Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk insists playing behind a new-look attacking midfield does not make his life more difficult.

Manager Jurgen Klopp opted for his previously-untried three of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita alongside mainstay Fabinho and it paid off handsomely with the England midfielder scoring twice in a 4-1 Champions League win in Genk.

The performance was not without its issues, particularly in the first half, when the space either side and behind Fabinho saw the hosts create a few decent chances which a better side would probably have converted.

After being presented with a challenge by Manchester United’s tactics in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, it meant Van Dijk and a defence missing 50 per cent of its regular starters were stretched until Oxlade-Chamberlain scored his second to make it 2-0 12 minutes into the second half.

Klopp’s offence-minded midfield combination is one which fans have been crying out for to inject some more creativity in the side – but did that make it more difficult for Van Dijk?

“I don’t think so. We still had Fabinho in front of us who cleans up everything,” said the Holland international.

“They left one or two strikers up front and we tried to get involved. That’s the way we play.

“We just have to do better at winning the second balls and in the transition with the counter-press.”

Ultimately the trade-off worked with Oxlade-Chamberlain scoring twice on his first Champions League appearance in 18 months after recovering from a serious knee injury in the semi-final of the competition in April 2018.

And it was an outcome which was hugely popular with team-mates and supporters alike.

“He’s worked so hard to get back to this point and he deserves a night like that,” said Van Dijk.

“He’s such a great guy, such an important guy for the group. He’s a quality player and he showed it, not only with his goals, but also with his all-round game.

“During a difficult period, he always managed to stay positive. We were all there for him.

“Pre-season was tough for him but he’s showing a lot of great things right now. He’s so sharp. His goals made the difference.

“The first one was so important and the second was a killer for them. It’s just great to see him back out there.”

The post Van Dijk gives thoughts on new-look Liverpool midfield appeared first on Football365.

Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Jurgen Klopp thinks the signing of Joel Matip is “one of best pieces of business” he has done since joining Liverpool.

The Cameroon international swapped Bundesliga side Schalke for the Reds in 2016 on a free transfer and took a while to settle in at Anfield.

Matip was the unlikeliest of heroes in a phenomenal Liverpool season last term, starting it as perhaps the fourth-choice centre-half but ending it as part of a wonderful defence alongside Virgil van Dijk.

And he has now become an integral member of the Liverpool side that has won six out of six Premier League matches so far this term, starting five games.

When asked about Matip’s maturity, Klopp said: “That’s what happens with footballers, with human beings, they grow.”

Klopp added: With the challenges you have, you grow. Joel was always an incredible talent. He was 18 playing for Schalke, that’s not easy.

“In a world of big transfer fees, signing Joel on free transfer was incredible, one of best pieces of business we did.”

 

The post Klopp: Matip one of my ‘best pieces of business’ appeared first on Football365.

Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

The set made it look like the final scene of the first Bill & Ted film, the one with George Carlin, that Robbi Robb song and the low-budget sci-fi scenery.

The Best’s dynamic wasn’t quite that cheerful. The cold chrome and mood lighting were harbingers of something much more sinister. Maybe the world outside had been destroyed and that all that remained was this preposterous demonstration of FIFA’s self-importance.

Perhaps that’s a touch dramatic, but it’s a more than functional metaphor.

Mainly because this is how things seem to be now. These events have a script. Inside the building, of course, with the wooden banter and those strange Euro-American accents, but outside too, where the watching world always seems to respond in the same way. With mockery first, then bemusement, then outright anger.

That represents a strange contradiction. On every other night of the year, The Best is completely benign. It carries no weight whatsoever. Not just because it is only in its fourth year of existence and has none of the Ballon d’Or’s gravitas but rather, those issues aside, because it’s just plainly weird. It’s like a party thrown by someone who has no friends, who has no understanding for how humans interact.

Even now, at this early stage, its history is littered with anomalies. In 2016, for instance, it awarded Falcao – the Futsal player, not the Colombian forward – with a lifetime achievement award. A worthy nod of appreciation, but one never offered again; nobody has been recognised in the same way since.

Also in 2016, at the event’s inaugural running, FIFA recognised Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund supporters for that joint rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone. A fine moment, for sure, but still representative of a central tokenism. Of everything that happened in 2016 – the fan initiatives, the collections for food banks, the stands against fascism, homophobia and racism – that was top of the pile?

In a way, it describes what FIFA are. Or, more accurately, it confirms what those outside the organisation think of FIFA. They run the game, but they’re only interested in certain parts of it. Think of it this way: if there were a football-themed pub quiz contested by hundreds of teams from different countries and all walks of life, FIFA’s Executive Committee would come last. Always and inevitably.

On Monday night, Leeds United, who authored arguably the funniest cheating scandal of the last decade, were awarded a fair play award for allowing Aston Villa to score an uncontested goal. There’s no harm in it, but – again – its indicative of superficiality. You can imagine the meeting in which some of these categories were decided. Sharp suits, sharp haircuts, blank faces.

To say that this event exists only for the sake of sponsorship is hardly original. After all, there are entire sports which are built around the need to iron logos onto shirts, shorts or vehicles. But perhaps The Best’s greatest tell is in its tone.

On Monday night, several award winners used their platform for tremendous good. Jurgen Klopp announced his involvement with the Common Goal charity. Well done to him. Megan Rapinoe took the stage and urged proper action against the societal evils which continue to plague the game. Well done to her. But, then, look at how awkward Gianni Infantino looked at that moment, during the few seconds when the camera framed him.

His expression betrayed discomfort, this sense that – no – this was supposed to be a night of back-slapping. FIFA has always appeared to find football’s real issues deeply inconvenient. While it’s capable of constructing ever more complicated competitions – with more rounds, more teams and more broadcasting revenue – and it sails through the logistical challenges posed by such expansion, it becomes bizarrely impotent in the face of almost anything of real substance.

And we know this. And we talk about it all the time. And we understand how incidental these ceremonies are and how bereft of sincerity and significance they will always, always be.

And yet there’s always this great outrage at who gets patted on the back. The Best’s World XI is still fluttering around social media and people are upset by that. And by Virgil van Dijk not winning his Best Player category. Click further and you’ll find the inevitable retaliation. The statistical testimony which supports Lionel Messi’s case, a mini cultural thesis which proves that, in fact, he should win all awards, always. Go down the internet’s darker hallways and, presumably, the same is being said about Cristiano Ronaldo.

Someone. Even. Made. A. Graph.

So on the one hand the universal position is to mock these nights and to enjoy the ritual of machine-gunning facetiousness into the online ether. On the other, the tendency is to get really, really upset by all the trivialities it throws up. In fact, at the time of writing, there are journalists making serious points derived from voting patterns. Messi voted for this player, Ronaldo didn’t vote for that one; Five Things We Learned.

This is hardly a unique situation. Where there are individual awards, there are always squabbles. What makes this interesting, though, is that The Best is a commonly recognised nadir. For 364 days of each year, it’s ridiculed for the vacuum of self-celebration that it so obviously is. On the 365th day, it holds the power to start furious arguments.

Why is that? Broadly, of course, because supporters are loyal to players who represent their teams. But while that’s undeniably true, it’s also a thickening vein of tribalism. Once upon a time, a team’s defeat used to leave a fan in a days-long sulk. Now, the world’s failure to recognise a particular player can leave a fan fighting back the tears and punching his or her keyboard. Even when the award is meaningless. Even when a footballer’s loyalty is to his contract rather than his club.

Even with something like this, which was concocted and devised by the sport’s Charlatans-on-High and designed just to produce another revenue stream. Even now, it’s not okay just to shrug and move on.

Why?

Seb Stafford-Bloor is on Twitter.

 

The post The Best? They bring out The Worst in everyone… appeared first on Football365.

Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Jurgen Klopp insists Liverpool would be able to cope in the event of an injury to defensive talisman Virgil van Dijk.

Liverpool’s title rivals Manchester City are suffering from an injury crisis at the heart of their defence, with Aymeric Laporte and John Stones both sidelined, leaving Nicolas Otamendi as their only fit senior centre-back.

Ahead of the Reds’ trip to Chelsea this weekend, Klopp was asked how Liverpool might cope should they suffer similar misfortune with Van Dijk.

“Does it keep me awake? Not yet,” he told his press conference. “It is the reason we have four centre-halves. It is not easy for the ‘in the moment’ No.4 to play.

“Of course injuries can happen but cannot think about them before they happen. We all need luck to be successful.”

“I’ve said it a lot of times, we have four world-class centre-backs. They can all play together in each partnership.”

Liverpool have already been hit with an injury to goalkeeper Alisson. But Klopp revelaed the Brazil stopper is edging closer to a return even if he cannot pinpoint a date.

“Alisson is making big progress,” he said. “A proper session yesterday with John Achterberg.

“He is not in team training yet, and we take it day by day. We will see. Too early to say.

“Naby Keita is back in training with the team. Today is first time with the team.”

However, striker Divock Origi is unlikely to feature against Chelsea on Sunday after suffering an ankle injury in last week’s win over Newcastle.

“Div, we have to see day by day, that’s how it was from the first day – how can he deal with the pain and stuff like that,” Klopp added.

“It is pretty early, so I don’t know exactly what the medical department will tell me (today) about that case.

“I think it’s unlikely but why should I rule him out? But it’s unlikely.”

The post Liverpool boss discusses Alisson return and coping without Van Dijk appeared first on Football365.

Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

No, it wasn’t a penalty. Jose Callejon clearly initiated contact with Andy Robertson and, unfortunately, neither the referee nor the VAR were able – or willing – to correct their decision.

But the incident still characterised the tone of Liverpool’s performance. They were slack and ever so slightly complacent. They had good moments and promised goals at different points of the game, but Roberson’s wifty challenge was indicative of an attitude which wasn’t quite what it should have been. Not that he deserves a flogging, because he remains overwhelmingly in credit, but any modern defender knows that if you dangle a leg out like that then, most likely, someone will take an opportunist tumble.

So two conclusions, both of which are true: Liverpool were done by the referee, but they also paid the price for a lack of a mental sharpness.

That showed in different facets of the game. For the penalty, of course, and that strange Virgil van Dijk mistake which Fernando Llorente turned into a second goal, but also in their uncommon inaccuracy at the other end of the pitch.

If the game had an emblem, then it would be that, in particular the mess Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah made of that second-half counter. The pass Mane tried to play was far harder than it looked, but it was still the kind of opportunity that this team – and those players – habitually exploit week after week.

In fact, as that move was developing, who didn’t think it was destined to end with the ball in the net and one of those players wheeling away in celebration?

In a way, that’s a measure of the respect that Jurgen Klopp’s side now command. They are usually so precise and so ruthless that when that killer quality is missing, it provokes incredibly harsh criticism.

And it is harsh, because there was plenty of good in that performance. Collectively, because it was far superior to what Liverpool offered in Naples a year ago. But also individually: Sarah Winterburn has already written about a very fine Fabinho display, and there were notable showings from, among others, Jordan Henderson and Adrian.

Still, let’s not lose sight of what Napoli are. Serie A is just three games old, but Carlo Ancelotti’s side began their season by conceding three goals in both of their first two games – to Juventus and Fiorentina – and, while they kept a clean sheet at the weekend, that fragility was definitely in evidence last night. Kalidou Koulibaly is a brilliant defender, but he is not part of a brilliant defence; if Napoli survive the group, they’ll be eliminated by the first efficient side they face.

So this was a game Liverpool should have won. That they lost isn’t cause for any alarm, but it has created a degree of uncertainty within a group which should have been straightforward. On the evidence of what they did to Genk, nobody should be looking forward to playing RB Salzburg, either.

It’s important because Klopp’s players could do with making the first part of their Champions League defence as processional as possible. They’ve already established a handy lead back home, but Manchester City will inevitably improve and, when that happens, Liverpool will need to match their power. The ideal scenario, then, would have been to have this group won within three or four games, not for it to remain in the balance.

Not incidentally, that visit to Salzburg is scheduled for December 10 which, television permitting, will come six days after the first Merseyside derby of the season and three days on from an awkward looking trip to Bournemouth. The likely legacy of defeat in Naples will probably be that Liverpool have to enter that stadium, with its feverish atmosphere, needing a result to secure top spot or, worse, qualification itself.

In isolation, nothing which happened on Tuesday night was too significant. However, with the knowledge that Liverpool’s ability to achieve their season’s objectives will partly depend on how easy they make life for themselves and how much leeway they can create throughout their season, it was an inconvenient, avoidable and irritating mishap. A game that they could afford to lose – this morning’s Mailbox is absolutely right about that, but one which would have been very useful to win.

Seb Stafford-Bloor is on Twitter

 

The post F365’s early loser: Liverpool, making life that bit tougher appeared first on Football365.

Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Nicolas Pepe looks set to become the latest player to move from Ligue 1 to the top end of the Premier League. Here, we rank the last 10 stars to cross the Channel for the Big Six…

 

10) Tiemoue Bakayoko – Chelsea
The Paris-born midfielder, who joined Chelsea from Monaco for £40million – their second most expensive signing at the time – had somewhat rebuilt his reputation during a season-long loan at AC Milan after a ropey start at the San Siro, but Bakayoko has reportedly failed to impress Frank Lampard any more than he managed with Antonio Conte.

The mere mention of his name transports Chelsea fans straight back to Vicarage Road where the 24-year-old was sent off for two bookings before the half-hour in a 4-1 defeat in February last year. Milan may take him off their hands permanently but Chelsea will have to take a big hit on the once-capped France midfielder.

 

9) Michy Batshuayi – Chelsea
It seems Chelsea still don’t know what to do with Batshuayi. Presumably he would be away if they could sign replacements but circumstances could give the 25-year-old an opportunity to nail down a place in Lampard’s squad following three loan moves in the last 18 months during which he has scored 18 goals for Borussia Dortmund, Valencia and Crystal Palace.

Whatever they decide, it certainly wasn’t the plan when Chelsea paid Marseille £33million for the Belgium centre-forward three years ago.

 

8) Benjamin Mendy – Man City
Injuries have restricted the £52million signing to 17 Premier League appearances in two seasons but knee problems haven’t stopped the former Monaco man from playing the clown. Pep Guardiola would rather have a left-back than a globetrotting cheerleader, which presumably forced City to buy back Angelino. Who was ‘absolutely awful’ last week…

7) Serge Aurier – Spurs
The Ivory Coast defender showed signs of improvement last season – among some trouser-dirtying moments for Spurs fans too – but he managed only six starts in the Premier League as fitness concerns linger.

With Mauricio Pochettino having sold Kieran Trippier to Atletico Madrid, Aurier needs to get his act together in this, his third season in English football. Unless the Spurs boss has indeed decided to play Juan Foyth as his starting right-back.

 

6) David Luiz – Chelsea
The Brazilian’s £34million move from PSG in 2016 was his second stab at a Chelsea career after he was sold to the French champions for £50million two years previously and though he has largely made a better fist of it than the first attempt, most Blues would probably just have shrugged at the sight of the 32-year-old walking away upon the expiry of his contract last season.

As it is, because Chelsea can’t sign anyone else, they have given Luiz two more years to get them through a transfer ban and to give the likes of Kurt Zouma, Andreas Christensen and Ethan Ampadu time to blossom into centre-backs worthy of phasing him out.

 

5) Fabinho – Liverpool
Liverpool’s £40million capture of the Brazilian was kept weirdly quiet until it was announced shortly after their 2018 Champions League final defeat and the start of his Anfield career was equally bizarre. Jurgen Klopp appeared petrified of using the former Monaco midfielder amid the hustle and bustle of the Premier League and the Liverpool boss was reportedly considering sending Fabinho away at the first opportunity in January.

But the patient approach paid off. Fabinho was eased in and grew over the course of the season which he ended as first choice in Klopp’s midfield. The 25-year-old also proved his versatility by slotting in a right-back and centre-back.

 

4) Lucas Moura – Spurs
It didn’t seem to matter what Moura did last season – if everyone was fit, the Brazilian was usually out. Even after scoring the incredible hat-trick which took Spurs to the Champions League final, he was benched for the Madrid meeting with Liverpool.

It speaks well of his form since arriving from PSG in January 2018 that many felt Moura was Spurs’ best chance of troubling Virgil van Dijk. But Pochettino opted for a half-fit Kane and Van Dijk pocketed the Spurs centre-forward and a winner’s medal leaving the Brazilian understandably miffed.

3) Alexandre Lacazette – Arsenal
The £46million signing carried the goalscoring burden for Arsenal before his mate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang showed up six months later to share the load. Together they have forged one of the Premier League’s best strike partnerships and emerged as just about the only good thing about Arsenal last season.

Aubameyang took a share of the Premier League Golden Boot with 22 goals but Lacazette weighed in 13 while laying on another 10. Unai Emery will be expecting 20 plus in all competitions this season, especially if Nicolas Pepe is providing the ammunition.

 

2) Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Man Utd
We shouldn’t forget how good Zlatan was in his first season at United, which turned out to be his only full campaign in the Premier League and even that was ended prematurely by a knee injury. He notched 28 goals in all competitions and was nominated for the PFA Player of the Season for helping United to win the League Cup – he scored twice in the final – and Europa League.

Ibrahimovic didn’t hit the same heights upon re-signing for United after his knee injury but allowing him to join LA Galaxy might still be seen as a mistake given the influence he had upon the dressing room at Old Trafford. When Zlatan went, the mentality shifted, leaving Jose Mourinho to fight a losing battle.

 

1) Bernardo Silva – Man City
“For me, to drop Bernardo Silva right now is almost impossible. Right now it is Bernardo and 10 more players,” said Pep Guardiola as City geared up in February for the sprint to the Premier League finish line. “I don’t know what this guy has done this season. Playing in the middle and outside, every single game he played perfect.”

Pep likes to talk his players up but Bernardo’s contribution spoke for itself. The Portuguese schemer, a £43million signing from Monaco two years ago, was City’s best player in a Treble-winning season, combining creativity with endless graft.

The post Ranking the last 10 players to join Big Six clubs from Ligue 1 appeared first on Football365.

Posted in EPL, FA Premier League