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Liverpool

Virgil Van Dijk signing shows that Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have elite ambitions

Martyn Cooke

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Virgil Van Dijk
Photo: Reuters

The news that Liverpool had secured the signing of Southampton central defender Virgil van Dijk for £75 million has raised plenty of eyebrows around the footballing world this week.

Many onlookers have questioned the astronomical fee that the Reds have paid, a world record for a defender, and whether the arrival of the Dutchman will be enough to correct the defensive frailties that have undermined the progress that Jurgen Klopp has facilitated in the last couple of seasons. However, the arrival of van Dijk represents something more significant – that Liverpool have ambitions to challenge the elite of European football once again.

Since the Fenway Sports Group (FSG) completed their £300 million takeover of the club in October 2010 success on the pitch has eluded them. Despite an array of near-misses the reality is that Liverpool have won just one piece of silverware in seven years, the League Cup triumph in 2012, and have had to watch as their rivals, predominantly Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea, have climbed onto a metaphorical superior level.

Despite this, FSG have progressed the club in other areas. Under their ownership Liverpool have signed a genuine world-class manager in Klopp, transformed Anfield with the development of the main stand and committed to building a new first-team training facility. With a solid foundation now in place, the club must now find a way to start securing silverware.

Committing £75 million to purchase van Dijk is a statement of their intent.

Manchester City and Manchester United have made significant investments in new signings over the previous eighteen months to enable Pep Guardiola and Jose Mouirnho respectively to build teams capable of challenging for domestic and continental silverware. In truth, they have left Liverpool behind in the transfer market, something that has been reflected by their on-pitch success.

However, there are signs that FSG are no longer content with the Merseyside outfit being second-best.

The club hierarchy are backing Klopp to the full and the charismatic German has begun to build a youthful squad that is full of attacking flair and creativity. Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and now van Dijk have all arrived in big-money deals whilst Naby Keita is also set to arrive at Anfield in the summer. Suddenly Liverpool appear to be willing to challenge the two Manchester clubs in the transfer marker and their ability to prise van Dijk from the Guardiola’s clutches further emphasises that fact.

It has been no secret that Liverpool have a soft underbelly and that the team’s defensive frailty has often undermined their undoubted attacking qualities. Whether the arrival of van Dijk will suddenly rectify the defensive issues at Anfield is debateable and only time will tell how successful the Dutchman will be. However, the fact that FSG are now willing to go toe-to-toe with the other Premier League superpowers can only be construed as a positive by the club’s supporters.

The signing of van Dijk, coupled with other big-money moves for Mane, Salah and Keita, suggests that Liverpool are no longer content to play second fiddle in the race for silverware. It is a definitive sign that FSG are willing to challenge their rivals in the transfer market and have ambitions to retain the club’s place among the elite of European football.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Liverpool

Why Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson was one of the signings of the summer

Jake Jackman

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Robertson
Photo: Reuters

Andrew Robertson isn’t a household name, but he established himself as one of the best young players in the Premier League performance with an excellent performance against Manchester City.

Few expected Liverpool would be able to topple the runaway league leaders, especially after the departure of Philippe Coutinho. However, the Reds delivered one of their best performances since the appointment of Jurgen Klopp and took the three points to consolidate their own position in the top four.

It was a nervy end to the match as the visitors fought back to grab two consolation goals, but given the incredible energy that the home side showed since the first whistle, a stuttering end can be forgiven.

The 23-year-old was a signing that went under the radar during the summer and those football fans that don’t have their finger on the pulse may not have known that he had moved to Anfield. Despite a good season with Hull City, it is rare to see a player move from a relegated side to one in the Champions League.

There aren’t a lot of quality full-back options in the Premier League and Robertson showed enough to justify a transfer. It was a risk, but at the price of an initial £8 million, it was one worth taking.

The club’s official site reported the following quotes from Klopp upon the deal being announced:

“For Andrew, this is another big step on what has been a quite incredible personal journey in a very short space of time.

“I know our environment will benefit him and help him push himself even more than he has already. This is a player who does not limit his ambition.”

Klopp can’t be faulted for his record in the transfer market since arriving at Liverpool. His big money purchases have all been successes, but his decision to bring Robertson could represent the best value for money. The Reds’ boss clearly saw something in his character that suggested he would develop quickly at Anfield and his emergence in recent weeks has proven him correct.

The left-back was eased into life at a top-six club and made only three appearances for the club before December, two of which came in the Premier League. For Klopp, he needs to fully trust that a new player understands his style of play.

Those already at a high level, such as Mohamed Salah, can be expected to step straight in as they have a lot of experience of playing different systems. However, Robertson had been playing a more traditionally British system at Hull City and likely lacked the tactical knowledge of the rest of the squad.

Since the start of December, he has made the left-back position his own and his efforts against Manchester City showed that he can stand out against the very best. He was given a difficult task of marking Raheem Sterling, the former Liverpool player.

The City winger has been one of the best players in the Premier League this season and is among the top scorers. He would have been relishing the opportunity to return to Anfield and shine, but he was kept quiet by Robertson.

The former Hull City player was keen to go forward and support the Liverpool attacks. His distribution and decision making were both superb against Manchester City. In the past, we have seen Liverpool full-backs get caught upfield as they try to stick to Klopp’s strict tactical instructions.

It is difficult to master playing the position in this system, but Robertson is showing maturity beyond his years. He completed 79% of his passes, which is a good accuracy given they were playing an opposition that press high up the pitch.

Talking of pressing, Robertson was relentless in this area of his game and regularly put pressure on the Manchester City attackers. He was directly responsible for a number of turnovers as he didn’t stop running from the first minute to the last.

There was one incredible moment when he chased a ball back to Ederson and followed it until he eventually fouled Nicolas Otamendi. The Kop responded with a cheer fitting of a goal. They could see his effort and responded to it. Although he didn’t win possession, his manager would have been delighted with that phase of play.

His aggression was shown through his tackling. Robertson completed seven tackles and was only beaten twice on the dribble. Considering he was coming up against the likes of Sterling, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero, this is a very impressive return.

In addition to his tackling, the Scottish international made seven clearances to relieve the pressure on his team. The last few minutes were nerve-wracking for the home side, but the left-back remained assured in his defensive work.

Although he has a lot of areas to improve, Robertson is getting better with every game and he is establishing himself as a top-six full-back. Liverpool gambled on his potential and Klopp’s ability to develop it. His slow introduction to the first-team coupled with some excellent performances during the last six weeks show that the German manager knows what he is doing.

The 23-year-old’s performance against Manchester City captured the nation’s attention. He now needs to push on and consistency deliver at that high level.

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Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City: Three talking points from Anfield

Rob Meech

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Liverpool
Photo: Reuters

Liverpool ended Manchester City’s unbeaten Premier League record and climbed to third spot after breathtaking encounter at Anfield.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fabulous early strike was cancelled out by Leroy Sane as the two teams went into the half-time break level-pegging. Three goals in nine second-half minutes looked to have given Liverpool an insurmountable advantage, with Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah all striking.

However, City mounted a late comeback and set up a grandstand finish thanks to goals from Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan. Liverpool, though, held on for a deserved victory as Pep Guardiola’s men suffered their first defeat of the campaign. Here are three talking points…

Rampant Liverpool turn on the style

If any fixture was going to prove City’s undoing, it was this one. Liverpool are unpredictable but when on top of their game, few teams can live with them. They were respectful of City but undaunted by the challenge they faced, taking the game to their opponents right from the kick-off.

In their first match since Philippe Coutinho’s departure to Barcelona, Liverpool showed the Brazilian is not irreplaceable. The Fab Four may have been reduced to three, but each of Mane, Salah and Firmino found the net. The movement and pace with which they attack is frightening, as City found to their cost.

Record signing Virgil van Dijk was ruled out of the clash and Liverpool’s defensive deficiencies were magnified in his absence, with recalled goalkeeper Loris Karius also unconvincing. The Reds are still a work in progress in that regard, but under manager Jurgen Klopp they are fast becoming a force to be reckoned with.

City succumb but remain in the driving seat

Many believed it was City’s destiny to become only the second Premier League team to go through a season undefeated, following Arsenal’s Invincibles of 2003/04. But such talk can now be consigned to the rubbish bin. Despite their sensational form, it would have been a monumental achievement not to lose a single fixture.

In one respect, Guardiola will be glad it has happened. Their advantage at the top of the table remains 15 points, albeit perhaps only for 24 hours, and there is no indication this result will spark a poor run of form. City fought back valiantly after the shock of conceding three times in quick succession, which will please the Spaniard greatly.

Guardiola was philosophical in defeat and recognised his side had played their part in a magnificent contest. Sometimes, a reality check is a good thing. City may no longer be invincible, but they are still the overwhelming favourites to be crowned Premier League champions in May.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is proving his worth

His Liverpool career did not start the way he would have imagined after completing a summer switch from Arsenal. In a quest to play regular football, Oxlade-Chamberlain moved to pastures new and hoped he would be rejuvenated. Initially, he struggled for game-time and his brief performance were often derided. As a result, he lost his place in the England squad.

However, Oxlade-Chamberlain is growing in stature and produced arguably his best display in a Liverpool shirt against the runaway Premier League leaders. Nothing builds confidence like a goal and his long-range strike that gave the Reds a ninth-minute lead did just that.

Playing in the central role he had coveted, Oxlade-Chamberlain was a dominant figure, using his strength and pace to great effect. His transfer to Liverpool was greeted with scepticism, but it’s clear to see that working under Klopp is having a positive impact. The former Southampton man will hope it’s enough to help him regain his place in the national team.

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Are Liverpool potential 2017/18 Champions League winners?

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Reuters

Jurgen Klopp has guided Liverpool to the knock-out stages of the Champions League for the first time since 2009, but can the German replicate the club’s impressive long-standing history of success in European competitions and guide The Reds all the way to the final?

Here, The Boot Room examines whether Liverpool have the potential to win the Champions League.

Progress so far

Liverpool were able to safely navigate the Champions League play-off against Hoffenheim back in August, running out 6-3 victors on aggregate, and they were rewarded with what appeared to be a relatively favorable group draw which paired them up with Sevilla, Spartak Moskva and Maribor.

Jurgen Klopp would have been delighted to have finished as group winners without suffering a defeat although the only consistency in his team’s performances were how inconsistent they were.

The Reds scored ten goals across two games against Maribor and netted seven times against Spartak at Anfield in the final fixture but also demonstrated their defensive frailties by throwing away a three-goal half-time lead at Sevilla.

Overall, Liverpool’s progress so far has been positive, entertaining and enthralling although much tougher challenges will lie ahead.

 

Squad Strength

Jurgen Klopp has built a squad that possesses an abundance of firepower and when Liverpool have their offensive players fit and firing they are capable of scoring goals against any team in Europe.

Mohamed Salah has been a revelation since arriving in the summer and has been well-assisted by the likes of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, although the loss of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona has dealt the Reds a significant blow.

Defensively the reds still remain fragile with neither Simon Mignolet or Loris Karius cementing the number one jersey as their own whilst questions still remain over whether Alberto Moreno, Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip or Ragnar Klavan have the quality or consistency to be regarded as to-quality defenders.

The arrival of Virgil van Dijk for £75 million will certainly help to ease Liverpool’s defensive woes but it remains to be seen whether one player will transform an entire defensive unit.

Manager

There have been gradual signs of progress at Anfield since Jurgen Klopp succeeded Brendan Rodgers in October 2015 although this has yet to be transferred into actual silverware.

The 50-year-old has built a team that is full of pace, power and technical quality in the final third of the pitch and that plays exciting, dynamic and expansive brand of football, yet he has yet to secure a major trophy for any team since Borussia Dortmund won the German Cup in 2012.

Klopp has had a degree of success in European competitions, guiding Dortmund to the Champions League final in 2013 and Liverpool to the Europa League final last season, although both occasions ultimately ended in defeat.

The charismatic German is still widely perceived as being one of the leading coaches in world football, but he still lacks the success in the Champions League to cement his place among the elite.

Chances of winning

Liverpool have won eight European trophies in their history, which would equate to five Champions League and three Europa League titles, but have failed to live up to that level of success in the last decade or so.

The Reds are back in the knock out stages of the Champions League for the first time since 2009 and it would take a heroic effort for Jurgen Klopp’s side to reach the latter stages of the tournament.

The team possesses the attacking quality to threaten any of the remaining opposition in the competition but have retained a defensive fragility that realistically undermines their ability to reach the final.

Anfield on a European night is a fortress, yet the problems will occur on their travels. Will Liverpool be able to go away to a leading club and grind out a clean sheet and a result to keep a tie alive? Probably not.

So, it is unlikely that Liverpool will win the Champions League outright this season, but they still possess the qualities to make a significant impact in the latter stages of the tournament.

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