Tag: Liverpool

Sepp van den Berg is loaned to 1. FSV Mainz 05

Liverpool announced this Thursday the loan of Sepp van den Berg to 1. FSV Mainz 05 in Germany. The 21-year-old defender will return to Germany. The defender defended Schalke 04 last season, also on loan from Liverpool.

This will be the third time that Liverpool have loaned the young defender to other clubs. Initially, he was loaned out to Preston NE. Then it was time to head to Germany, where he defended Schalke 04 and will now return to wear the colors of 1. FSV Mainz 05.


Last season, he featured in just nine games for Schalke 04. With 1. FSV Mainz 05, he hopes to get more opportunities throughout the season. In the Netherlands, he played for PEC Zwolle before being sold to Liverpool in July 2019 for €1,900,000.

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On the Road to Qatar: Virgil van Dijk

The 31st year old has never played on a big tournament. The World Cup would be the realisation of his boyhood dream. And as skipper of Oranje, he will lead the team out. He discovered himself at Liverpool. A heavy knee injury might have delayed his debut at a Tournament with capital T, but he came back as if nothing happened.

Virgil can come across lacklustre. Lazy even. That was the comment on scouting reports from Ajax scouts, some 12 years ago. Complacent. This was the case then and it’s still the case now. His biggest strength is also his biggest pitfall. When he does make a mistake, he will hear that he was trying to solve the problem without getting his jersey dirty. Van Dijk does not throw his energy around but tries to solve problems by positioning smarter and making the right choices. Nothing arrogant about that.

Take that goal Man United scored. Sancho chopped inside. Milner slides past, while Becker dove to the wrong corner of the goal. Sancho simply passed the ball in the other corner. All this time, Van Dijk was ball watching with his arms behind his back. Milner was seen in close up after the goal was scored, scolding Virgil for not throwing his body on the line. But Virgil did what he always does. He’s always trying to organise so that flying tackles aren’t needed. He is like the CEO amongst defenders. He makes sure others do their job, so he doesn’t need to do it.

When Klopp was asked about the contributions of Van Dijk, in his first season, he answered: “Influential. Very very very influential”.  On December 27, there is a sort of public holiday in Liverpool. The Virgil’s Arrival Day. When he finally came over from Southampton, for 85 million euros. Where the amount is constantly dug up when Maguire makes another mistake, this Virgil transfer fee is simply a foot note.

As Klopp put it: “Thanks to Virgil, we can defend differently. Higher up the pitch. We can make the playing field smaller now.”

When he returned after his injury, the Daily Mail asked him if he was back to normal and he nodded yes. What people didn’t realise, and Virgil was a bit taken aback with that fact, is that he had to literally learn how to walk again! While his team mates were playing football and had their summer break or the Euros, Virgil was working like a beast, all by himself. He didn’t want to hurry his recovery by focusing on the Euros, knowing how tough it is to get back from this crucial injury.

“Everyone seemed to think it was normal that I got back at my level. As if nothing had happened. Based on my research, being able to get back at your normal level is not something that can be expected. And I’m not a spring chicken anymore either, so I felt that I could have received a bit more positive feedback than I did, as I started to play in every single game again…” His colleagues in England did give him the kudos he deserved, by picking him as the only non creative player in the list of nominees for Player of the Year (along side Salah , Mane, C Ronaldo, Kane and De Bruyne).

Check the personal duels won by Big Virgil. 

Virgil was asked during a presser with Oranje and Van Gaal whether he was able to hear any of the commands from the side-line, usually given by Danny Blind at Oranje or Klopp at Liverpool. “No, I am too loud myself, so I can’t hear the coaches yell at me, hahaha”. And it’s true, Pep Lijnders once said he sits more comfortable if he can hear Van Dijk’s bassoon in the stadium. He is the command centre of the Liverpool build up.

As the CEO of the Liverpool defence, he has ample tasks. After he went from Groningen to Celtic, he was described as a big unit (a wardrobe is the literal translation) with imposing physical qualities. And yes he is tall and yes he can head a ball.  Lijnders always says you need to really run around him if you want to get past him. But he’s not a very physical defender. He’s not like Man United’s Martinez or Mathijs de Ligt who love some Greek Romanian wrestling. With all the space in Virgil’s back, he needs to conduct the defence. And make sure it’s all fine tuned and in sync. It’s a balancing act, as he himself is usually situation on the halfway line. In the Big Five competitions, there is no team that was able to play the offside as much as Liverpool, last season.

It does fail at times and when it does fail, it looks really amateuristic. But, Klopp wants it like this and if there are mistakes made, it’s just par for the course. Because overall, it will work often very well and it allows every Liverpool player to be part of the attacking flow.

Van Dijk is a mind reader. He plays mainly with his brains. He tries to get into the head of the forward and he slows their attack. He won’t “bite” immediately, he will simply slow things down so his mates can track back. He basically pushes the pause button. He delays his decisions and actions, he pushes the opponent to the sides, with his running pattern and he hardly ever needs a foul or a tackle, even. He’s strong, very good in the air, relatively fast, technically solid and he oozes confidence.

Unbeaten record at home. Cool to see two other Dutchies and one former Dutch Eredivisie player (Alex) in the mix. Virgil NEVER lost a home game in the PL.

It’s probably his intelligence that makes the real difference. He can organise his defence in such a way that the opponent’s forwards think they’re always a step too late. The magic is in his timing. He developed a masterful sense of timing, when to press up, when to drop back. How to offer cover, when to mark and how to push a forward to the sides. He has the highest winning % in personal duels in the Premier League and it’s not a coincidence. He’s like Mr Charisma, the ability to foresee the moves of the opponent and to almost attract them to do what Virgil wants.

Lijnders: “We knew he would be a direct contributor as an individual player, but he also contributes indirectly, by making other players better.”

We all know Virgil’s story. A lazy right back at Willem II when he was 16 years old. Nothing special . When he turned 17, he suddenly grew another 18 centimerers. And his life changed. Grads Fuhler, scout of Groningen (now at FC Emmen), saw him play by coincidence. Fuhler was on his way to a game in Belgium and realised Willem II A1 played PSV A1 so he took the Tilburg exit. A week later, Virgil and mum were on their way to Groningen to sign for the local FC.

At Groningen 2, he spent a lot of time on the bench. His coach, Dick Lukkien (now head coach at FC Emmen) spent a lot of time on Virgil, who was still complacent. Lukkien desired more from the player and slowly but surely, Van Dijk started to change his mentality. The Top 3 didn’t see it in him, although Ronald Koeman was keen to sign him for Feyenoord. There was no money though. Ajax decided to get Mike van der Hoorn from FC Utrecht. At Celtic, he made some crucial steps but it was when Koeman was able to sign him for Southampton that the Oranje captain started to thrive. Both Lukkien and Koeman are mentioned by Virgil when asked which coaches were instrumental in his career.

If you ask English fans who were or are the best defenders ever in the PL, his name is mentioned, alongside players like Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Tony Adams and Nemanja Vidic. Not bad for a player who never played a big Tournie.

Ironically, Virgil is now the captain of the WC squad under a coach who in 2014 decided to leave him home. Van Gaal said he saw the same mistakes being made over and over again and decided to take Martins Indi, Stefan de Vrij and Ron Vlaar. Willem Vissers interviewed Van Gaal who said more negative things about Van Dijk. After the interview, Van Gaal instructed Vissers to delete these comments. Vissers can not remember exactly what the current team manager said, but it was something like “he doesn’t press forward enough, and he doesn’t see players running in behind, he is simply not good enough…”. Van Gaal did say in 2019 that Van Dijk has the personality to instil fear in his opponents.

Van Dijk says something interesting in the book “Thou Shall Not Pass: The Anatomy of Football’s Centre-Half”: “I want my opponents to think everything I do is easy for me. Look at Roger Federer. He doesn’t even break a sweat, or so it seems. Mentally, that will be tough for the opponents. They think Federer doesn’t even need to work hard. I try to do this too.”

The Liverpudlians call him VVD. Superman on Anfield. Mr Cook. With Van Dijk in the team, they hardly ever lose at home.

When Virgil made his first entrance in the Oranje squad, he was in awe of Robben and Kuyt. He was observing them. How they acted, what they ate, how they behaved. As kid, he wanted to be Ronaldinho and he thought Jaap Stam was two meters tall. The World Cup was millions of miles away from the kid in Breda. Virgil became his version of Ronaldinho.  Now, kids in England and Holland dream of being Virgil van Dijk.  In Liverpool, he’s a demi God.

Virgil’s debut.

It was a different time. Oranje at a historic trough. The Euros of 2016 are out of sight. In the final away game versus Kazachstan, coach Danny Blind gives Virgil a chance, alongside debutant Kenny Tete. The game is won, 1-2 but three days later, the Czechs are too strong in the JC Arena. Oranje ends 4th behind the Czechs, Iceland and Turkey. Blind played: Krul, Riedewald, Bruma, Van Dijk, Tete; Wijnaldum, Blind, Sneijder; Depay, El Ghazi, Huntelaar.

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You voted: Virgil van Dijk, Dutch International of 2018

Well guys, not a big surprise. I think Virgil got twice as many votes as the number 2. I respect your choices of course.

You all nicely kept the blog up to date this last week or so, while I was slaving away to make some bucks to maintain this blog (hint hint) you kept us up to speed with the different draws, the Liverpool-Everton derby and more. Thanks.

The man who got the assist vs Everton (….) won the poll and will be our first “Dutch Best International of the Year”. A new “thing” on our blog. And as promised, an interview with the new Captain Fantastic. Thanks to Blendle.com and the amazing sports magazine Helden (Heroes), by Frits and Barbara Barend.

What a year is was for Virgil van Dijk. This time last year, the big money move to Liverpool, becoming the most expensive defender on the planet. Then, five months later playing the Champions League finals. And Ronald Koeman named him captain of the new Oranje, while Klopp also gave him the band, most recently vs Everton. Life is kind for Virgil.

And the new skipper of Oranje is now a big man in England. Walking the streets in his town is not longer an option and every great pass or every failed pass will be accompanied by commentary about the fee Liverpool paid for him. 85 mio euros, in case you forgot. When we meet him at the Liverpool training complex, he is the perfect host. “Can I get you something to drink?” And when he sees some kids who won a prize to watch Liverpool’s practice session, he goes to them, puts his arms around them for a selfie and laughs. “What is better than giving children the day of their lives…?”

For the photo session, Virgil looks straight in the lens, with his hair in the typical Virgil man-bun. Can we get one without the hair tie? “I usually wear my hair loose at home, but once I’m going to the club, the hair tie goes in. But, if you make some good pics, I’ll let my hair out.” And during the photo session, he talks passionately. “There is no better job in the world than pro football player, at Liverpool and Oranje. What can be better? Yes, we have moments when it’s tough, or you’r tired but I do all I can to see the fun side of it all. This is so special and it is only for a short time, really. So it’s key to enjoy every minute.”

Lots of athletes forget to enjoy it, as they always have to deal with pressure…

Virgil: “I don’t have that. I don’t suffer the pressure, must be tough to have that. And it becomes easier, in some way. The Liverpool move should have added pressure probably, but it’s not. When you’re young, you tend to think about all that can go wrong, I don’t have that anymore. I know what is important in life.”

What is that?

“Family! When my family is happy and doing well, I am too. Football really is number 2 for me. Family is always #1. En that will always be that way. My daughters give me so much. And my wife is the centre of the family. She is the playmaker, haha. And I value her tremendously. A footballer’s wife always needs to be strong, positive and happy. I realise this. But we simply can’t stroll through the park, or go out for a glass of wine. We are still young, but we never go out. The first two weeks in Liverpool, we were at this hotel and within a day, the media, paparazzi and the fans were in the hotel lobby. So, in all seriousness, I am not going into the city, ever. But, I am not complaining, the benefits outweigh the negatives by a country mile, hahaha.”

Does Mrs Van Dijk work?

“No, we decided that she wouldn’t. If she really would want to, sure, I would never stop her, but we train at different times, so it could be that I’m away at night while she works in the morning and it would be hard to have a relationship. We like it as it is.”

In what way were you influenced by the fact that your dad left the family when you were so young?

“That plays a role. For sure. What exactly happened is private and I won’t tell the media. It’s nobody’s business. But my father is no longer in my life. That definitely plays a role in how I am with my kids. I will never abandon my kids. Never. I will always be there for them.”

Do your girls know exactly what daddy does for a living?

“Ha, well the youngest….no. She is two years old, but the oldest does know. Whenever people line up for autographs, she will say “Daddy needs to do some signing”. Recently we were at Disneyland and people wanted a picture, so she is like “Daddy needs to make a selfie with people” hahaha. And we have our family box at Anfield and she is there when we play. I wave at her when I enter the pitch and she waves back.”

You never seem to publish photos of yourself with the family?

“That is on purpose. I will not share anything private on social media. They don’t have a say in this and I don’t want them to become the kid of a famous dad or something. We keep information and photos to ourselves. And you know, it’s not just the fans who want to see these pics, there are also the haters, you know.”

Back to the past: you basically grew up next to the NAC stadium in Breda, but never player for NAC.

“Well I did, once when I was seven. I had a practice session there with two friends. We had had a youth coach who was yelling and screaming all the time. I was scared of the guy. And I decided I didn’t wanna go to NAC, hahaha. I couldn’t handle that. I was a wee kid, really little. And two weeks later I had a practice session at Willem II. That went well, a lovely bunch of people and I got into the so-called talent school.”

Who else was in that?

“Jurgen Locadia, PSV and now Brighton, was part of that. He’s the only one that made it, with me, as a pro.”

Locadia moved from Willem II straight to PSV. You took the long and winding road…

“I always had something or other… Like I said, I was little. Considered too small. I was almost sent away but was offered one last chance. And guess what: that summer I had my growth spurt. And as a result, I got knee issues. We played the big tournaments with Willem II. It was a tremendous time. We never won anything, but we competed. Against Ajax, with Ricardo van Rhijn and Marco Bizot (now AZ) and against Feyenoord with Clasie. I still talk to these guys, it does give some sort of bond, as we all play pro football now.”

You never played for Willem II’s first team. Why did you go to FC Groningen?

“I was second year A Junior, I played there for 10 years and I was hoping to get a contract, but…nothing. And there were several sub top clubs from the Eredivisie interested. Only when Groningen made a move, Willem II quickly offered me a contract. Well, too little, too late. So I decided to go to Groningen. I started in the second team. Rode my bike to the stadium. I lived alone in Groningen and had a wonderful time.”

Groningen is a university city. Lots of young people. Did you notice?

“You bet, hahaha. I was 19 years old… My coach was Dick Lukkien, currently coach of FC Emmen. He’s not unlike Ronald Koeman. Really direct. I learned heaps from him and we still talk. I made my debut in that first year in the first team. And then I got into the spotlights and I loved that aspect as well.”

Did the Top 3 (Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV) ever check you out?

“It’s the summer of 2013 and I wanted to make a move. The logical step was the top 3 of course. I wanted to. I was open to all three clubs. I know Ajax was interested but also checked out Van der Hoorn of Utrecht (now Swansea). They ended up going with him. PSV signed Bruma and Feyenoord had De Vrij, Martins Indi, Van Beek and didn’t want to add me to the mix, also due to their financial woes. And suddenly Celtic came. With a check and a good level of urgency. And they played Champions League football. So I decided to do it. And we played AC Milan, Barcelona and Ajax in that season. I played against those clubs and I played well too.”

And you never played for the Dutch rep teams??!?!

“Well, in all honesty, I wasn’t that good. Seriously, I was not better than the ones who did play. I am a late blossomer.”

Do you ever get upset? Or angry?

“Well not really angry. Definitely not at home. I did get really pissed off recently, when we lost a practice match, 5 v 5. The losers needed to bake a cake. And in the game, I noticed we weren’t going to win. And I realised I had to bake a carrot cake and they would also film that. I almost gave someone a truly nasty kick. I can’t stand losing and my mates and the coaches know this now. They know to leave me alone after a lost match. Don’t make jokes or try to make it all sound as if it doesn’t matter. You’re not doing yourself any favours, hahahaha.”

Ronald Koeman is important in your career. He signed you at the Saints, made you Oranje skipper. But also very critical, like when Giroud scored that goal against you….

“He is allowed to be super critical. I think Koeman is a top coach and he knows how to reach me. I am forever grateful for giving me the opportunity in the EPL. I remember the phone call, when he told me he would sign me from Celtic, but it took time and I waited and waited…”

Was it merely a phone call?

“Yes, we never met. We played qualifiers for the CL. Celtic didn’t want to let me go before we qualified. Only afterwards, Southampton made an offer. And then Celtic said: nah. I got so angry. And late in September I could make my move. He is hands down one of the best coaches I ever worked with, as he is really tough on me and spends a lot of time on me. I have a similar bond now with Klopp at Liverpool. They both demand 100% all the time. Every practice. I love that.”

Do they work a lot on you because of your potential?

“I think so, and I get better with them criticising me, I do see it as a good sign. When we did a pass practice at Southampton, on average, most players would have 6 good passes and 4 stray ones. Koeman didn’t seem to care. But if I had 1 stray pass out of 10, he would come down on me like a thunder storm. I could handle that. He demanded 100% from me.”

What are your weaknesses?

“Hmm, well, I’m not lazy. I think I always work hard, but I can be complacent. Klopp sees it too and is on the alert and my team mates at Liverpool too. James Milner for instance… I told him, I want you to have a right go at me if I am not running back quick enough or seem to be taking things to easy. Just scream in my face, I sometimes need that.”

When did you realise you could become a really big player?

“I think when Koeman told me. He said, if you play without loss of concentration and work 100% hard always, you’ll be moving up from Southampton. And Claude Puel who came after Koeman made me skipper at the Saints.”

That Liverpool move was not a pretty scene though… Lots of problem with Southampton?

“It was hectic because I was quite injured. I never refused to play for Southampton, that was concocted by the media I think. I focused fully on Southampton when I was fit again and played my games and in December, the board allowed me to talk to Liverpool. That was a nice Xmas, we had an extra glass of wine, hahaha.”

The most expensive defender, you become. And you met Gini Wijnaldum at Liverpool. How is your bond?

“Gini is Gini. Always smiling, always happy. We talk a lot. I spoke to him before I came her already, of course. Gini is a good lad, very social and a much much better player than most think. In Holland, he is underrated while in England people recognise his value more and more. He is unbelievably good.”

And then you play the CL finals vs Real Madrid and your goalie has two howlers.

“We went to Oranje straight after so that helped to process it all. And then I went straight on a holiday with my family. We were so close, it did hurt, yes.”

How did Koeman manage to get Oranje to perform as they do?

“It’s his style of coaching, his communication and clarity. Koeman wants to work with a fixed squad, so people know what is expected from them. Sure, when new players suddenly emerge, he will pick them up, like with Dilrosun. The team spirit is amazing, everyone is prepared to walk through fire for their mates. We do a lot of things together and have bonded really well. We talk a lot too, we are becoming closer and closer on and off the pitch. We also have lively tactical talks with Koeman and everyone has a say. We need to hold on to this.”

The move from Noordwijk to Zeist is always mentioned as well…

“And that made a difference, yes. Less distractions. We do more as a team. We have better pitches to work on and the focus is on performing. We also play more games together, not just PlayStation but also table tennis and 30seconds. Everyone wants to win all the time and it’s quite a circus at times. We also have a group app and we can stay in touch like this.”

You ticked off a lot of dreams already, what is next?

“Well, winning trophies. I won three with Celtic. But I also want to win at Wembley one day. I want to win the Champions League and the title here in England. And with Oranje, I want to win a tournament. All big dreams, I know, but if you can’t have big goals, you should stay at home, hahaha.”

Source: Helden Magazine – Barbara Barend


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Why Virgil and Gini will win the CL!

Finally, an English team will break the reign of the Spanish CL rulers. It is possible to break the combination and possession play that dominated European football for so long. In the 2005/06 season, the CL became a chess game on grass. In the four semi final matches, only 2 goals were scored. The average that season, was 2,3 goals per game which is the lowest since 1992/393.  The success of the Italian clubs and conservative coaches like Benitez and Mourinho led a new trend. The best way to win something in Europe, was the thought, is to build a strong defensive organisational unit and hope for a counter attack.

Twelve years later and offensive football is victorious. A trend that started with Barcelona. Between 2006 and 2015 they win the most important prize in club football four times! And with dazzling attacking play. And now, this style is being followed, obviously by Pep Guardiola himself, as he brings Bayern Munich and now Man City to the level of his Barca teams. When Barca wins the trophy in 2011, they are one of the few teams to pass 500+ times per match. In this season’s CL tournament, there are 10 clubs that manage this.

To stop the Barcelonas and Bayern Munichs of dominating, the “park the bus” tactics were used, and with success too! Mourinho with Inter Milan, Chelsea under Di Matteo. Atletico’s Diego Simeone turns it into an art form, by playing a solid 4-4-2  with very tight space between the players in a zonal defensive system.

But it’s a German coach who plants the seed in 2013 as a response to the Spanish combinationdomination. And that seed will result and has already resulted in the spectacle in the Champions League we saw this season…

It’s Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich. Both teams have a football approach that starts with possession of the opponent, but with a thrust of pressure forward. A way of thinking reminiscent of the famous AC Milan team of the late 80s, early 90s under Arrigo Sacchi. Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp: “My teams are modelled on the AC Milan team of Sacchi. He was my mentor. I actually never met him but my former assistant coach Wolfgang Frank, who did work with him.”

Exactly like Milan, Klopp’s teams are trained to re-possess the ball in areas and in moments where losing the ball will bring the opponent immediately into trouble. The opponent is unorganised and Klopp’s team will pounce. In 2013, Dortmund beats Malaga and Real Madrid, while Bayern humiliates Barca by winning 7-0 on aggregate!

It doesn’t result in a new German era of success, but it does bring about the new trend of zonal marking, aggressive forward pressure and immediate pressing when the ball is lost. This is how AS Monaco beats Man City in the CL season last year. And this is how PSG beat Barca 4-0 at home. Sadly, the Parisians lose their cool in the Camp Nou and resort back to their defensive, park-the-bus tactics and actually lose on aggregate…

The UEFA’s annual technical report is quite clear, in the 2016/17 season. More than 20% of all goals are scored from a fast transition in open play from defence to attack. And this is even without all the free kicks and penalty kicks that derive from this. The number of passes to create a goal is decreasing as well. As is the average time it takes to win the ball back and score. And almost half of the goals are the result of possession turnaround high on the pitch, in the final third.

That season, Liverpool isn’t in the CL otherwise the stats would have been even more prolific. In the EPL, Klopp is still faced with teams that are happy to use the long ball and by pass the whole build up. And in the EPL, Liverpool does lose too many points against those opponents. In the CL however, teams like to build up, to pass the ball, have possession and break down an opponent.  In the CL, it helps if you can play out from the back with incisive and risky passing, and it helps if you can re-possess the ball swiftly and set up a lethal attack at the same time. Liverpool can do both.

This Liverpool is not the best organised lot. Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Juventus, Man City and Tottenham come to mind as being much better. But Liverpool is the King of Chaos. With the Reds, it is all about the turn around. When the opponent is just off the pace for seconds. When half the team of the opponent is still in forward motion and the other half breaks down to move back. Whenever Liverpool have the ball, they are prepared for when they lose the ball. When Liverpool are without the ball, they are preparing for the counter attack that will come, when they re-claim the ball. And, when Liverpool does start their turn-around move, they’re sheer unstoppable.

Ready for the press!

Klopp summarized it once as such, when asked what the difference was between Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal and his Liverpool. “Wenger loves to have the ball and loves to play from foot to foot. They’re well structured and balanced. Like an orchestra. They play lovely harmonies. I prefer heavy metal. I like noise. I like chaos.”

The Liverpool Stats on their way to the CL finals are stunning. Out of the 33 goals they scored, 28 goals were set up with less than four passes. No other team has scored or shot on target as often from the turnaround as Liverpool have…

Klopp organises his teams in such a way that winning the ball back equates becoming a threat immediately. This is how it’s done. The Liverpool team will veer with the opponents movement. The pace goes down a bit, every player protecting his zone. The team on the ball will actually believe they get a moment to breath and build up nicely. But Liverpool players are taught to recognise when the opponent gets into trouble. For instance, a pass on a midfielder with his face towards his own goal. Or a square pass to a back who is with his back to the line and has less options. Or a pass lacking the pace. A stray pass. Anything. And when that happens, it’s like Liverpool turns from kittens into leopards. They suddenly increase the intensity and hunt for the ball. Klopp’s team is like a predator, allowing the pray to think they’re safe. Until they’re not anymore.

The moment Nangolain made the wrong pass…

With Mane and Salah up top, Liverpool has the speed. And they work well together with false #9 Firminho, the first station in the counter attack, he will find the pass towards the two speedy forwards. Firminho is also the man to join in and his bursts usually create space for the upcoming midfielders, like Can or Wijnaldum or Oxlade Chamberlain. The Liverpool midfielders are all built for this chaotic style of play. They can all come up with creative solutions under pressure. Klopp: “How I coach the counters? That is not hard. I start with signing players who are willing to work hard every match and who are happy to run constantly, even if they won’t get the ball.”

And Liverpool is away….

And the entertainment value of Liverpool matches is the result of all this, as Liverpool also makes mistakes in their execution. They score 5 against Roma, using their strengths and concede 2 against Roma in situations where the cohesion is gone. When the field becomes too stretched or when a defender misses the challenge, Liverpool can become really open and vulnerable. Klopp doesn’t seem to care. “As long as we score more on the other end…”

These are the 6 principles of Jurgen Klopp’s philosophy:

  1. Lure the Opponent in

Liverpool doesn’t need the ball. Liverpool wants to control space. They determine where the opponent can go and where they can’t. By pressing early and high, opponents can either play the long ball, and there is a fair chance The Reds will win that (Virgil van Dijk) or they play out of the back, which is a high risk game. Because if they lose the leather, the likes of Salah, Mane and Firminho will tear you apart. Liverpool will drop back a bit, giving the opponent the idea it’s safe to start building up and then – as explained above – when a certain risky situation appears, they will pounce. They will all move towards the side where the ball is and suddenly block off the next pass.

2.  Direct the ball towards one side

Liverpool doesn’t mind it when the opponent has the ball as long as they have it where Liverpool wants them to have it. And they do this by not being totally in balance. It’s the smart body language and smart runs that will slowly force the opponent into a certain area. Roberto Firmino is the king of this game. He’s got the intelligence and the energy to repeatedly do this in a match. Klopp will find the weakest link in the opponents team and seemingly leave that player unmarked. Once he is played in (usually a full back) Firminho will move towards the player in such a way that the next pass is predictable. And pray for the next Liverpool player. Another element that is key is the ability of the Liverpool players to “mark” two players. Basically, the midfielders and the defenders of Liverpool are capable of putting pressure on the man with the ball but also by blocking a pass to a team mate of the opponent.

Liverpool forcing the goalie to make the risky pass into one of the central backs

3.  Prepare the trap

When Liverpool is at the point where the opponent is forced to the side where Liverpool wants them, the trap will be set. Liverpool will block every pass, except the one that Liverpool likes to see used. Liverpool keeps one option open and the player under pressure will usually use that option. In some situations, four Liverpool players will be ready to immediately put pressure on the ball with intensity and pace. Once the ball is won, Liverpool can immediately attack.

4. Set the trap

Liverpool, as a result of the number of players used in the trap, will always have players available to release the ball to. There is usually always a man more situation created as a result. Obviously, Liverpool will be understaffed on other areas of the pitch and sometimes a really special player will be able to play the ball in one time in that area, but Klopp is happy to have that risk. Because when Liverpool do win the ball, they have a man more situation (at least one man more) and most of Liverpool’s goals are scored from this situation.

5.   Do get the ball!

Apparently, this is the past where Klopp needed most work. Because putting pressure on the ball or actually getting the ball are different things. Klopp wants his players to go for the kill. Not complacent pseudo challenges. But go for the ball 100%. The result in the 2016/17 season: Liverpool players re-possessed the ball most out of all EPL players, and that includes creative players like Philippe Coutinho.

6.  Attack!

The last ingredient of the Klopp recipe is to actually attack. Don’t repossess the ball and recycle it with a square pass or a back pass. No. Attack! Immediately. The opponent usually is badly organised in these situations and Klopp wants to use that situation. But it does mean his players have to work ever so hard and cover so much ground. With Mane and Salah he has speed and with the likes of Firminho, Wijnaldum, Milner and Can he has the work horses to support.

With this style of play, it is easy to see why the top teams don’t like to play against Liverpool. But it also shows why it ‘s hard for Liverpool to win the EPL title. Most of the teams in the bottom half of the league will not try and dominate, or play possession and walk into the Liverpool trap. Against these teams, the long ball will be used by the opponent and Liverpool will have to find a Plan B to break these clubs down.

Winning the Champions League seems easier for Liverpool than winning the EPL title…

Thanks to VI Pro for the insights…



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Analysis: Why Oranje Fails….

Yay! The poisonous chalice is empty! Now all we need to do is live through that ratchet World Cup and we can start anew. VI Pro is doing us all a huge favour publishing very good and insightful stuff on Dutch football. I will borrow their insights for you in the coming weeks.

This article was published by VI Pro and explains exactly what I tried to say many times but haven’t been able to express as well as the man quoted in this article. The original article zoomed in on Gini Wijnaldum. But the context applies to the whole national team.

And the man to shed light eloquently on our woes, is not Louis van Gaal. It’s not Johan Cruyff, or Wim van Hanegem or Frank de Boer. It’s a guy most of you won’t have heard of: Pepijn Lijnders. In case some of you wonder how to pronounce his name: in English you would spell it like this: Pepine Lineders.

Who the hell is Pepijn Lijnders? Read about it here

The introduction anecdote is about Wijnaldum and Liverpool FC.

The Reds have been practicing a different system in the run up to the West Ham game. The 4-3-3 will be replaced by a tweaked 4-4-2 to stop the ongoing defensive issues. Wijnaldum got injured in the CL match, so Henderson and Can are supposed to play the holding roles in midfield. But Henderson gets injured on the day of the match. Milner, multifunctional, is picked as his replacement, but does he have the legs still, for this role?

Liverpool’s medical team comes with surprising news though. Wijnaldum is fit to play! Jorgen Klopp doesn’t hesitate. He picks Gini for the Henderson role. Wijnaldum did travel to London with the squad but didn’t take his football boots as he wasn’t supposed to play at al… And without having had a minute of training in the new system, Wijnaldum plays the West Ham game, the full 90 minutes, as if he never played in another system his whole life. He is very neat in possession, with Can, he shield and guards the backline and coached and talks to his team mates. Wijnaldum is seen as a key player in Klopp’s Liverpool.

And how different is all of this at Oranje? Wijnaldum seems lost. Like a University student trying to find his way at Primary School. But he can’t make sense of this once so familiar environment….

It’s time to listen to the man who works with him daily. Liverpool assistant coach Pepijn Lijnders.: “Gini is terrific in running and moving. But he needs to have clarity where to move to.”

So, we have four different NT managers and Gini played with seventeen (17!!) different team mates in midfield in different systems and in different roles since that summer in 2014.

With Daley Blind, Gini is the only constant factor in the ratatouille that is the Dutch NT. In this context alone, it’s not strange that Wijnaldum can’t flourish. If the farmer would plough his soil everyday, seeds won’t get the chance to grow.

These are the players Gini played with since the WC2014: Nigel de Jong, Wesley Sneijder, Daley Blind, Leroy Fer, Jordy Clasie, Davy Klaassen, Jonathan de Guzman, Davy Propper, Ibrahim Afellay, Riechedly Bazoer, Marco van Ginkel, Kevin Strootman, Tonny Vilhena, Jorrit Hendrix, Stijn Schaars, Bart Ramselaar, Marten de Roon.

Pepijn Lijnders mentions this lack of consistency as the first reason why there is now flow. “You can’t judge and compare players without the context. Everyone yaps about “lack of quality” but I disagree strongly. What lacks, is stability and leadership. Players need two things: clarity and confidence. And these two elements were lacking.”

He goes on: “The lack of consistency is or was dramatic. in the coaching staff and in the squad. Continuity and a clear match plan to play the opponent in the key moments in the game are highly important factors. Maybe the most important aspect. This is how you go from eleven good players to a very good team!”

And the worst part is: it doesn’t seem all this swirling and swaying hasn’t ended yet. Dick Advocaat hopefully moves on after these friendlies. And the new coach will have to find a way to create a winning team for the Euros 2020. Which means the shuffling about hasn’t ended yet. Lijnders: “Everytime you point one finger to one player, four fingers point to the collective. Problems are never the result of one player, but the result of a failing collective. A simple example: it makes a huge difference if a player needs to defend a space of 10, 20 or 30 meters on the pitch. The bigger that space, the bigger the chance he’ll make an individual mistake. But it all starts with the positioning of the whole team.”

Individually, Wijnaldum is not a great defender. Not at Liverpool, not at Oranje. He doesn’t have the positional smarts of Matic (Man United) to excel in interceptions. Nor does he have the duelling strength of Kante. Put Wijnaldum in a big space in a badly organised Oranje and he looks more and more like the 17 year old Number 10 of Feyenoord: hard working, dynamic, but also wild and without control. That is the Wijnaldum we see in Oranje: a lost footballer in a team without a plan.

But, Wijnaldum has all the tools and ammo that make his so perfect for top football. He has tremendous legs and is extremely disciplined. Ask Wijnaldum, like Van Gaal did in the WC2014, to track his direct opponent for 90 minutes and he will. As if his life depends on it. Wijnaldum hasn’t played for seven months due to injury at that stage, but Van Gaal picks him to make his 5-3-2 work. Since then, the only game in which he excelled was the friendly in June 2016 when his role is to press forward in the Number 10 role. When there is a structure and he has a specified task, Wijnaldum can impress. And this will definitely apply to Strootman, Klaassen, Clasie and many other players who tend to disappoint in the orange jersey.

Lijnders summarizes: “Gini is a wonderful runner. But you need to make it clear to him where and when to run. Everything starts and stops with the distances between the players and the right shape of the team. Clarity amongst the players. So they know what they have to do, and what they can rely upon from their mates. If we practice this time and time again, quality pops up. The individual development will move up. The joy and confidence returns. We never lose a single minute at training to work on this. Our strength, as Liverpool, is this aspect in combination with energy and pace. But you can say this about Napoli, Man City, Bayern, Chelsea…any modern football team. A top team without energy and pace is like driving a Ferrari without fuel in the tank.”

Wijnaldum was on the radar of many big clubs already when he was 14 years old. His family didn’t allow him a big move, where his mates succumbed for the financial carrot. He stayed at Feyenoord until the Rotterdam club needed to sell him to survive financially. Fer and Wijnaldum’s fees saved the club but Gini remained in the Eredivisie. And when he finally did move to Newcastle, Jorgen Klopp and Maurizio Pochettino immediately recognised his skillset for the top level. Both did all they could to persuade the midfielder to move to their club. Both coaches love aggressive pressing play and both needed a catalyst in midfield. Spurs decides to stop the bidding war with Liverpool and Klopp was the victor.

At Liverpool, Wijnaldum is given a speed course defending. Jorgen Klopp: “At Liverpool, no one is responsible for one opponent. Everyone is responsible for everyone.” In other words: all positions need to be taken, all the time. It doesn’t matter by whom. Wijnaldum: “Klopp is very clear about his ideas. And I picked it up quickly. It’s actually great fun to play in a team like this. And when the ball is on the other side of the pitch, I don’t even watch my direct opponent, because I know we pressure the ball so well, that we’ll have it back in no time.”

And all this happens at Liverpool in a playing area on the pitch which is never more than 25 meters. In the Klopp model, Wijnaldum isn’t so much the man who wins the ball back, but the man who ignites the fires. Lijnders: “Exactly. The team wins the ball, preferably as high up the pitch as possible. So Gini doesn’t play man to man, he is responsible for the covering of passing lines and he takes the initiative to push up and forward.”

Pepijn Lijnders and Jurgen Klopp

A good example, against West Ham. Fernandes wants to dribble forward with the ball and it’s Wijnaldum stepping up around the middle line to put pressure on the West Ham player. He has two options, go for the short pass or play a long ball. If he picks the short pass option, two or three Liverpool players will be ready to corner the West Ham player. He decides to play a long pass, hastily, which sails over everyone into the safe hands of Mignolet. The stats won’t show the work and contribution of Wijnaldum, but no one at Liverpool needs statistics to understand Wijnaldum’s value in the team.

But the minute he strolls into Hotel Huis ter Duin to join the Oranje squad, the value of the midfielder diminishes as Oranje lacks all these patterns. In the Premier League, he’s responsible for a zone and passing lines. In Oranje, he is responsible for a direct opponent. Lijnders thinks this is not necessarily a problem. “He is a top pro and an intelligent player. The only change for him, is to change his focus.”

Wijnaldum himself: “Klopp alway says: it’s not the best players that win the title. It’s not the best team that wins it, but the team with the best plan.”

And there is the problem. A plan, that is exactly what Oranje has been lacking since the World Cup 2014. Since Wijnaldum made the move to Liverpool, he only scored one goal for Oranje: against Liverpool. Pretty poor for a player whose strength is to penetrate the box at the right time. This strong suit of the midfielder is well hidden in Oranje.

Whenever Wijnaldum changes from red to orange, he shoots less, he is less often in the opponent’s box, he passess less and creates less opportunities. Lijnders: “That is such a waste. Gini is a quick passer. Always ready to press and ready to switch the play. But, when he has less options, like any player, he becomes predictable and loses his strength. He is such an amazing pass & move player, has eye for the forward pass and is very solid in possession. Jurgen Klopp has a lot of faith in him.”

Lijnders and Wijnaldum

Strootman, Memphis, Robben, they’re all the victim of the poor positioning game of the Dutch national team. The bad positioning results usually in square balls instead of depth. Robben is forced to dribble against multiple opponents. And the more the defenders play square, the easier it is for the opponent, even the weaker ones, to keep their shape.

Lijnders sees that Wijnaldum is at his best when he can trust his intuition in the turn-around situations at Liverpool. “We have a very tight organisation with Liverpool, with lots of movement around the ball. Add the talent of our players and we can give colour to the game in specific moments. This is where you need practice practice practice. To create the circumstances in which our talent can blossom. And that is exactly what Oranje needs. Speed is the result of movement. By having options. Through spaces being opened up. Timing. By picking the right spot to move into, there are more options for a player on the ball to pick the pass. Unpredictability is the result of movement. There is no easy way to do this. It takes practice practice practice. That is the only way.”

A very hopeful analysis and conclusion. When Oranje can start to build a new team with a solid plan, we will be able to see the Wijnaldum of Liverpool, the Memphis of Lyon, the Quincy of Spartak and the Dost of Sporting…


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Wesley Sneijder's decision to move to Turkey…

Gobbledegook…. Turkey time…

28 years old. Skipper of Oranje. One of the best playmakers – if not the best – on the planet. Won titles. Won Champions League trophy. Played for Ajax, Real Madrid, Inter Milan… Next stop…. Manchester? Nope. London? Nope. Liverpool? Nope. Munich? Nope. Barcelona, Valencia, Moscow, Paris….Nope.


Why, a lot of people will say….. WHY? WWWWWWHHHHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY????????

Well, simple. There were no other takers. Man United sniffed a bit. Liverpool made some moves. Man City hesitated. Anzhi made inquiries. But Galatasaray was the only club putting a concrete deal on the table.

Wes even waited for Liverpool to come with a serious offer… but it wasn’t to be.

So Wes had the option to stay at Inter, make a lot of money (still) but not play. Lose his spot in Oranje. Lose fitness.

Or, go to a club where they will revere him, where he will play CL football and where he can prove his fitness. My idea is, that he has a limited transfer sum in his new deal with the Turks.

Galatasaray paid 8 Mio Euros for the playmaker. If Wesley plays a great second season half (based on his limited transfer sum of say – 15 Mio), a club like Chelsea, Man City or Man United might decide to have a bite.

Time is tough for big transfers now. No club is capable of spending mega-bucks at the moment, and Wesley is picking the best option for him and his international career.

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Stars in your Eyes – by Alex

Hello my friends…. A great article on Ryan Babel by our “talent expert”, Alex.

June 2005, the world cup Under 20 was on its way right here in the Netherlands and we were enthusiastic. As usual, we had some very promising young players on the way, they would be the next superstars of Oranje, of the world, all they needed was time. Time they got but many of those stars in our eyes failed to shine.

Today I will be introducing my concept contribution to the blog and focusing on one recently receiving renewed attention on our blog; Ryan Babel. 

Who were those ‘stars-to-be’. To give you an idea, the selection included familiar names like Kenneth Vermeer, Urby Emanuelson, Ron Vlaar, Hedwiges Maduro and Ryan Babel. But how about current Bosnian international and ‘balvirtuoos’ Haris Medunjanin, reliable Dwight Tiendalli (now at Swansea), half a twin Jeroen Drost, former mister overweight Collins John and Prince Rajcomar… Anyway, it is striking how few of the talents from then actually delivered on their promise. A headline from the time: ‘Who are the stars of under-20?’ revealed our poorly hidden optimism. The absolute star of the team was Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, but in his shadows, the tower of Babel began its construction. From the grounds of Ajax’ youth academy and the Oranje selections came a bright young star striker named Ryan Babel. 

Already a first team international (scoring a goal on his debute vs Romania), Babel proved one of the promises of the future, a classy striker to be like many before him. Described as a modern striker: fast, agile, handy, and able to get past a man AND score a goal.

Coach Marco van Basten first picked him for the big Oranje. Indeed he still has all the attributes to make it big, nothing has changed there. Since the U-20 world cup (where oranje stranded in a quarter final penalty series) his star kept shining bright, where Quincy and Collins John stayed in their relative poor positions at respectively Arsenal (followed by Spartak Moscow and Al-Sadd ) and Fulham (with loans to several clubs). Babel made his way into Ajax 1 and Oranje 1. Despite being marked as a central striker, Babel was most frequently used as a winger, never really nailing down a spot, the talent was there, but it never blossomed and more often than we would’ve liked, he made a very uninspired impression. He continued to play regularly and then there it was: the U-21 European Championship. Foppe de Haan was our coach and Babel the main man. 

Our Frisian tactician Foppe devised a surprising squad and a peculiar line-up with an unconventional striker duo. Long time hot-shot Ryan Babel was partnered to nobody Maceo Rigters, a combination that proved most successful, earning unknown Rigters the title of tournament topscorer with Babel shining as the shadow striker, the ‘aangever’. The partnership needed time to grow but culminated by a superb performance in the final where Babel dished out subtle passes left and right, grabbing a few goals himself during the tournament.

Ryan Babel annoying many fans with his musical career….

Finally he showed what most of us knew, that he had the potential to be a class player. Then and there the success story got its dream ending when the team grabbed the title in an impressing display of football excellence, crushing Serbia 4-1 in Groningen’s Euroborg stadium. It didn’t take long for the big clubs to take notice, having been on international scouting lists for years. The 20-year-old Amsterdam striker made his way overseas, being snapped up by Liverpool FC for a phenomenal sum of close to 18 million euro’s. 

It proved an unsatisfactory move for the self-proclaimed part time rapper as Rafa Benitez often kept him on the bench. In fact, the impressive performance of young oranje was mostly down to a well balanced team where the two strikers formed the end of the line, enjoying a plentiful supply through some very dynamic and productive wingers (Drenthe and De Ridder), making them the final link in the chain. At Liverpool, the few rare occasions where he was indeed on the pitch, saw him being employed as a winger, and only on occasion in the strikers role he always desired to be. On a few instances, the brilliant striker in him showed. With several trademark goals cutting inside from the wing, pulling the trigger from a distance.

Most notably though his sublime goal versus Derby County.
 (Putting two Derby-players on the wrong foot in one move)

Roy Hodgson’s arrival at Liverpool proved of little help for his career and a move out seemed inevitable. A move to Hoffenheim was on its way, the Bundesliga was the place where Babel hoped to revive his career. His disappointing German fairytale soon ended when the root of his career knocked on the door. Ajax brought back the lost Godenzoon for just a fraction of the price they sold him for. Coach Frank de Boer managed to get the striker to buy off his own contract and make the move back to Eredivisie for free. At Ajax, Babel seems to prove once again that however talented he may be, a seeming lack of consistency and ability to rise above a few rare moments of brilliance render him unfit for the international top. Ajax may have earned themselves 18 million because of Foppe de Haan’s managing skills. 
It seems the striking talent indeed resembles the biblical story in many ways. However impressive at first glance, a rough gem, permanently in scaffolding. It remains unclear whether Babel will ever reach and attain top form as a striker, for now though, he is useful enough for Ajax, proving a weapon with his speed and ability to score. For now, he remains an eternal talent, with so much potential gone to waste. Like many of his former team mates of that U-20 tournament, never reaching the level that was expected of them. Since he will be turning 26 this year, only time will tell if he ever will mature enough to reach beyond the Ajax level.

It just goes to show, talent alone does not get you there in top sports. 

For now, his performances do not warrant a return in the Oranje jersey, but I will be following him with great interest. 

Hope you enjoyed, 

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