine, I will do that.’ The next season was not great and he ended up getting sacked.
    “Some extremely senior sources were pretty adamant they would not have sacked him for the results that season if they had shared the responsibility more for transfers.”

    When Barry Fry is asked if he has any particular memories of Michael Edwards, the former Peterborough manager has to apologise.
    “I’m embarrassed to say no,” Fry, now the League One side’s director of football, tells The Athletic. “This is my 25th year at the club and I don’t remember the boy at all, I’m sorry.”
    Edwards had been part of a junior football academy in Southampton before being recommended to Peterborough for their youth system, going on to sign a two-year apprenticeship at London Road.
    “Probably not the most talented, but he worked hard,” is the verdict of one former team-mate. “A proper squad player, who made the best of what he’d got. He was never going to be a star but he was always quite dependable. And very clever. He was probably old for his time, the way he thought about everything and the way he spoke. You could tell he had a good head on his shoulders.”
    Edwards was a right-back who would occasionally be moved into a holding midfield role and, though he was not regarded as loud or a shouter, there was one occasion when he turned on two team-mates and accused them of thinking they were “big-time”.
    “There were two colleges in the area,” another former Peterborough player says. “Some of us — the ones who never got the better qualifications — went to Huntingdon College. Michael went to Cambridge to do leisure and tourism with the more intelligent lads, one day a week. Academically, he was very able. And on the pitch, you could see he understood the game.”
    Ultimately, though, Edwards left Peterborough without making a first-team appearance and had to make a new career for himself. He went back to college and enrolled for university, obtaining a degree in business management and informatics. He returned to Peterborough to start his first teaching job but colleagues say he missed being around football and was not enthused by his new profession.
    His breakthrough came in 2003 when Portsmouth agreed to take on Prozone, the football data company. Other clubs had already signed up and Simon Wilson, one of Edwards’ former Peterborough team-mates, was in the relevant department up the road at Southampton.
    “I said to Simon we had won a contract with Portsmouth and needed an analyst,” Barry McNeill, then Prozone’s business development manager, says. “He rolled off a few names and said, ‘There’s one guy I know who’s probably not happy where he is, why don’t you have a chat with him?’”
    Edwards was in his early 20s. “We found him working as an IT teacher,” McNeill says. “He clearly had pretty low motivation for that vocation. I interviewed him at a service station between Peterborough and the M1. I explained Prozone, showed him the technology and within a month he was on-site at Portsmouth’s training ground.”
    Though Edwards might not have enjoyed teaching, McNeill thinks the experience hardened him for the football business. “The first few years (of teaching) are the toughest because you are totally out of your depth. You need a spine. That was probably great preparation.”
    This was a time when data was still relatively new to football and, all these years later, it is strange to hear one of Edwards’ fellow analysts say “it was only The Sun on a Monday that had passing and possession stats”.
    Redknapp had been persuaded by his assistant, Jim Smith, that Prozone was worth a go. Smith had been the first-ever manager to take it on at Derby County. Steve McClaren, one of Smith’s assistants, then took it to Manchester United. Sam Allardyce, then at Bolton Wanderers, was another advocate. And, as soon as word got out that Sir Alex Ferguson was using it at Old Trafford, other clubs started to follow.
    “I would be in Sam’s (Allardyce) office after games,” McNeill says. “If they had beaten Portsmouth, Sam would say to Harry, ‘What the fuck are you doing? Why have you not got this? Why don’t you have it? It is as expensive as your cheapest squad player.’ He would almost embarrass people to jump on the bandwagon. Harry would have taken a lot more of that from his peers and Jim Smith would have been having a word in his ear.”
    Even so, it took a while for Redknapp to get to grips with it.
    “There is a famous story where ‘Eddie’ is trying to get through to Harry,” one of Edwards’ former associates says. “This is folklore in analyst circles. Harry said, ‘Does your computer say we are going to win today?’ Eddie said, ‘Yes,’ quite flippantly. They lost and Harry quipped, ‘Maybe your computer can play next time.’ Nobody even knows if it is true, but we all repeat it.”
    [​IMG]

    Smith, left, convinced Redknapp that Prozone was the future (Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
    In Edwards’ early days, Redknapp called to ask why he could not get anything out of a CD-ROM filled with player data. It turned out Redknapp had put it into the CD player of his car.
    Edwards had his own office and was of an age when he could mix with the players without it seeming unusual. “On the team bus, for example, he would be with the lads and we would play Mario Kart,” Gary O’Neil, their former midfielder, says. “You might have an eight-person league and Ed would be in it. He didn’t overstep the line, though. He wouldn’t be on lads’ nights out because he was, technically, staff. We were good friends and he came to my wedding.”
    O’Neil remembers Redknapp never previously being stats-orientated — “we basically never used them at all” — but something must have gone right because Edwards followed the manager to Spurs in 2009.
    “Michael came to Portsmouth as a very young analyst,” Redknapp says. “I remember a massive game, the year we stayed up (2005-06), at Fulham. We were second-bottom and he put this video together to play on the coach. He was scared to show it because it took the mickey out of me. I thought it was a great laugh. He was a smashing lad and when I went to Tottenham I took him with me.”
    Edwards stayed at White Hart Lane for almost two years before Damien Comolli, then Liverpool’s director of football, headhunted him as part of FSG’s instructions to implement a new data-led approach, in keeping with their management of baseball’s Boston Red Sox.
    Comolli had previously been at Spurs, whose chairman, Daniel Levy, was then further dismayed to discover Liverpool had taken away another of their key men.
    Spurs had an exclusive agreement at the time with a data company called Decision Technology and Liverpool wanted to see if they could muscle in. Edwards, however, persuaded his new bosses to leave Decision Technology alone and instead target Dr Ian Graham, the data scientist who helped to run their operation.
    The two men were on the same flight to an analytics conference in Boston, Massachusetts. It was an eight-hour flight and, 37,000 feet in the air, Edwards convinced Graham to join him as Liverpool’s head of research. The task was aided by the fact that Graham is a boyhood Liverpool supporter. Graham, who holds a Cambridge doctorate in theoretical physics, informed Spurs when he returned to England. He now heads up Liverpool’s research and analytics department, based at the club’s training ground, and informing their decisions across recruitment, sport science, medical and finance departments. Graham works alongside Will Spearman, a former Harvard graduate student who was previously with the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.
    Daniel Finkelstein, who collaborated with Graham and Decision Technology for his analytical newspaper column the Fink Tank, explains how Liverpool’s owner and Edwards centred their plans on recruiting Graham: “When John W Henry of FSG bought Liverpool, he came to the offices of Decision Technology. John wanted to hire Decision Technology for Liverpool but he could not do that as they had a contract with Tottenham. Ian took the job himself with everyone’s blessing. Ian had been working on modelling for 10 years before he joined Liverpool and they secured an amazing talent.”

    On the night Liverpool’s first title since 1990 was confirmed, Edwards was having a socially-distanced gathering with colleagues from their scouting and analytics staff. Julian Ward, who manages Liverpool’s loan deals, hosted the event to show Chelsea vs Manchester City on a large screen in his garden. They celebrated together: the team behind the team.
    Much like Liverpool supporters across the country, they soon switched to LFC TV and watched the three-minute montage the club had prepared for this moment. Klopp could be heard explaining the meaning of Liverpool’s anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone. His colleagues listened, taking it all in.
    Presumably, if Edwards could ever be persuaded to do an interview, he would pay tribute to Graham and a department that also includes chief scout Hunter, head of recruitment Dave Fallows and head of football projects David Woodfine.
    Fallows is another Prozone graduate who cut his teeth under Allardyce, while Woodfine is a long-serving associate and worked alongside Edwards at Portsmouth. Hunter, Fallows and Ward were previously colleagues at Manchester City and were recruited by Edwards after he was tasked by the Liverpool ownership to construct the club’s recruitment department in 2012. Edwards became Liverpool’s first sporting director in 2016, a year into Klopp’s reign, after impressing FSG president Mike Gordon in previous roles as the head of analytics and technical director.
    It has been a remarkable success, underpinned by this extraordinary statistic: Liverpool’s net transfer spend of £92.4 million from the last five years is less than Watford’s, not even half that of Brighton & Hove Albion or Aston Villa and a fair bit behind Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United. There is only Crystal Palace, Sheffield United, Southampton and Norwich City with a lower net spend in that time. Manchester City’s total is £505.6 million. Manchester United’s £378.9 million.
    “Their (Liverpool’s) recent record is ridiculous, really,” one person with inside knowledge of analytics says. “They have barely had a failed signing. I don’t think that can continue, I don’t think anyone is that good. If you get 15 out of 15 transfers right, it can’t always be that way. He (Edwards) is over-performing and it will regress to a mean at some point.”
    It is certainly a far cry from the time, in 2017, when an online petition was set up by a Liverpool fan campaigning for Edwards to be sacked. The petition rustled up 36 votes and the first comment — “he’s useless, just useless” — has not aged well.
    It was Edwards who insisted when Barcelona bought Coutinho that a one-off clause was written into the deal to stipulate that the Catalan club would have to pay a £100 million premium to sign any other Liverpool player over the following two years.
    Colleagues talk about the period in 2018 when Edwards had it in mind that Real Madrid, their opponents in that season’s Champions League final, might increasingly be attracted to the idea of signing Salah, Firmino or Sadio Mane. Liverpool’s response was to tie all three to new contracts, none with release clauses.
    Edwards was unflinching when Emre Can, coming to the end of his contract, told the club he would sign a new one but wanted a release clause in it. There was a stand-off. Edwards refused to budge and Can was allowed to leave on a free transfer rather than the club setting a precedent.
    What will never change is Edwards’ reticence over letting us hear what his voice sounds like.
    “I didn’t even realise how well he had done,” one former Peterborough team-mate says. “Then I saw something about him on television and, ‘Oh my God, that’s him… That’s him at Liverpool!”
    “You’d never imagine the guy sat in the tiny Prozone portakabin at Portsmouth would go on to be the guy who plays such a big role at the biggest club in the world,” O’Neil adds.
    Good luck, too, trying to find a photo of Edwards with the Champions League trophy from the sweet-scented night in the Wanda Metropolitano when Liverpool became six-time European Cup winners, adding Madrid, 2019, to the list of Istanbul, 2005, as well as Rome, 1977 and 1984, plus Wembley, 1978, and Paris, 1981.
    Klopp invited all his staff onto the podium to join in the celebrations but Edwards preferred to keep to the edges and take photographs of the jubilant Liverpool supporters. He consoled some of his former colleagues from Tottenham, including Levy, and helped to make sure Liverpool’s kitman got a picture with the trophy.
    Then the quiet man of Anfield disappeared into the background, just the way he likes it.
     
  3. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    @King Binny - Sorry for the delay mate, posted the last 4 articles tat were missing
     
  4. King Binny

    King Binny Part of the Furniture Honorary Member

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    Don't say that, @Hass Can't thank you enough!
     
  5. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    You're welcome mate. I'll post tomorrow's article online too. Glad you're enjoying them.
    The quality of the writing and in depth analysis is superb I feel.
     
  6. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Understanding Jurgen Klopp – ‘It’s never about him’
    Raphael Honigstein 3h ago[​IMG] 9 [​IMG]
    Jurgen Klopp completed his very own 30-year cycle last week. Exactly three decades after signing his first professional contract at perennial second division strugglers Mainz, he’s won the Premier League with Liverpool as a manager — a career-high that’s even more pronounced than lifting the European Cup the previous year, such was Liverpool’s all-consuming fixation on the domestic championship.
    This season’s achievement has put Klopp into a managerial category all of his own, at least until the Champions League resumes in August: he’s the one manager working at a top-level club who has achieved all the goals for which he was hired.
    That’s a huge chunk of contentment to digest for a single man over the coming weeks. But Liverpool supporters needn’t worry that the German’s metaphorical full belly will sate his appetite for continuing his work with the same fervour and commitment going forward.
    “That’s not who he is,” Martin Quast, a German football reporter and one of Klopp’s oldest friends, tells The Athletic. “Kloppo doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘satisfaction’. He will be deeply happy, of course, but there’s no sense of ‘this is it’ nor of ‘I’ve finally done it’. It’s never about him for him, and it’s also never about proving a point for him. He doesn’t draw motivation from negativity, whether that’s other people’s attitudes or a personal fear of failure. Kloppo does what he does because he loves football, he loves life, and especially what winning feels like. More importantly, he loves sharing these wonderful moments with those who feel the same.”
    Quast met Klopp while reporting on Mainz for the local paper in 1990. A year or so later, the fast but technically limited striker started an internship at the regional sports desk of TV channel Sat 1, where Quast was freelancing. Klopp was always worried his lowly-paid contract at Mainz could come to an end if they were relegated and wanted to learn a different trade, just in case. He produced features about regional sporting luminaries such as the Roschinger sisters, two snowboarding champions, but as the youngest member of the editorial team, his main duty consisted of procuring a regular supply of cola-bottle sweets from the nearby wholesale store. “We sat there and threw cola bottles into each others’ mouths from three or four metres away,” Martin says incredulously, as if recalling a strange dream. “Everything was a competition for him.”
    Klopp loves winning so much because he and those close to him have lost very often, Quast believes. As a player, his career was one endless battle of survival in Bundesliga 2, interspersed briefly by an unlikely flight of fancy that saw Mainz losing the key promotion game 5-4 against Wolfsburg in 1997. Klopp had scored a goal but also committed a grave mistake in the tumultuous match.
    [​IMG]

    Klopp, right, makes a challenge for Mainz in a game against St Pauli (Photo: Elisenda Roig/Bongarts/Getty Images)
    Two more attempts to go up with the self-styled “carnival club” as a young manager in 2002 and 2003 ended in traumatic fashion. Klopp had taken the unstoried minnows to the brink of a first-ever season in the Bundesliga, only to be thwarted each time in the final matches. They lost 3-1 at Union Berlin when a draw would have sufficed and then missed out on goal difference the next year as their rivals Eintracht Frankfurt scored two goals in stoppage time.
    Many thought the club would never recover from those disappointments but, led by Klopp’s indefatigable positivity, promotion was at last achieved in 2004 with relatively little fuss. The whole town partied for a week.
    Last year, Quast brought Klopp and some of his former players together to make a film about the 15th anniversary of the feat. “They were laughing about all the stories and enjoying each other’s companies. It’s that spirit of togetherness that Klopp enjoys most, the sense of collective happiness. It might sound funny for someone who’s won two championships with Borussia Dortmund and the Champions League with Liverpool, but he said — from the bottom of his heart — that the 2004 promotion with Mainz was the greatest sporting moment he ever experienced, a real-life fairytale and happy ending that had gone against all the odds.”
    [​IMG]

    Klopp celebrates promotion in 2004 (Photo: Moritz Winde/Bongarts/Getty Images)
    Liverpool’s championship procession has been a little less incongruous by comparison, but Klopp will be just as pleased that he’s been able to put the biggest possible smile on their supporters’ faces, the lack of public celebrations with them notwithstanding.
    “He’s not one to fret about things he has no control over,” Quast says about the postponement of the trophy parade. “In fact, his ability to take setbacks big and small in his stride is one of his most remarkable features. He always finds a way to turn a negative into a positive. It’s a little bit weird right now but he knows that people won’t value the trophy any less. And they will party eventually, I’m sure.”
    He adds that the prospect of a global pandemic derailing Liverpool’s season was perhaps strangely typical of a coaching career that has come with a fair share of tough disappointments: two lost finals in 2016, goalkeeper Loris Karius making two mistakes in the 2018 Champions League final in Kyiv or Liverpool missing out on the 2018-19 title despite one league defeat all season.
    “Dealing with the COVID-19 break and all of the uncertainty was not easy for him, professionally,” Quast says. “But he’s used the slower pace of life to recharge. He’s in top form, very relaxed.”
    Christian Heidel agrees with that assessment. “He’s been focused but also very at peace with himself and a little more chilled over the last few months, as Liverpool’s title win has increasingly looked certain,” the 57-year-old says. Heidel was Mainz’s general manager in the Klopp years, and they have remained close: in February, Klopp watched Neil Critchley lead a young Liverpool side in their FA Cup fourth-round replay against Shrewsbury at Heidel’s place in Mallorca. The two giggled as a series of commentators wrongly speculated about the manager’s winter-break whereabouts.
    “Klopp is delighted that Liverpool have won the league but I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of pride for him. He’s not like that. He’s proud that he’s made the fans proud,” Heidel says.
    With Klopp, the communal dimension of the game always looms large, as Virgil van Dijk confirmed 12 months ago. “I’ve never experienced such togetherness,” the defender said after last season’s Champions League final win. “It comes from the manager. He always says to us, ‘You don’t play for only for yourselves, you play for those who are always there, for your team-mates next to you, the supporters, the people at Melwood and in the stadium who do everything every day in order for you to do your best’. It really touches us. We do everything for them.”
    [​IMG]

    (Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
    Amid all the songs and the dancing at Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium, and later at their Eurostars hotel, it had been noticeable how pleased everybody felt for each other — the manager for his players, the players for him, and everybody for the fans. Klopp’s emphasis on the social aspect of their work had truly taken hold.
    In the hour of victory, Liverpool resembled less a collection of immensely well-paid athletes and more of a mutual society, toiling for the benefit of everyone involved. A team built in the image of their manager, who wanted to become a doctor “in order to help people” in his youth and whose religious belief has instructed him to see one’s time on Earth as a chance — and a duty — to make a difference.
    “I’d say our mission is to make our tiny piece of land more beautiful,” he said to the newspaper Westfalische Rundschau in 2007. A year later, he told Stern magazine that life was “about leaving better places behind. About not taking yourself too seriously. About giving your all. About loving and being loved”.
    The noise might sadly be missing right now at Anfield but the love has only grown. “The thing he will enjoy most is looking at the happy faces of Liverpool fans, whenever that’s possible,” Heidel says.
    Quast adds: “Their joy is his. He doesn’t want to be at the centre of it all, and he would never agree to have a statue of himself put up. When someone suggested that idea at Mainz, Kloppo said statues were only good for collecting bird droppings at the top and for dogs peeing on them at the bottom.”
    Quast suggests that his friend’s conviction true happiness is a social emotion is best summed up by the image of his current autograph card, which curiously doesn’t show his face at all.
    Instead, we see Klopp from behind, lifting the European Cup in a Liverpool tracksuit, with the viewer’s gaze getting drawn past him, towards thousands upon thousands revelling in red ecstasy. They are what this is all about.
    [​IMG]
     
    Mamma Mia and King Binny like this.
  7. peterhague

    peterhague Very Well-Known Member

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    I'm beginning to think Klopp might be the best football manager ever.
     
  8. Holle

    Holle Chainsmoker Member

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    If I ever have a spare year, I'll give it a go and start reading this thread.
     
  9. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    These are the passes that define Liverpool’s season
    Tom Worville Jul 1, 2020[​IMG] 35 [​IMG]
    With Liverpool winning their first title in 30 years, now’s a good time to put an element of the side’s play under the microscope that goes under the radar more than it should: passing.
    Passes are the lifeblood of any football match. There are more passes than any other action on the pitch, with Liverpool averaging 630 per game this season, the second-most in the league behind Manchester City (682).
    Goals win games, put points on the board and drive a title challenge, but you can’t score them without stretching the opposition, penetrating packed defences or getting into dangerous areas. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are a great attacking side, the foundations for which are built on the ability to pass the ball well.
    Klopp has sculpted player roles that are almost caricatural in nature — the roles and responsibilities of each are so exaggerated. Their features define this team and how they play.
    This feeds into many elements of how Liverpool play, but a large part is the passes that each player elects to make. Virgil van Dijk is the metronome, Trent Alexander-Arnold is the cannon, and Roberto Firmino is the platform that links midfield and attack.
    By grouping open-play passes together based on their angle, length and location, it’s possible to think about passing from a far more nuanced statistical perspective. Raw counts of passes and pass completion can be useful in isolation, but by grouping similar attempts together, we can better describe the types that each player attempts. These help us form an identity for each player, based on their passes.
    For example, this Alisson chip out wide to Andy Robertson…
    [​IMG]
    …is not the same sort of pass as this cross-field switch by Van Dijk…
    [​IMG]
    …which isn’t the same as this pass that Firmino drops deep to receive.
    [​IMG]
    When each pass is labelled to a respective group, we can ask (and more importantly, answer) a ton of new questions. How much of an outlier is Alexander-Arnold’s passing profile? Does he make the most cross-field passes? To whom is Firmino most similar?
    Position by position, player by player, we’ll look at the passes that helped Liverpool win the title.

    Goalkeeper: Alisson

    Alisson gets many plaudits for his shot-stopping ability, but he’s also rather good with his feet.
    To illustrate the different types of passes that a player makes, we’ll use a visual showing these various pass groups. These graphics show only a sample of the passes that the player makes (a full demonstration would make them illegible). Two graphics showing the same clusters for the same player may look slightly different due to the way that the passes are sampled at random, but the types of passes that the group represents remains unchanged.
    Teams always attack from left to right, indicated by the grey arrow, and the passes are ordered from left to right, with the top-left group being the most frequent (either in terms of share of passes or difference to the average) and the bottom right being the least. Finally, only passes in open play are considered — goal kicks, kick-offs and the like are all filtered out.
    Now that’s out of the way, here are the main passes in Alisson’s repertoire; the ones that he attempts most frequently.
    [​IMG]
    Allison’s most common pass group is 39, followed by 36. Both of these groups are often received by the full-backs, with the more narrow passes received by the centre-backs.
    Pass groups 48 and 28 are perhaps the two types of passes that we best identify with Alisson. They’re the drives upfield or out to the wings that shift Liverpool into the attacking phase quickly.
    Alisson doesn’t attempt these types of passes more than the average goalkeeper. Goalkeepers usually have 42 per cent of their passes in either of these categories, but Alisson attempts just 18 per cent of his in this way, since Klopp prefers to build up from the back.
    The difference is that when Alisson does look to go long, he’s great at it, completing groups 48 and 28 at a rate of 35 per cent and 40 per cent (compared to the average for goalkeepers of 30 per cent for each).
    [​IMG]
    Those differences may not seem huge but over the course of a season they add up. For context, Adrian, who played a sizeable chunk of the season due to a calf injury to Alisson, attempted these passes 35 per cent of the time — less than the league average but far more than Alisson did — and completed at a rate of 27 per cent and 23 per cent — both below the average for a Premier League goalkeeper. Adrian went long more often and was worse at completing these passes than Alisson.
    Without Alisson in goal, Liverpool weren’t able to execute their usual routine in possession. By comparing the volume of the different pass types that a player attempts, we can create a similarity score. Here we see that Alisson and Adrian’s styles differ by a fairly large amount — Bernd Leno passes in the most similar fashion. He is more similar to Alisson than Ederson.
    [​IMG]
    Further, the way this is calculated doesn’t cater to the position that a player plays, hence why Alisson’s passing profile is more similar to Conor Coady than the likes of Jordan Pickford and Tom Heaton.
    These may seem like fine margins, but a goalkeeper who is comfortable playing it short, able to complete longer passes above league average rates and also a great shot-stopper is what £66 million of talent looks like.

    Right-back: Trent Alexander-Arnold

    If you were to choose Alexander-Arnold’s best attribute, his technique would be right up there.
    Each of the three league goals that Alexander-Arnold has scored this season are a testament to that — the hammer against Chelsea after the roll by Mohamed Salah, the drilled finish against Leicester and the recent free-kick against Crystal Palace, arguably the pick of the bunch.
    Unpicking what exactly is meant by “technique” isn’t something that is often expanded upon, however. It’s the type of note you’d expect to see on a scout report, but little effort is made to explain exactly what is meant.
    Is it the power that a player hits the ball with? The weight of a pass so that a team-mate perfectly runs onto it? The swerve a player adds to their crosses?
    For Alexander-Arnold, it’s pretty much all of the above.
    His most common pass isn’t one that makes the highlight reels — an interior pass (pass group 11), either to Joe Gomez or Jordan Henderson, around the halfway line. Pass group 20 is the one with which he’s had the most success creating chances this season, creating eight in open play with them.
    [​IMG]
    It’s not the common passes that Alexander-Arnold attempts that define his position, however, but those that offer a risk-reward trade-off when attempted.
    The passes below are those that he makes more often than the average right-back in the league this season. These are the sorts of passes that give Alexander-Arnold an identity as a full-back and have the largest impact on our image of the sort of player he is.
    [​IMG]
    The familiar cross-field switches are present here, but there’s a subtle difference between groups 18 and 28. The former are mostly comprised of switches that go horizontal across the field, whereas the latter are those from deeper in Liverpool’s own half. The left-back Robertson is the near-exclusive recipient of the former, with Sadio Mane, Firmino and Robertson again receiving the latter.
    Group 37 are the crosses that Alexander-Arnold attempts from deeper in the opposition half, and have been a fruitful weapon in his arsenal this season, creating five chances in total, including an assist for Divock Origi in the opening game of the season.
    [​IMG]
    Those switches of play are also in the group that the right-back completes more than others in his position. Looking at the graphic below you can see a couple of the red overhit attempts ending out of play, but Alexander-Arnold completes these passes 50 per cent of the time, far higher than the average for right-backs of 31 per cent.
    [​IMG]
    It’s not just aerial passes that make him a danger. Thanks to data from Sportlogiq, we can look at how many times a player looks to break a line with his passing. The table below shows Trent’s importance as a ball progressor for Liverpool — he attempts and completes more line-breaking passes than any other player.
    [​IMG]
    Liverpool’s reliance on the full-backs for line-breaking is a strategy that is uncommon compared to the traditional top six teams. Nemanja Matic, Dani Ceballos, Mateo Kovacic, Rodri and Giovani Lo Celso are all top for their respective teams, and are all midfielders.
    For Liverpool though, Alexander-Arnold is their jack of all trades. He can switch it, play passes vertically and horizontally, break lines and cross with power.

    Right-sided centre-back: Joe Gomez/Joel Matip

    Gomez has platooned as a right-sided centre-back with Joel Matip this season, but the two have slightly different styles with their passing. The most similar player to Gomez based on the types of passes he attempts is City’s Nicolas Otamendi, with Matip the fourth-most similar.
    [​IMG]
    The difference between the two of them doesn’t really show up if you consider pass completion rates. Gomez’s pass completion rate is 88 per cent and Matip’s is 84 per cent. That doesn’t tell us a ton about the types of passes that the two attempt, or if one is riskier than the other — it just tells us who’s historically completed more passes.
    Gomez and Matip profile quite similarly in the common pass types they attempt. Here’s Gomez: plenty of sideways passes to Van Dijk and Alexander-Arnold, and more progressive ones down the line with pass groups 47 and 49.
    [​IMG]
    Matip is pretty much the same but looks to go back to his goalkeeper more often than Gomez does.
    [​IMG]
    To get a flavour for a player’s risk profile, we can consider the average completion rate of a pass in each group alongside the volume of the passes in that group. Multiplying these two numbers together and summing up over all of the 50 groups tells us the average pass completion rate of a player in each group — which is a truer reflection of how difficult the passes attempted are.
    For example, player A may attempt most of their passes from a group that is completed just 50 per cent of the time, making them a far riskier passer than player B, who’s aggregated attempts are completed 80 per cent on average.
    With this in mind, we see that Gomez is a relatively safe passer, expected to complete 86 per cent of his passes. Matip, on the other hand, is slightly less safe and is expected to complete 84 per cent of his passes. Fine margins again, but these add up over the course of a season.
    The difference between the two may lie in their ability to progress the ball forward. According to Sportlogiq, Matip attempts to break an opponent line with his passing 7.6 times per 90, whereas Gomez tries to 7 times per 90. In terms of completion percentage, Gomez is the more successful of the two, finding his target 81 per cent of the time compared to Matip’s 75 per cent.
    This shows up in the pass groups that Gomez completes more than the average player. With the exception of the TAA-style switches of play in pass group 38, Gomez seemingly excels as a vertical passer for his position.
    [​IMG]

     
  10. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Left-sided centre-back: Virgil van Dijk

    Usually, the heartbeat of a side is a central midfielder who dictates tempo. Think of Jorginho at Chelsea or Sergio Busquets at Barcelona, two ball-players who stitch together play with ease.
    For this Liverpool team, though, there’s a strong case to be made that Van Dijk is that heartbeat: he’s attempted 2,629 passes in open play this season.
    That’s a staggering number for a couple of reasons. First, that figure is nearly 500 more than the Manchester City midfielder Rodri, who sits in second place. Second, players come and go from the Premier League making fewer passes in their whole career than Van Dijk has this season. The average player in the Premier League attempts just 33 passes a game, so if they were to make the same number of passes as Van Dijk they’d have to play around 80 games — the equivalent of two and a bit Premier League seasons.
    Plenty of these passes are meant to tease an opposition player to dislodge from the block they’re within, chase the ball and open up spaces behind them. The square passes to his partner at centre-back, out wide to Robertson or into midfield on the opposite side of the pitch all attempt to do just that.
    [​IMG]
    While he’s great at making switches and long-range vertical passes (completing both far above league average rates) they don’t actually make up a large share of his passing repertoire. Pass group 38 represent 3 per cent of Van Dijk’s total passes — just above the average for his position of 2 per cent — but group 28, the more direct vertical long balls, make up just 1 per cent of Van Dijk’s total passes.
    [​IMG]
    And when it comes to those passes on the ground that break opposition lines, Van Dijk is the most cautious outfielder Liverpool have. We can quantify that caution again with Sportlogiq’s data, looking at the proportion of line-breaking passes attempted to times when a player makes a pass and a line-breaking option was available. A player who attempts a line-breaking pass every time the option arises would rank very highly here, those who are less penetrative in their passing would rank low.
    For Van Dijk, it’s the latter. He attempts to break a line just 22 per cent of the time when he has the option to do so, which when compared to Gomez (27 per cent) and Matip (35 per cent), is a lot lower. Compared to the league overall, only City’s Otamendi looks to break a line less frequently, attempting to do so just 20 per cent of the time.
    There might be tactical reasons as to why this is the case, or due to certain passing angles being off the menu for Van Dijk due to him being a right-footed defender playing on the left side of the defence.
    What it does highlight is the importance of Van Dijk’s calmness and patience in possession. He uses his great passing range sparingly, but to good effect.

    Left-back: Andy Robertson

    Robertson’s passing may not get as much attention as that of Alexander-Arnold, but it’s equally as effective. Eight assists this season in the league so far sums that up, more than Salah, Firmino and Mane, who have seven apiece.
    And although a couple of those assists haven’t been overly creative — Robertson passed to Fabinho against Crystal Palace last week, who did the rest — the majority of the chances he does create irrespective of whether they result in a goal or not have been well-placed balls into the area from the wing.
    [​IMG]
    Away from chance creation, Robertson is Liverpool’s second most-threatening ball-progressor when looking at the number of line-breaking passes he attempts and completes, mentioned in Alexander-Arnold’s section above. A couple of those more progressive pass types show up in the most frequent passes he uses — mainly pass groups 5 and 7.
    [​IMG]
    Robertson’s passing range isn’t as extended as Alexander-Arnold on the other flank, and he tends to keep his passing shorter. Given the profile of his passing, Robertson is expected to complete 82 per cent of his passes, markedly safer than Alexander-Arnold’s 76 per cent.
    There’s likely a good reason for that. By having the Englishman pass and the Scotsman receive allows Liverpool to maximise both the range of the former and the speed of the latter. Looking at the types of passes Robertson receives that are uncommon for a left-back, there are plenty of passes he receives that would be more common for a winger to be on the end of — specifically groups 7 and 28.
    [​IMG]

    Central midfielder: Jordan Henderson

    Of Liverpool’s three core central midfielders, Henderson’s passing style is the most adventurous. His expected completion rate is 82 per cent, ranking him 31st out of 55 central midfielders in the league.
    He’s not quite Jonjo Shelvey, whose appetite for difficult passes ranks him last in the league for pass safety, but he doesn’t keep it as short and simple as Gini Wijnaldum either, who’s first by this measure.
    Looking at the types of passes the Liverpool captain makes that are different to other central midfielders, Henderson’s right-sided position becomes evident. He makes plenty of passes from near the right touchline, with the ball either coming inside back to a centre-back stationed on the halfway line or down the line for Salah to latch on to.
    [​IMG]
    Henderson can also hit passes long and is particularly good at spreading the play wide to the right-hand side. Focusing on group 38 — a pass that Van Dijk uses fairly frequently — is good evidence of this passing range. The average central midfielder completes these passes 75 per cent of the time, but Henderson does so at 95 per cent.
    [​IMG]
    He also slots into the right-hand side plenty, acting as a de facto right midfielder. Below are the sorts of passes he receives that are different from the average Premier League midfielder. Note how many of them are passes that go backwards to Henderson near the touchline.
    [​IMG]
    Liverpool’s captain offers a mix of retention and progress that nicely balances out with what the other players on the team offer. He’s the next-highest line breaker after Alexander-Arnold and Robertson, can switch it like Van Dijk and links well on the right-hand side to allow Liverpool’s more flair players to advance.

    Central midfielder: Gini Wijnaldum

    Wijnaldum is Liverpool’s connector. His passing isn’t flash, but it is useful in stitching together the midfield and making the first pass in transition when Liverpool turn the ball over.
    As previously mentioned, he has the safest passing profile of all midfielders this season, which his most common pass types backs up. There are plenty of passes here that are sideways and backwards.
    [​IMG]
    And the passes he makes that separate him from the crowd are also predicated on a need to retain, and not progress.
    [​IMG]
    Wijnaldum does sometimes look to go forwards, but he’s among the least active midfielders in the league to do so. When he has a line-breaking option available, the Dutchman uses it just 32 per cent of the time. Wolves’ Leander Dendoncker is the only midfielder to utilise his line-breaking options less (31 per cent of the time).
    These figures may paint Wijnaldum as a shuttler, afraid to move the ball forward, but that’s not what makes Klopp pick him with such regularity. With the bulk of ball progression coming from elsewhere, it’s not Wijnaldum’s job to get the ball forward. Instead, he relieves the team of pressure when it starts to build up.
    Looking at the rate of passes that Wijnaldum completes under pressure, he’s by far and away Liverpool’s most competent midfielder at holding off an opponent and moving the ball on.
    He completes passes under pressure at a higher rate than any other Liverpool player, and his rate in the attacking third helps Liverpool maintain possession and keep attacks going at an unmatched level.
    [​IMG]
    Wijnaldum’s role may go under the radar in terms of its importance to Liverpool, but his safe passing profile and ability to keep his cool under pressure allows others to take risks.

    Central midfielder: Fabinho

    The way Fabinho passes the ball is something of a hybrid between the roles of Wijnaldum and Henderson. He doesn’t look to break lines as often as Henderson, but when he does attempt those passes he completes them at higher rates. He’s an OK passer when under pressure, but not as good as Wijnaldum.
    Due to the lack of athleticism possessed by the Brazilian, he dogmatically sticks to his position in the centre of the pitch. These are the passes he typically will receive in a game, many of them end in or around the centre circle.
    [​IMG]
    And these are the passes that Fabinho makes.
    [​IMG]
    Again, plenty originating from the centre of the pitch, with plenty of low-risk passes out to the wings, or sideways to a fellow midfielder. Staying central means that Fabinho can block the centre of the pitch from immediate progression should Liverpool turn the ball over, and in turn, Liverpool can profit from his ability to pass vertically out to the wings.
    [​IMG]
    The way Fabinho’s strengths and weaknesses are balanced out by the players who surround him shows the thinking behind Liverpool’s system — the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

     
  11. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Forward: Sadio Mane

    As expected, the majority of the passes that Mane attempts are from the left wing. He links well with Robertson and Firmino, finding those two more than any other Liverpool player.
    Mane also has the safer passing profile of Liverpool’s three core attackers. He’s expected to complete 81 per cent of his passes based on the types he attempts. Salah is just behind him with 79 per cent and Firmino is expected to complete just 70 per cent of his.
    That jives with Mane’s typical passes. Plenty are backwards and sideways, but there are plenty of more threatening balls into the box and down the line.
    [​IMG]
    What distinguishes Mane isn’t the passes he makes as such, though, but the ones he receives. Wingers aren’t often the ones making the line-breaking passes through the opposition backline, they’re the ones getting on the end of them.
    It’s here that we see Mane’s difference to others in his position. He regularly takes up positions in the centre of the field, either receiving infield from Robertson on the wing (group 23) or more vertically from Wijnaldum (37).
    There are also the more direct passes from Van Dijk or Alisson that he receives (48) — usually on the break and sometimes on the right-hand side of the field — that allow Liverpool to take advantage of Mane’s speed and movement in behind defences.
    [​IMG]
    Principally, Mane’s role in this team is to create and score, and there’s a recurring theme of the way Liverpool’s attackers look to do this. The pass types below are those that Mane has created the most chances from this season.
    [​IMG]
    Pass group 23 is one that comes up again and again. Passes or crosses that are near-horizontal in their trajectory, often for an unmarked team-mate in the box to slot home.

    Forward: Mohamed Salah

    Salah possesses one of the more unique passing profiles in Liverpool’s squad. The player closest to him in terms of similarity is Manchester United’s Daniel James, albeit a similarity score of 89 per cent is comparatively low.
    [​IMG]
    As previously mentioned, Salah’s profile as a passer sees him on the slightly riskier side compared to Mane. This is reflected in his most frequent pass groups below, with plenty of the sample passes being incomplete (in red).
    [​IMG]
    And from the numbers, it appears that Salah isn’t an overly strong passer when it comes to completion. He’s expected to complete 79 per cent but, in reality, he’s connecting on only 75 per cent of his passes.
    There’s the caveat that the model presented here is fairly basic. A stronger model would take into account player positions for each pass. Nevertheless, we can see how unbalanced Liverpool are on one side compared to the other. Alexander-Arnold, Henderson and Salah are far riskier passers than their left-sided counterparts.
    From a reception perspective, Salah gets on the end of all sorts of passes, with the most common being from the midfield outside to him on the wing in group 46, or more vertical passes down the touchline, like group 13.
    [​IMG]
    Note the reappearance of group 23 — the group with which Mane is a frequent chance creator. Salah’s movement from the wing to a central position inside the box means he’s able to generate plenty of shots from these situations. It’s the sort of pass that opposition managers should look to cut off next season.

    Forward: Roberto Firmino

    At times, Firmino’s passing maps look more like that of a central midfielder than a centre-forward, which neatly explains Firmino’s role in this Liverpool team. He’s the centre-forward who drops deep to link up play. And he does so to great effect.
    The most common passes he looks to make are mostly looking to move the ball within the final third of the pitch and around the box. Pass groups 40, 18 and 9 see him linking up a lot with Robertson and Mane on the left wing.
    [​IMG]
    That interplay means that, at times, Firmino finds himself on the left wing playing passes into the box, instead of being on the end of them. Again, pass group 23 rears its head — a favourite of Liverpool’s.
    Firmino’s versatility is shown in the other types of chances he creates too. Group 20 sees him creating from the right-hand side, 24 a deeper position just outside the area and 29 a combination of within the box and to just outside of it.
    [​IMG]
    There are plenty of passes that he receives that are atypical for a centre-forward. For example, groups 15 and 31 see him receiving the ball around the halfway line, and group 16 looks more like the sort of pass you’d expect a midfielder to have stepped up to receive, not your centre-forward.
    [​IMG]
    This is pretty unique and compared to other players in the Premier League, the passes that Jesse Lingard receives appear to be the most similar to Firmino’s. The inclusion of Abdoulaye Doucoure, Gylfi Sigurdsson and James Maddison on the list also shows how Firmino profiles more as an advanced playmaker rather than an out-and-out No 9.
    [​IMG]
    Firmino is the striker who links everything together, Liverpool’s bridge between midfield and attack.

    Whether it’s Alisson’s skill at floating long balls forward, Wijnaldum’s composure under pressure or all of the right-sided players’ risk-taking, this is a team with a clear identity.
    It is the most finely tuned team of Klopp’s reign at the club. The roles performed by each of the players in possession have become refined season on season, changes borne from evolution rather than revolution. It is an approach mirrored by Liverpool’s dealings in the transfer market in recent seasons.
    With Jurgen Klopp’s proclamation that “it will not be a busy summer” seemingly suggesting no new significant reinforcements before next season, Liverpool’s ability to challenge for and potentially retain their league title will depend upon the further development of each roles.
    Viva la evolution.
     
  12. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Liverpool have doubled their income in six years. Now they’re chasing Man Utd
    [​IMG]
    By Matt Slater 3h ago[​IMG] 17 [​IMG]
    Billy Hogan joined Fenway Sports Group in 2004, the year the Boston Red Sox, the company’s first big purchase and prize asset, snapped an 86-year curse by winning the World Series.
    A born salesman, Hogan rose through the ranks and was the obvious choice to take charge of Liverpool’s commercial operation in 2012, two years after Fenway had added the Reds to the Red Sox. After all, if he had spent eight years working with one of the most famous franchises in American sport, what could be so special about a team that had just finished eighth in the Premier League?
    Hogan, who was only 37 when appointed chief commercial officer, soon found out that the Boston Red Sox open doors from California to Connecticut but Liverpool get you out of windowless rooms on the other side of the world.
    “I was travelling on club business some years ago to Jakarta and when you get there, you pay £25 or something for a visa that they put in your passport,” Hogan tells The Athletic a week after the team have broken their own 30-year title hoodoo.
    “But when I tried to do it, there were no more pages left and this caused a bit of an issue. I was taken off to some office deep in the airport and this guy was waving my passport around while smoking a cigarette and talking to somebody on the phone. He wasn’t very pleased and I was thinking, ‘Well, I’m not going to make my meeting’.
    “But then he asked me what I was doing in Jakarta and I said I was there on business, and he asked who I worked for, so I said Liverpool Football Club. He immediately put the phone down and said ‘Big Reds’ and gave me a big hug. That’s our supporters’ club in Indonesia.
    “He peeled off a little stamp that was on the visa and stuck that in my passport. He then led me through the airport, gave me another hug and waved me on my way.
    “It’s always nice to see the red ‘B’ on caps all over the world and certainly, in the US, you would say the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are the two biggest brands in baseball.
    “But Liverpool are different because football is the most popular sport in the world, the Premier League is the most popular league in that sport and Liverpool are one of the most popular teams in that league. It’s just a different scale.”
    In purely financial terms, the two teams are pretty even.
    The Red Sox, who have won the World Series three more times since 2004, have an annual turnover of more than £400 million, while Liverpool cleared the £500 million barrier in 2019, the season they won their sixth Champions League crown. But in its 2019 sports team valuation list, the business magazine Forbes had the Red Sox £800 million higher than their soccer stablemates.
    That is a reflection of the huge broadcast contracts and tight wage control which help most US sports franchises make steady profits, year in, year out, with no fear of relegation. But Liverpool look pretty safe in the Premier League and when you factor in their potential to grow as a business, it is not hard to see what gets Hogan out of bed at 7am to answer questions about the club’s digital strategy.
    The Red Sox have 2.1 million Twitter followers, Liverpool have 14.8 million. On Instagram, it is 1.8 million versus 26.6 million, and on Facebook, it is 5.2 million against 36 million.
    And the weight of those numbers is starting to tell.
    According to Deloitte’s Football Money League, the £553 million Liverpool earned last season is the seventh-highest income in global football, only marginally behind Manchester City in sixth place. Barcelona led the way with earnings of £741 million, £74 million more than Spanish rivals Real Madrid. Manchester United were third on £627 million, with Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain completing the top five.
    Deloitte Football Money League 2019-20
    RANKTEAM2018-19 REVENUE (€M)
    1Barcelona840.8
    2Real Madrid757.3
    3Manchester United711.5
    4Bayern Munich660.1
    5Paris Saint-Germain635.9
    6Manchester City610.6
    7Liverpool604.7
    8Tottenham Hotspur521.1
    9Chelsea513.1
    10Juventus459.7
    But Liverpool, now the English, European and world champions, look like a club with wind in their sails. Their income has doubled in the last six years and, as Deloitte noted, they “have the clubs above them in their sights rather than those behind… long-term ambitions of a top-five Money League position in future editions are not unrealistic”.
    Tim Crow is a sports marketing expert, who advises leading brands, teams and sports.
    “The historic context is important,” Crows explains. “Liverpool were dominant in the years before 1990 and this gave them a very big fanbase in this market and elsewhere, which is something they have in common with Manchester United.
    “These two are by far the biggest brands in British football and while Liverpool can talk about Shankly and their European titles, Manchester United have the Busby Babes, Best, Law and Charlton. And these allegiances have been handed down from one generation to another, which is why you have all these 30-year-olds celebrating their first Liverpool title.”
    So does that mean anyone could have made a financial success out of Liverpool? Is it not so much that they are back but that they never went away?
    “If I had to use a word to describe Liverpool before Fenway took over it would be chaotic,” says Crow.
    “To give you an example, I worked on a campaign with Betfair when it was launched. We wanted the biggest possible audience and we also wanted to create a sense of competition, because that is how the betting exchange works, with fans betting against each other.
    “So we decided to go out and sign deals with Barca and Real, and Liverpool and United. We signed with Barca and United pretty quickly but we couldn’t get Real because they already had a betting partner, which happens.
    [​IMG]
    “But with Liverpool, the talks were such a shambles, we decided to walk away. I had to advise Betfair that these guys just wouldn’t be good partners. There are very few times in my career when I’ve walked away from a deal like that.
    “But from the moment Fenway came in, things have changed. They’re just very smart.”
    Hogan is too modest to say if he agrees with that but he does not pull any punches about the situation Fenway inherited when they bought Liverpool from American businessmen George Gillett and Tom Hicks for £300 million in 2010.
    “The position of the club was pretty stark. It was on the brink of bankruptcy; not in a good place at all,” he says. “The statement we heard a lot was that Liverpool was a sleeping giant and that seemed quite accurate. We knew Liverpool had a massive supporter base and wherever you travelled in the world, you could find Liverpool fans.
    “But everything is based on the success of the team. It’s why Fenway does this — whether that’s with Liverpool, the Red Sox or any of our other entities.
    “The goal is to win in a sustainable way and the more you win, the more commercial success we can have, which in turn, can help the football side of the club. It’s a virtuous cycle.”
    For Hogan, that cycle started in 2012 when Adidas walked away from a renewal negotiation for Liverpool’s kit deal, saying the club’s on-field performance was “not in the right balance” with Fenway’s valuation of the shirt.
    [​IMG]

    Hogan (left) at the announcement of Liverpool’s Nivea deal (Photo: Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    Many would have panicked. Hogan and his team went out and doubled the club’s money with a £25 million deal with Warrior Sports, a Boston-based brand keen to break out of their ice hockey and lacrosse niche into the world’s favourite game. Three years later, Warrior’s parent company New Balance took over the contract, a changing of the guard that coincided with Jurgen Klopp’s arrival on Merseyside.
    “Look at how they played the long game when Adidas walked away in 2012,” says Crow.
    “They went with Warrior, who nobody had heard of and it brought them a load of stick, but that became the New Balance deal, which has been a proper partnership, benefiting both parties. And now they’ve signed a deal with Nike that should take them to the next level.
    “On the sponsorship side, they’ve got Standard Chartered on the shirt front, Western Union on the sleeve and Axa on the training kit as their pillars, with a Manchester United-style multi-partner model that sits underneath that. It’s all very calculated and strategic.
    “They rode out the bad press. New Balance wanted to keep the relationship and they did a very good job with it. It was a world-class problem for Liverpool to have.”
    The problem Crow refers to is that New Balance loved working with a resurgent Liverpool so much it was willing to take the club to court last year when Fenway received a more exciting offer from Nike, the world largest sportswear company. Liverpool won that argument and from next year, will be wearing the company’s Swoosh on their chests and expecting to see their shirts in shop windows from Boston to Beijing.
    “The general sense in the market about Liverpool under Fenway is they are smart operators, who have installed good people in the sponsorship and sales teams — they’ve really invested in talent and that has made a good impression,” says Daniel Haddad, the head of commercial strategy at the sports marketing firm Octagon.
    “Before Fenway arrived, Liverpool’s commercial operation was pretty underwhelming. Don’t forget, Adidas walked away from kit deal a few years ago but last year, you had Adidas, Nike and New Balance fighting over them. Getting Standard Chartered to renew with a long-term deal was another good sign and they definitely have the potential to go past United. All the research suggests they’re on a positive trajectory.
    “For a long time, United have been the leaders commercially, certainly in this country, a perception that was reinforced when the Glazers came in, but Liverpool were catching up even before Jurgen Klopp starting doing his thing.
    “What they’ve been able to do much more successfully over the last two or three years is communicate what is unique about Liverpool as a club. They’ve really learned how to speak to brands about the club’s appeal and not just fall back on how big they are or how many followers on social media they have. All of that is important, and some sponsors still only really care about the eyeballs, but the brand side of things is vital these days and Liverpool have been very good at behaving like a brand.
    “People take the piss out of the ‘This Means More’ stuff but it has been very effective because they’ve really committed to it. It’s more than just a sales pitch.”
    Ah, yes, the slogan that one executive from a rival club recently told The Athletic “just winds me up…what does it even mean? It’s just typical of them!”.
    So, Billy, what does “This Means More” mean?
    “It’s a marketing phrase to some degree but it’s based on some work we commissioned a marketing company to do for us. They surveyed our fans, and people who aren’t fans, and asked what Liverpool meant to them,” explains Hogan (the company, by the way, was Octagon).
    “To our supporters, Liverpool FC is a family. We wanted to know how it felt when you pull on your shirt to watch the game. For our fans, Anfield isn’t just a stadium, it’s home. There is something magical about our club.
    “OK, you can say it’s marketing lingo, but the idea is based on data from our fans and it does resonate. Of course, to work, it has to be authentic.”
    And it does appear to work. Liverpool’s commercial income has tripled in a decade from £62 million to £188 million. Scroll down to the bottom of the Liverpool website and you will find a squad of official partners every bit as strong as Klopp’s team.
    “‘This Means More’ sounds more like a campaign to me than a motto but their sponsors love it,” says Richard Adelsburg, managing director at the sport and music agency Ear to the Ground.
    “It’s broad enough to apply to almost any brand and it’s easy to understand and translate. Having slogans like these does help you get your ducks in a row when you’re talking to potential sponsors.”
    But what really impresses Adelsburg, whose agency uses data from over 6,000 “tastemakers” to inform clients about what’s hot, and what’s not, is how Liverpool learned to let go.
    “Liverpool were quite traditional in their approach,” he explains. “A bit like United, they could almost be a bit arrogant about how they dealt with brands because they knew, barring a catastrophe, they would still be a big club.
    “But a couple of years ago, they noticed that younger fans were moving towards Manchester City and Chelsea. These younger fans aren’t interested in what a club did 30 years ago. They’re interested in what is happening now and what they really like is where sport, fashion and music intersects.
    “Liverpool spotted this just in time, to be honest, and they changed their approach just as the team picked up. One of the first things they did was reach out to Liverpool fans in the esports world, which gave them access to a huge, younger audience.”
    Whether this was a result of Fenway hiring Peter Moore from gaming giant Electronic Arts to be Liverpool’s chief executive in 2017, or the reason they hired him, is unclear but the results are obvious. Last year, the club’s FIFA Ultimate Team star Donovan “Tekkz” Hunt beat club captain Jordan Henderson to lifting a championship trophy, although in this case, it was the ePremier League.
    “They have also been clever with how they have supported independent outlets like Redmen TV and (fans’ website) Empire of the Kop without trying to control them,” says Adelsburg.
    “Another good example would be the relationship they have with (musician) Jamie Webster and his BOSS Night events. They could have ignored this and decided it was too edgy or risky, and I think lots of other clubs would have backed away, but Liverpool haven’t and it’s developed into something that really resonates with young fans.”
    So they have a massive potential customer base, a good product to sell, a catchy slogan, some tunes and they are down with the kids. But there is more.
    “Liverpool never really went away but they have also certainly grown,” says Rory Stewart-Richardson, founder and chief executive of Connexi, an online marketplace that puts sponsors together with rightsholders and vice-versa.
    “Manchester United are still smashing it on the sponsorship front because of their heritage and the success they enjoyed under Fergie — that is still hugely appealing to brands, even if they haven’t been as successful on the pitch since Fergie left.
    “Liverpool were a bit like that but even before they started winning again. They were closing the gap commercially and the secret has been their digital strategy.
    “They have massively increased the level and amount of content they put out for their fans. They’ve done heart-warming and funny videos, interviews and vlogs, they’ve embraced new technology like AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality), and they have invested in cloud-based communications technology.
    “Liverpool have the fastest-growing social media presence in football. Everybody is doing it but nobody is doing as well as them. Yes, success on the pitch helps but Liverpool have nailed the digital side.
    “Look, everyone wants a viral video but Liverpool’s output is so varied and of consistently high quality. It’s genuinely fan-first content and that’s why it gets more clicks, more likes and more shares.”
    Football’s fight for clicks, likes and shares is almost as competitive as the matches and no club can get away with a photo of a manager watching a new signing pretend to scribble their name on a piece of paper these days.
    This week’s viral sensation comes courtesy of the Football Association of Iceland — a two-minute video to launch their new logo that references the Game of Thrones, the Cod Wars, Gylfi Siggurdson’s deadball prowess and the Viking Clap — but Liverpool’s digital team have been slaying dragons, too.

    Recent highlights include a Nivea for Men-branded video of Henderson surprising a life-long Liverpool fan with a Zoom call. The fan had recently lost his mum and dad and needed cheering up. His parting comment that the call had “made my life” suggests it works.
    But Anfield churns out comedies, too, with February’s advert for coconut milk firm Chaokoh making unlikely light entertainment stars of Roberto Firmino, Joel Matip and Andy Robertson.
    “We have focused on digital because it’s quite simply the only way to really reach and engage with a fanbase like ours, which is global,” says Hogan.
    “We don’t believe there is any one-size-fits-all solution, so while we work hard on our platforms — our app, our website, our social channels — we are present everywhere we need to be. So we’re on (communications app) Line in Japan, (video-sharing network) Douyin in China, TikTok and so on, and each platform brings a different demographic.”
    Of course, there will be some fans rolling their eyes at this point — assuming they got past the bit about “This Means More” — or shouting: “what have silly videos and computer games got to do with winning football matches?”
    But it really is simple. The club’s wage bill has almost doubled from £166 million to £310 million in five years, and Liverpool’s amortisation costs, the best indicator of how much they are spending in the transfer market, have gone from £59 million to £112 million over the same period.
    Every deal Hogan and his team can get over the line provides more money for sporting director Michael Edwards and Klopp to spend on players.
    “Liverpool’s Champions League win in 2005 was vital to keeping them at the top table, just as buying top talent like Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez was important, too,” says Octagon’s Haddad.
    “But what we’re seeing now is them holding on to their best players: they are not a stepping stone to somewhere else.”
    So what is next?
    “Our plan is to continue to leverage the club’s size and scale, as well as target growth in key markets like China, India and the United States, which in football terms, are developing markets,” says Hogan.
    “The prospect of where we might get to is amazingly exciting. We have said it’s important to enjoy this moment but we know this is a very competitive world on and off the pitch. Our philosophy is not to focus on others but to concentrate on what we’re doing. And my role is to keep helping this club grow.”
    Celebrate, concentrate, collaborate — it sounds like a good plan. Watch out Real, Barca, United: Liverpool are coming for you.
     
  13. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    How Klopp could remodel his Liverpool squad without spending big
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce and Tom Worville Jul 3, 2020[​IMG] 129 [​IMG]
    “I have learned that when you think you have reached the pinnacle, you are already on the way down. We don’t feel that. I don’t feel satisfied.”
    Jurgen Klopp isn’t basking in the glory of ending Liverpool’s 30-year wait for the top-flight title.
    The German coach is already looking to the future and the sizeable challenge of trying to retain their Premier League crown. “We will not defend the title. We will attack it,” he said bullishly as he described the achievements of 2019-20 as “something for the history books”.
    Liverpool’s thrilling resurgence under Klopp has been a tale of evolution rather than revolution, both in terms of personnel and tactics. At the end of every season, he assesses in minute detail every element of the club’s performance levels to establish what areas need to be addressed. This summer will be no different.
    The question is where do they go from here? What can they do better? Is there really room for improvement after such a record-breaking campaign?
    Iconic Liverpool teams of the past always bought from a position of strength to try to maintain their dominance. However, there are unlikely to be any major statements of intent from the champions in the transfer market this summer.
    Given the way Liverpool have sustainably built this squad in recent seasons, though, that might not hurt them too much.
    Here’s the profile of the team at the moment from games in the Premier League. Liverpool are very much in “win now” mode — plenty of players are in the prime of their careers and a solid pipeline of young talent is ready to plug any gaps that open up over the coming seasons.
    [​IMG]
    Prior to COVID-19, RB Leipzig attacker Timo Werner had looked destined for Anfield but the financial impact of the pandemic led to Liverpool deciding not to push through a £54 million deal for the Germany international, who initially would have been back-up for the established front three.
    Owners Fenway Sports Group don’t take money out of the coffers. Every penny generated goes back into the club but they expect it to live within its means. As a result there are bound to be implications when revenue streams effectively dry up.
    Klopp has spoken about needing to be “creative” in the transfer market and looking to find “solutions internally”, a nod to an increased role in 2020-21 for a number of the club’s gifted youngsters such as Harvey Elliott, Neco Williams and Curtis Jones.
    The manager also mentioned the repercussions of the pandemic in terms of outgoings. Liverpool would have expected sizeable bids for the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Harry Wilson and Marko Grujic — potentially generating in excess of £60 million. But if the right offers aren’t forthcoming, then retaining their services for another 12 months could prove more beneficial than selling at cut prices.
    Interestingly, Klopp suggested Liverpool’s stance on transfers could change later in the window if and when there is more clarity over when commercial and match-day revenues are likely to return to something approaching pre-COVID 19 levels.
    Yet given the talent already at his disposal and the potential in those emerging from the academy, it would only be a case of fine-tuning.
    Klopp has always favoured working with a relatively small squad to ensure players stay motivated on the training field and also to retain the unity and spirit he prides himself on. “It’s easier to keep 17 or 18 (senior) players happy with appearances. If we had 22 or 23, then it gets more complicated,” he told The Athletic earlier this season.
    Given those circumstances, we’ve assessed Liverpool’s squad looking ahead to the 2020-21 season. Is it really realistic to think they can hit the same heights once again? And what areas of weakness need to be addressed?

    There are certainly no concerns regarding the goalkeeping department. Alisson has cemented his status as the best in the world during his second season at Anfield. His assist for Mohamed Salah in January’s home win over Manchester United and the subsequent celebrations was one of the campaign’s truly iconic moments.
    The Brazil No 1 is still only 27, young in keeping terms, and he ticks every box in terms of his shot-stopping, commanding his area and his ability with the ball at his feet. Despite missing nine league games due to injury, he’s on course to retain the Golden Glove.
    Despite a couple of costly errors in the FA Cup and the Champions League exits shortly before the lockdown, Liverpool retain faith in Adrian as his deputy. He impressed when thrown in at the deep end when Alisson damaged his calf back in August and is a popular figure in the squad. Adrian has been linked with a return to Spain but the club are planning for next season with him still on board.
    There is a drop-off in Liverpool’s quality when Adrian does play, though. The Spaniard is less capable on the ball than Liverpool’s No 1 when in possession, and has conceded more goals than average based on the quality of the on-target shots he’s faced, according to data from fbref.com, whereas Alisson has saved 5.2 goals more. All in, the clear hope is that Alisson has knocked the injury problems on the head and is able to play more games in 2020-21.
    Loris Karius is still a Liverpool player — two years after being sent on loan to Besiktas after his Champions League final nightmare, with a deal in place to make it permanent. His time in Turkey didn’t work out but there’s little prospect of him staying at Anfield with Liverpool keen to find him a new club before the start of pre-season.
    Young Irish keeper Caoimhin Kelleher is expected to head out on loan, while there’s a decision to be made on Kamil Grabara after his spell at Huddersfield Town. Andy Lonergan is out of contract this summer but Liverpool haven’t completely ruled out giving him another year, depending on what happens with the other keepers, as they will need a third option to Alisson and Adrian.

    Both in terms of the man in possession of the shirt and the calibre of his deputy, Liverpool appear sorted at right-back for the coming decade at least. Trent Alexander-Arnold has reinvented the role with his contribution to the club’s title triumph — three goals and a dozen assists in 2019-20.
    The academy graduate, who grew up close to Liverpool’s Melwood training ground, is living the dream. At the age of 21, he has already won the Champions League, the Premier League and played for England at a World Cup.
    One of the major positives in the second half of the season has been the emergence of Neco Williams to provide cover for Alexander-Arnold. The 19-year-old Welshman is fearless and having impressed in the domestic cups, he was handed his league debut by Klopp in the rout of Crystal Palace.
    Nathaniel Clyne has left on a free transfer but there’s no gap to fill, with Williams now competing with Alexander-Arnold. Dutch youngster Ki-Jana Hoever is another decent option for Klopp at right-back.
    Left-back is a slightly different story. Andy Robertson has once again excelled for most of the season. He gives the team balance and links up expertly with Sadio Mane down that flank. The Scotland captain has blossomed into a leader and his combative approach means he’s adored by supporters. At the age of 26, he’s yet to reach his prime.
    However, Liverpool are heavily reliant on him staying fit and playing through the pain barrier, as he has done on numerous occasions this season. The lack of a suitable deputy for Robertson is a chink in Klopp’s armoury.
    James Milner does a job there defensively but the vice-captain would be the first to admit Liverpool lose something attacking-wise when he’s in that position. Alongside the tangible drop-off in speed compared with Robertson, there’s also a reduced ability to create from the wing when Milner deputises at left-back. He’s created 0.4 chances per 90 minutes in the 223 minutes this season in the league, far below Robertson’s 1.6.
    A younger player capable of playing in multiple positions, similar to Milner, would be perfect here but in the past few seasons, there are only a handful of players in Europe that have played 300 minutes or more at both left-back and central midfield — Leeds’ Stuart Dallas, Cologne’s Jonas Hector and Blackburn’s former Liverpool winger, Stewart Downing.
    Yasser Larouci has shown promise in a couple of senior outings but the Algeria-born teenager is still raw and learning his trade, having initially arrived at the academy from Le Havre as a winger. He’s not as far advanced in his development as Williams. Academy graduate Adam Lewis is another option but the plan is for him to head out on loan to get regular game time after suffering from injuries in 2019-20.
    Bringing in another left-sided player who, like Robertson, can contribute at both ends of the field has to be regarded as a priority.
    To find some suitable options, we can turn to smarterscout, a website which gives detailed analytics on players all over the world, whose ratings you can think of a bit like the player ratings on FIFA but powered by real data and advanced analytics.
    Using data from smarterscout, we can look to find someone who profiles similarly to Robertson. He’s a very attacking left-back, which his pizza chart below backs up — plenty of ball progression and shooting compared with others in his position, but also adept at linking play.
    [​IMG]
    Some of the most similar players are the likes of Alex Grimaldo at Benfica, Ben Chilwell at Leicester or Alphonso Davies at Bayern Munich — but given Liverpool’s reluctance to spend in the transfer market, at least to begin with, a cheaper option is required.
    Looking at the teams who have been relegated, or are likely to be relegated across the top five leagues in Europe, is one means of finding potential transfer targets. Liverpool have had success employing this strategy in the past, with the likes of Shaqiri, Georginio Wijnaldum and Robertson himself all being picked up after their teams have gone down.
    Norwich’s Jamal Lewis is one such option who’s likely available for a valuable price this summer. At 22, he’s at an age that means if he develops further, Liverpool could make a return on their investment further down the line.
    Profile-wise, he’s been far less attacking than Robertson this season under Daniel Farke, who employs his full-backs in a more defensive manner compared with Liverpool. Lewis is comfortable carrying and dribbling the ball at a high volume but would seemingly need to adapt his game quite a lot to slot into how Liverpool play.
    [​IMG]
     
  14. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Interestingly, one such option who may be a better fit already is 21-year-old Harry Pickering, who plays for Crewe, a team recently promoted to League One.
    His pizza chart below shows a player very similar to Robertson in his ability to link play, retain the ball, defend and importantly attack by getting the ball forward and getting scoring chances for himself, all at high levels. His attacking attributes contributed to his three goals and five assists from left-back this season.
    [​IMG]
    A left-back from Crewe is definitely a bit of a leftfield choice but represents the sort of value that Liverpool strive to identify in the transfer market.
    Given both of these options are only slightly older than 19-year-old Larouci, perhaps a slightly more experienced option is required. Olympiakos’ Konstantinos Tsimikas is 24 and a player whose game is shaped in the mould of Robertson. He’s fast, capable of carrying the ball down the wing and offers plenty of attacking output, too.
    [​IMG]
    Recently linked to Nice for around £7 million, Tsimikas represents the type of player who could have a high ceiling given his age, potential price and profile on the pitch.

    Like Alisson, Virgil van Dijk operates at the top of his profession. There isn’t a better centre-back on the planet. And at the age of 28, there’s every reason to believe the composed Dutchman will radiate class for a long time to come.
    One of his most underrated qualities is how robust he is. He’s always available. The man alongside him has changed a fair bit due to the injuries suffered by Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren. It’s the reason why Klopp has been forced, at different times, to play midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson as makeshift centre-backs, which is far from ideal.
    In the second half of this season, Gomez has mostly stayed fit and made that role his own. He clicks with Van Dijk both on and off the field. Still only 23, the England international has grown in stature after a difficult start to 2019-20.
    Van Dijk and Gomez are undoubtedly Klopp’s No 1 pairing but does he have sufficient cover?
    No one questions Matip’s ability but his availability is an issue. A foot problem means that he won’t add to the 11 starts he’s made in all competitions this season. Lovren is the fourth-choice centre-back and someone who divides opinion among supporters. However, he has made some telling contributions this season — not least in the home win over Manchester City.
    For back-up centre-backs, Lovren and Matip haven’t been the most reliable. In the last three seasons, Matip has only been available for 65 per cent of Liverpool’s games, calculated by counting the number of times he makes the match day squad divided by all of Liverpool’s games in all competitions in that time. Lovren’s availability has been a little better at 68 per cent.
    Looking just at this season though, Matip and Lovren have only been in the squad 48 per cent and 54 per cent of the time respectively. That’s manageable if one is out and the other is available, but that is rarely the case. Recovery times are only likely to become more aggravated with age, so a younger, fitter option may make a wise investment here.
    The experienced Croatian initially wanted to leave Liverpool last summer after dropping down the pecking order. He attracted interest from Roma and AC Milan but neither would meet the £25 million asking price and Liverpool refused to sanction a loan. Klopp asked him to stay put and Lovren agreed.
    It remains to be seen whether Lovren pushes for a move this time around. He has one more year on his contract, although Liverpool do have an option to extend it until 2022.
    If Lovren leaves, then Klopp may need to bolster that department. There are high hopes for teenagers Sepp van den Berg and Hoever but it would be a big ask to throw either of them into Premier League action at centre-back. Nat Phillips will return from his loan with Stuttgart but he also has much still to prove.

    Klopp’s midfield looks well-stocked. Captain Henderson recently turned 30 but there’s little sign of him slowing down after producing the best form of his professional career.
    The rise of holding midfielder Fabinho, a man assistant boss Pep Lijnders refers to as “our lighthouse”, has freed up Henderson to operate further forward.
    One issue that does need sorting out is Wijnaldum’s contract as he enters his final year. Liverpool retain hope that a compromise can still be reached. However, if the 29-year-old Dutchman doesn’t put pen to paper, they must decide whether to sell or run the risk of him leaving on a free in 2021.
    Milner is in the twilight of his career. The 34-year-old continues to come out on top in the metrics when fitness levels are tested at Melwood, although his availability has dropped from 98 per cent in 2017-18, to 90 per cent last season, to just 75 per cent this season. He will still be a valuable option to Klopp but not someone Liverpool can rely on forever.
    [​IMG]
    As far as attacking midfield is concerned, there’s good reason to believe there’s more to come from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita. Both have had their injury woes but when fully fit and firing, they have given Liverpool’s midfield a new dimension.
    Keita’s third season at Anfield will be huge in terms of proving he can live up to the hype on a consistent basis and be a regular fixture in a trophy-winning team.
    Bayern Munich’s Thiago Alcantara is a player who has been linked with the club in recent weeks and Klopp has spoken previously of his admiration for the Spaniard. However, he’s the type of player that Liverpool usually shy away from investing in. He’s fairly injury prone and, at 29, offers little in the way of a return in investment further down the line. Combine that with his high wages and how he’d block the path to the first team for Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita, and it makes the prospect of his signing a little less likely in reality.
    Adam Lallana is leaving as a free agent but youngster Curtis Jones is viewed by Klopp as the perfect replacement. The Liverpool-born 19-year-old announced his arrival on the big stage with his stunning winner against Everton in the FA Cup.
    In terms of those on the fringes, Pedro Chirivella has joined Nantes on a permanent deal while Marko Grujic will return to Liverpool at the start of pre-season following his loan at Hertha Berlin. What offers are forthcoming are likely to determine how long he stays back on Merseyside.
    Midfield duo Jake Cain and Leighton Clarkson, two members of the club’s FA Youth Cup-winning team of 2019, will also be in contention, having caught Klopp’s eye over the course of this season.

    Liverpool not only have one of the most potent front lines in Europe — but it’s also one of the most settled.
    Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have all taken the leap into the world-class bracket during Klopp’s reign. Each has given the club a huge return on their investment.
    What makes Liverpool so difficult to stop is their array of match-winners. They aren’t dependent on any one individual.
    [​IMG]
    Over the past three seasons, Firmino has clocked up 148 appearances for the club in all competitions, with Salah (146) and Mane (135) not far behind. Salah has contributed 92 goals with Mane on 65 and Firmino on 54.
    They are the perfect fit for Klopp’s 4-3-3 formation — giving Liverpool pace, energy, invention and firepower. They set the tone with their hunger to press and force mistakes.
    As the team’s style has evolved and opponents have increasingly sat deep to try to starve them of space to operate in so they have had to adapt.
    All three are 28 years of age. All three are operating at the peak of their powers. Their goalscoring figures may have fluctuated in the last few seasons — Firmino’s dearth of goals at Anfield and Salah’s excellent debut season come to mind — but Liverpool’s attacking trident have put up remarkably consistent Expected Goals (xG) numbers.
    It doesn’t look like any of the front three have dropped off in quality recently, but more found an equilibrium when it comes to scoring. Salah and Firmino had differing fortunes back in 2017-18, with the latter making room for the former, but they’ve both come in line with Mane and all average between 0.45 and 0.55 xG per 90 each.
    An understandable concern for some is the drop-off in quality between the established front three and those who provide cover. It’s the reason why there was such excitement surrounding Liverpool’s interest in Timo Werner before they walked away.
    Bolstering that department was viewed as a priority given that Klopp faced losing Salah, Mane and Keita for up to six weeks in early 2021 to the Africa Cup of Nations. The fact that tournament has now been put back a year due to COVID-19 was a source of great relief for Liverpool. It gives them an extra 12 months to find a suitable solution.
    They may not lose them due to international duty but the threat of injury is the main danger for Klopp’s front three. The three have also been lucky to avoid any lengthy lay-offs in the last few seasons, which is a testament to the attention to fitness and injury prevention by the staff at Melwood, but it’s unlikely that streak will continue in their late twenties and early thirties.
    Salah and Firmino have each been available for a staggering 93 per cent of Liverpool’s games, ranking first in the squad, with Mane ranking seventh at 88 per cent. Liverpool haven’t needed to invest sizeable sums on back-up attackers due to this ever-presence but it’s certainly a factor to be wary of when planning for the future.
    Given that finances dictated Liverpool didn’t press ahead with a deal for Werner, rumours linking them with a move for Borussia Dortmund’s £120 million-rated Jadon Sancho this summer are fanciful. If there is an addition at the top end of the field, it would be a more modest investment.
    Again, it will be influenced to a certain degree by outgoings. Liverpool expect offers for Shaqiri, who has endured an injury-plagued season. However, it’s unlikely they will command anything close to the €30 million they were seeking prior to the pandemic.
    Divock Origi hasn’t kicked on as hoped after his contribution to Liverpool’s Champions League triumph but the Belgian forward retains the faith of Klopp and is happy to stay put. The manager also sees Takumi Minamino blossoming in 2020-21. His performances so far have suggested he’s best suited to the Firmino role in the middle, dropping deep and linking play rather than operating out wide.
    Harvey Elliott is likely to be the one to benefit most from Werner heading to Chelsea rather than Anfield. The 17-year-old winger has made a real impact since arriving from Fulham a year ago. Both the staff and the senior players are excited about his rich potential. Whatever the tribunal decides that Liverpool have to pay for him, it looks a wise investment.
    Rhian Brewster’s development was halted by injury but he has provided a timely reminder of his ability with his performances on loan at Swansea City. Klopp must decide whether he’s ready to play a part in 2020-21 or would benefit more from another spell away. Academy striker Paul Glatzel is on the comeback trail after missing the entire season due to a ruptured ACL.
    Harry Wilson, Ben Woodburn and Sheyi Ojo will also be among those returning from loans with uncertain futures. Wilson is the most valuable asset of that trio after his loan at Bournemouth — cash in or keep him as a squad option is the question.
    [​IMG]
    If Liverpool are to keep him, the other head-scratcher is how to fit him into the team. Wilson has attempted plenty of shots for Bournemouth this season but it’s unlikely he’d be offered the same number of attempts in a Liverpool shirt if he were to play out wide in the front three.
    From his pizza chart, there are question marks about his defensive play as he barely contributes out of possession. He has been tidy at retaining possession however, a crucial requirement needed to play in this Liverpool side. Wilson is also a threat from set pieces but it’s unlikely he’d get the nod over Alexander-Arnold anytime soon.
    Klopp is expecting a second successive quiet summer for Liverpool in the transfer market.
    It’s their rivals who have the much greater need to gamble in a bid to bridge the gap to the champions.
    A couple of areas need reinforcing to provide more depth but there’s still plenty of room for growth. Liverpool look well placed to deliver once again.
     
  15. King Binny

    King Binny Part of the Furniture Honorary Member

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    Article: According to WhoScored, he played the most key passes (89) of any defender in England’s top-four tiers, even surpassing England and Liverpool defender Trent-Alexander Arnold's total of 75.
     
  16. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Continued comebacks from tough times show Gomez really is the ‘big man’
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce 1h ago[​IMG] 8 [​IMG]
    “So, you think you’re the big man?”
    That was how Raheem Sterling addressed Joe Gomez when he lost his rag and tried to get the Liverpool defender in a headlock after the England squad assembled in the canteen at St George’s Park last November.
    Sterling was still smarting from Manchester City’s crushing 3-1 defeat at Anfield the previous day when the pair had squared up to each other in the closing stages.
    Gomez, who was left with a deep scratch under his right eye, found himself in the eye of a storm that he hadn’t created — emblazoned across the back pages of the newspapers and all over the airwaves and TV news bulletins.
    He did Sterling a big favour by accepting his apology for the unprovoked attack. It meant the City player only missed one game as punishment rather than being booted out of Gareth Southgate’s squad.
    But senselessly Gomez was subjected to boos from a section of England fans when he came off the bench in the subsequent qualifier against Montenegro at Wembley. The whole episode left him shocked, confused and upset.
    At the time, he had started just one Premier League game in 11 months — August’s opening night rout of Norwich City at Anfield. A broken leg had kept him out for half of the 2018-19 season and, since then, his club form had been indifferent and he looked desperately short of confidence.
    With Dejan Lovren picked ahead of him to partner Virgil van Dijk in the absence of the injured Joel Matip, he was effectively Liverpool’s fourth-choice centre-back.
    On Gomez’s return to Merseyside, Jurgen Klopp was a pillar of support. So too was Van Dijk, who he sees as a big brother. He got his head down and set about getting his season back on track.
    Gomez hates the limelight. He’s quiet, humble and softly spoken. He’s a deep thinker who spends his spare time at home in Formby with fiancee Tamara and their young son Kyrie. Being teetotal, the extent of his celebrations after Liverpool pulled off their stunning fightback to beat Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Champions League last season involved watching the highlights and playing Monopoly with his mates until 4am.
    However, don’t confuse modesty and kindness with being a pushover. Gomez is also ambitious, driven and mentally tough.
    The 23-year-old has been no stranger to dealing with adversity since leaving his boyhood club Charlton Athletic at the age of 18 and moving away from south London.
    His first two seasons at Liverpool were wrecked by injury as the ruptured ACL he suffered playing for England Under-21s was followed by a serious achilles problem. It was August 2017 before he started a Premier League game under Klopp.
    Gomez missed out on the 2018 Champions League final after undergoing ankle surgery. He excelled in the first half of last season alongside Van Dijk before enduring more heartache when he broke his leg against Burnley.
    After four months on the sidelines, he couldn’t win his place back and had to settle for coming off the bench in the closing seconds of the 2019 Champions League final triumph over Tottenham.
    When Liverpool have been chasing glory towards the business end of seasons in recent years, Gomez has been on the periphery. Not this time.
    Eight months after that spat with Sterling, he’s a Premier League winner and he’s been integral to that achievement.
    The tide turned for him back in early December. After starting at right-back away to Bournemouth in place of Trent Alexander-Arnold, he was shifted into the middle alongside Van Dijk when Lovren limped off holding his hamstring.
    He hasn’t looked back since. He has proved beyond doubt that the Van Dijk-Gomez axis is Liverpool’s most commanding and composed centre-back combination.
    “On and off the pitch we have a great relationship,” says Gomez. “Virgil is an incredible influence on me and someone I can look up to. He’s a real dominant force and a pleasure to play alongside.”
    In the 17 league games Gomez has started this season, Klopp’s men have conceded an average of 0.5 goals per game and 8.2 shots per game with a win percentage of 94.
    In the other 16 league matches, Liverpool have conceded an average of one goal and 10.5 shots per game, with the win percentage dropping to 81.2.
    “Virgil and Joe have formed a fantastic partnership,” former Liverpool captain and centre-back Phil Thompson tells The Athletic. “They are Klopp’s best two central defenders. The exciting thing is that this back five could be together for the next five years.”
    The title was effectively won during the intense period between early December and mid-February, when Liverpool also had to handle the demands of the Club World Cup in Qatar. Gomez was ever-present as Klopp’s side conceded just one goal in the space of 11 league games.
    The quality of the club’s recruitment has rightly been lauded in the wake of ending the 30-year title drought. Global icons like Van Dijk, Alisson, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have all given Liverpool a huge return on hefty investments.
    But Gomez has to be regarded as one of the greatest bargains of the Premier League era. Chief scout Barry Hunter put in all the groundwork that ensured Liverpool saw off interest from Arsenal and Manchester City to secure his signature in 2015 for an initial fee of just £3.5 million rising to £6 million.
    He had been part of England’s Under-17 European Championship-winning team in 2014 when he was voted defender of the tournament.
    Charlton academy manager Steve Avory described Gomez as “the ultimate professional”. He made 16 senior starts for the club in the Championship at the age of 17 before heading to Anfield.
    Liverpool have been repeatedly linked with Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly but there’s little prospect of the club spending a big chunk of their budget on a centre-back when Klopp holds Gomez in such high esteem.
    However, cover in that department remains an issue with Matip and Lovren’s injury history. With both of them sidelined, Klopp couldn’t name a centre-back among his nine substitutes for Sunday’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa.
    It was a similar story against Manchester City last week when Fabinho ended up playing there for the second half.
    There are high hopes for young Dutch defenders Sepp van den Berg and Ki-Jana Hoever but both are just 18 and still learning their trade.
    The symbolism of last Thursday’s trip to the Etihad Stadium certainly wasn’t lost on the club’s supporters. Given the events of last November, Gomez would have been forgiven for wearing a beaming smile and savouring every second as Sterling and his City team-mates gave Liverpool a guard of honour. However, that’s not his style.
    Instead, Gomez was left kicking himself after conceding a penalty for wrapping an arm around Sterling’s midriff on a night when Klopp’s men were all over the place after their title celebrations.
    [​IMG]

    (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt/AMA/Getty Images)
    With his team 3-0 down and a yellow card to his name for the foul on Sterling, Gomez was taken off at half-time. Klopp didn’t want to run the risk of a second yellow card and a suspension given the dearth of fit centre-backs. Remarkably, it was the first time Gomez had been involved in a Premier League defeat since the trip to Swansea City in January 2018.
    He returned to the side against Villa and duly helped Liverpool clinch a 24th successive home league win thanks to second-half goals from Mane and substitute Curtis Jones. Gomez completed 77 passes — more than any other player on the pitch — and won 67 per cent of his duels. He reads the game so well and complements Van Dijk perfectly.
    That’s 12 clean sheets in 17 league starts for him alongside the Dutchman this season. With City beaten at Southampton, the chasm at the top is once again 23 points.
    When Adam Lallana leaves over the coming weeks, Gomez will become the club’s third longest-serving player behind Lovren and Jordan Henderson.
    Over the past 13 months, he has won the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, the Club World Cup and the Premier League. He’s still so young in centre-back terms but he’s already achieved so much.
    Judging by the way he responded to the events of earlier this season, he really has proved himself to be the big man.
     
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  17. Frogfish

    Frogfish Gone to Redcafe Member

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    Great information in this thread - excellent work Haas !
     
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  18. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    You're welcome mate
     
  19. the count

    the count SCM's least favourite muppet Honorary Member

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    Fair play to you for taking the time to post all of the articles.
    I haven't got round to reading that many but the ones I have were most enjoyable.
     
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  20. Holle

    Holle Chainsmoker Member

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    I'm waiting for the films.
     
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