Tag Archives: Virgil Van Dijk

Liverpool facing defensive crisis: can they come out on top?

Liverpool, already without talismanic central defender Virgil van Dijk were dealt another huge blow on Tuesday night when Fabinho pulled up, before being forced off with a hamstring problem.

The Brazilian had been deputising, successfully, for the missing Dutchman when he stopped in his tracks whilst defending an FC Midtylland attack in the UEFA Champions League.

Indeed, Reds fans and players alike wait with bated breath for the severity of the injury. It is almost certain they will be without Fabinho for at least the weekends visit of West Ham to Anfield.

Central defender Joel Matip also remains side-lined, leaving Jurgen Klopp with just one senior central defender – Joe Gomez.

So how can the Premier League champions cope with such flimsy numbers? I’ve had a look at the options…

Youngsters

Tuesday night saw 19-year-old Rhys Williams play out the remaining hour, and in doing so the powerful looking teenager looked comfortable as he helped the Reds to a clean sheet.

Williams seems most likely to start on Saturday in the absence of Fabinho, although Nat Phillips will be pushing for a place after he spent the 2019/20 campaign season playing senior football for Stuttgart in the German Bundesliga 2.

Versatility

Fabinho himself was operating out of position when his injury came and there is a chance captain Jordan Henderson could be asked to do the same after playing in the role during the FIFA World Club Cup last term.

Missing Henderson’s influence in midfield, however, may be too much of a blow to Klopp’s side.

Should James Milner, Thiago, Naby Keita and Gini Wijnaldum all be fit and available, there is certainly scope for Henderson to drop back into centre-half temporarily.

Time

Albeit an obvious huge blow to Liverpool, and indeed their title chances, with an impended international break and with football a little all over the place at the moment, there is hope the Reds could make it to January without suffering too much damage to their hopes.

In January they would at least have the option of signing reinforcements, with many names linked with the club. The likes of Dayot Upamecano, Ben White and Ozan Kabak to name just a few.

In the mean time Klopp, fans and teammates will be hoping Fabinho’s injury isn’t serious, Matip can get run of fitness, and Rhys Williams can deputise successfully. All of this while not dropping too many points along the way, which with a trip to rivals Manchester City on the horizon, may be easier said than done.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WEDNESDAY NIGHT PREVIEW

Following Manchester United’s successful trip to Paris on Tuesday, both Liverpool and Manchester City will be looking to emulate their rivals with successful starts to their 2020/21 UEFA Champions League campaigns.

Here are your previews ahead of the big games on Wednesday night…

Real Madrid v Shakhtar Donetsk 17.55

Madrid will be hoping for a better European venture third time around having been eliminated at the quarter-final stage in August. Still possessing plenty of quality, Zinedine Zindane’s men are rightfully still considered a real thrrst at the business end of the compeition.

However, off the back of a surprise home defeat to Cadiz in La Liga, Los Blancos perhaps aren’t the side they once were.

They should still have enough quality to come past the Ukrainian champions.

Manchester City v Porto 20.00

Pep Guardiola will be without star performer Kevin De Bruyne for the visit of Porto on matchday one. Despite this they will go into the match as huge favourites, and joint favourites with Bayern Munich for the competition outright.

City are desperate to end their wait for European success and will hope a solid start against Porto will set them on their way.

Their Portuguese visitors are no easy task, and will boast West Ham loanne Felipe Anderson as part of their squad.

Ajax v Liverpool 20.00

This meeting between two of the giants of European football will come as a welcome break for Liverpool from talking about injuries, VAR controversy and that derby day draw.

As we all by now know Virgil van Dijk will miss this game, and perhaps the remainder of the season. Both Alisson and Thiago also miss out for the Reds whilst Jurgen Klopp does welcome back Naby Keita into his squad.

Ajax still present a major opposition, albeit a little stripped of their quality players who helped them reach the semi-finals of the competition during 2018/19, the year Liverpool made it six.

Bayern Munich v Atletico Madrid 20.00

A clash of epic proportions see’s holders play host to Liverpool’s extra time conqureors Atletico Madrid.

Hansi Flicks men are many peoples favourites to make it back to back Champions League’s whilst Diego Simeone’s charges are always difficult to beat.

This match promises to be a battle of free-flowing attack against rigid well organised defence.

Other Fixtures

RB Salzburg v Locomotiv Moscow, Midtylland v Atlanta, Olympiacos v Marseille, Inter Milan v Borussia Monchengladbach

NO VIRGIL, NO TITLE?

With Liverpool’s central defensive colossal Virgil van Dijk likely to miss the remainder of the 2020/21 season following a frankly hideous knee high challenge from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

After scans and a trip to the specialist confirmed the centre-back had suffered damage to his ACL, the Reds chances of back to back Premier League titles have taken a huge blow.

But does the absence of the Dutchman mean Jurgen Klopp’s men cannot defend their crown?

Here’s the reasons for and against Liverpool being able to challenge without their main man.

Against

Virgil van Dijk has undoubtedly been a major contributing factor to the recent success at Anfield. Since his arrival from Southampton in January 2018 the 29 year old has been almost a constant at the heart of the Reds defence, stopping almost all comers and solidifying a previously shaky backline.

The Netherlands captain hasn’t just brought clean sheets and the occasional towering headed goal to Klopp’s side, he has been instrumental in bringing the sixth UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, and the much sought after Premier League title back to Anfield for the first time in 30 years.

His absence leaves Klopp with only Joe Gomez and Joel Matip as available out and out centre-backs, with Fabinho a willing and able deputy. As well as youngsters Billy Koumetio and Rhys Williams, who despite their obvious talents, are someway off being ready for Premier League action right now.

Clearly a huge concern for the Reds who have already shipped seven goals away to Aston Villa this term, with van Dijk in the side. Surely a team who have been so reliant on the Dutchman, who has barely missed a minute’s action since he arrived on Merseyside, can’t cope without him?

For

Despite the obvious hole left in the middle of the defence not only in terms of ability, but also leadership and organisationally, in a league campaign which to date has seen goals aplenty, Liverpool certainly have the firepower to cut it with the rest, and could well adopt a more pragmatic defensive approach with their remaining options, whilst going all out attack at the other end.

The Liverpool squad, whilst now low on defensive numbers, has the midfield quality to both shore up a match as well as attacking one, something which could prove pivotal whilst VVD sits out.

Another interesting plot twist could be the almost impending January transfer window. Previously the club have been reluctant to spend big without securing the finances, however, given the nature of the loss and the situation, their hand could well be forced.

Providing Klopp’s men are still within touching distance of any title race, the German boss could well be on the lookout for a big name centre-half in the mid-season window. This was most likely something that was expected to wait until next summer, however, these plans will almost certainly now be accelerated. A shrewd acquisition getting the second half of the season under his belt and a returning to full health van Dijk could well bode well for future seasons.

There is, however, some good news for the Red half of Merseyside with the impending return of their number one keeper Alisson Becker in the next week or so. The Brazilian was initially expected to be out for six to eight weeks, but it turns out he could now make an earlier than planned comeback. This will almost certainly help sure up the Premier League Champions at times shaky back line.

One final point to make for Liverpool still being capable of retaining their title is the current shape of the league. As things stand it doesn’t seem as though any potential winners will need to acquire 90+ points like they have in recent seasons, Man City with 98 in 2018/19 and Liverpool with 99 last term for example. Instead it seems this year the league could be won with far fewer points, pointing towards a level of consistency lower than we’ve seen previously – whilst Liverpool had a healthy Virgil van Dijk.

Ultimately time will of course tell and there’s no doubting the magnitude of the loss, however, there remains hope Liverpool could still mount a serous title challenge, and in truth perhaps even still run out comfortable winners. But it’s been made far harder with the absence of one of the best around over the last few seasons.

Premier league 2020/21: WHO CAN WIN IT?

The new Premier League season begins this weekend, unbeleivably as it seems like only yesterday we were waving goodbye to the last season.

Ahead of the 2020/21 season, we have some questions surrounding the top of the table. Can Pep’s Manchester City rid themselves of last years frailties and compete for longer this time? Or will Liverpool continue their consistency and defend their title?

Let’s not rule out the possibility of Manchester United’s continuing their progression and it would be almost insanity to dismiss Chelsea, given their spends, wouldn’t it?

Here’s how I think the teams involved in the upper echelons of the Premier League title race will play out in 2020/21…

Liverpool

The reigning champions. Jurgen Klopp’s side may have ended the season in somewhat bizarre fashion as they rather limped over the line following lock-down and title celebrations. That should not take away from the sheer dominance the Reds imparted on the Premier League.

While many people question the business, or lack of business done by the champions up until now, its my belief only minor changes are required, if any at all.

Natural left-back cover for Andy Robertson was required and has been found in Greek international Kostas Tsimikas.

One saga, which rumbles on is the Thiago Alcantara links, now joined by the Gini Wijnaldum to Barcelona rumours. Whilst many Liverpool fans may argue why not have both? I’m not sure there is room both in the current group, a squad that already boasts a plethora of central midfield options and the two players are of a similar mould.

The main bone of contention continues to be the back-up options to the starting XI. Should Klopp face a long-term injury to his front-line options the understudies may not be of a level required, although in truth that is the case of almost every team in world football. Not many can be a suitable understudy to Virgil van Dijk.

Overall, I believe Liverpool will go on to retain their title, the relentless nature in which Klopp has his squad churning out results is very difficult to keep up with week on week. Don’t be surprised by the growing influence of some of the younger players, in particular Curtis Jones, and also Naby Keita may finally find his feet in English football.

Manchester City

The main contenders to take Liverpool’s crown, Pep Guardiola’s well furnished Man City side.

There is little doubt 2019/20 can be viewed as somewhat of a failure from a sky blue perspective in Manchester. As glorious a victory as the Carabao Cup may have been, a side comprised of such talent and expenditure is expected to finish closer than 18 points off the summit. Not to mention the dismal UEFA Champions League exit.

That, however, was last term, how about now? The arrival of Nathan Ake certainly plugs a crack in the issues faced at City, a forced to be reckoned with going forwards, just ask Watford, but defensively they were often found wanting, just ask Adama Traore. However, I’m not sure Ake is the answer, for one the Dutchman is very much a left-sided centre-back, similarly to Aymeric Laporte. On top of which, despite being a more than decent operator at Premier League level, he isn’t elite, and City are operating amongst that level.

Elsewhere, the club has seen the departure of David Silva from the Etihad, a fine servant to the football club who leaves with the knowledge he will be forever immortalised in statue form. On the field, in a more mobile capacity, Silva is likely to be replaced by the much praised but lesser seen Phil Foden.

Pep has also spent £20 million on former Valencia man Ferran Torres, a 20 year old right winger who arrives with plenty of plaudits and provides competition to the likes of Rihad Mahrez, Bernado Silva and Foden himself.

Whilst the transfer window remains open there is always the chance City could strengthen further, although the Lionel Messi links have now subsided, as things stand in the week of the season’s opening day they haven’t addressed the areas of the squad suitable to overcome an 18 point swing.

Manchester United

Despite the obvious improvement in the past six months, particularly since Bruno Fernandes arrived back in January, there are still areas of weakness at Old Trafford.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær is learning on the job somewhat and with that there is bound to come mistakes, certainly when up against seasoned campaigners over a prolonged period.

Despite the frailties, however, it should be another year of progression for the red half of Manchester, who have already bolstered their midfield ranks with the arrival of Donny van de Beek from Ajax. One or two more signings, particularly in defensive positions and they should find themselves cutting the gap to the top two.

Chelsea

Who haven’t they signed? One thing is for sure is the Blues are set to be an enthralling watch with the attacking prowess in their currently huge squad.

Boasting the likes of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, to name but a few, Frank Lampard’s side will give anybody a match on their day, but it’s consistency they may lack to begin with.

They shipped goals all too regularly to maintain prolonged title challenge last term and as things stand that won’t change too much, despite the arrival of the vastly experienced Thiago Silva, it’ll remain a difficult ask to breach the gap to the top two.

Any Other Contenders

Whilst the Premier League has seen Leicester City win the title against the odds, it seems unlikely 2020/21 will see another Claudio Ranieri and Jamie Vardy shaped fairy-tale, but you never know. The main protagonists would of course be Tottenham and Arsenal, although the rivals may be best focusing on breaking into the top four instead of harbouring serious title ambitions.

Outside of the North Londoners, perhaps Wolves could be considered for a tilt for a time being, however a 38 game threat seems unlikely at this stage.

With over a month left in the transfer window anything can happen (Messi), but for now it’s back to back Liverpool glory. After-all, top flight domestic titles are like Mersey Ferries, you wait 30 years for one and two come along at once….

Odsonne Edouard: Celtic’s ‘French Eddy’ Who is Ripping Up the SPL

Celtic kicked off their charge for a record breaking 10 Scottish Premiership titles in a row by dismantling Hamilton 5-1 at home.

French forward Odsonne Edouard picked up where he left off last season by netting a hat-trick, and picking up the man of the match award after another impressive display.

The 22 year old is subject to Premier League interest, with Arsenal the latest club to be linked to the striker, seeing him as an ideal replacement for Aubameyang should the Gabonese international choose to leave the Gunners this summer.

Celtic are still confident of hanging on to Edouard, with their hopes of becoming the first Scottish side to win 10 league titles in a row, largely hinging on the forward staying at Celtic Park.

This is because Edouard has become such a pivotal figure for Celtic since first arriving at the club on loan in 2017 from PSG.

A relatively unknown entity at the time, aged just 19, Edouard had risen through the ranks at PSG but had failed to break into the first team at the Parc de Princes.

This was through no fault of his own but rather the star studded line up at PSG blocking his path to the starting eleven.

He first showcased his evident talent on a big stage in 2015, when he was named player of the tournament and was top goalscorer with 8 goals as France won the U17 European Championships.

After a failed loan spell at Toulouse the season after, the Frenchman swapped Paris for Glasgow, agreeing a season long loan switch to Brendan Rodgers’ side with an option to buy at the end of it.

A goal on his debut against Hamilton would set the tone for Edouard’s time on Glasgow’s East End to date. He made 29 appearances that season, netting 11 goals and providing 4 assists, a decent return for his first full season in senior men’s football.

The highlight of his and many Celtic fans’ campaign was undoubtedly his winner at Ibrox in March at the Old Firm game, which was a glimpse of what was to come from the Frenchman.

Celtic had come from behind twice in the game before being reduced to 10 men in the second half. With 69 minutes on the clock Eduoard received the the ball on the left hand side. He darted into the area before dropping his shoulder and cutting inside, curling an effort into the far corner to send the travelling Celtic faithful into hysterics.

A month later he would bag a brace against the same opposition, to really endear himself to Hoops fans as Celtic romped to a double treble.

With countryman Moussa Dembele departing in the summer of 2018 to Lyon for a fee of £20 million, Celtic were able to break their transfer record to bring ‘French Eddy’ (as he is fondly known by Celtic fans) back to Celtic Park on a permanent deal.

The deal was reportedly worth £9 million, a sum which Celtic could quadruple now if they were willing to cash in on Edouard, given his performances over the past two seasons.

With Dembele moving on, the Frenchman was now Celtic’s main frontman, with Rodgers, and his successor Neil Lennon opting to play with just a sole striker in either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 formation.

Edouard carried that burden superbly well, registering 22 goals and 8 assists in all competitions as Celtic secured a monumental ‘treble treble.’

He seems like a manager’s dream for a striker. He is strong and his hold up play is great, he can regularly be seen holding off a defender before bringing others into play and continuing his run into the box to get on the end of the cross.

He has an explosive turn of pace, is good at dribbling and in one v one situations and has the eye for a killer pass.

His finishing is first class, he is comfortable on either foot and his goal compilations involve various types of finishes, whether that be long range screamers, curling efforts, tap ins or deft side foot placements into the far corner, Edouard has it all in his locker.

Although in some games he may fend off scraps and be uninvolved in build up play, he comes alive in and around the penalty area. If he is presented with just one opportunity, odds he will pounce.

He showed all these admirable attributes last campaign in what was his best season in green to date. Edouard found the back of the net 27 times and provided a further 19 assists in all competitions.

With the SPL taking the decision to curtail the league with 8 games remaining it is frightening to think how many more goals Edouard could have netted, especially considering his form since the turn of the year.

Lennon’s decision to switch to a 3-5-2 formation after the winter break as well as the up turn in form of full back Greg Taylor all benefitted Edouard tremendously.

Firstly, he struck up a great partnership with fellow frontman Leigh Griffiths. After leading the line on his own for much of the season, having another player around him helped Edouard to become more involved in the game and he linked up really well with Griffiths for a number of his own goals and others scored by the Hoops.

Manager Neil Lennon was full of praise for the duo in February telling Celtic TV:

“He (Edouard) is a mercurial talent. If you look at both his goals at the weekend they are very difficult and he makes them look easy.

“His movement off the ball, I think it helps sometimes having a body around him, him and Griff, particularly at Kilmarnock, the two of them linked up brilliantly. His all-round game is improving all the time.”

Secondly, the three at the back allowed Lennon to deploy the more attack minded full backs Taylor and Jeremie Frimpong further up the pitch, which worked to devastating effect for the champions, and in particular Edouard.

The Frenchman thrives off crosses into the box, and the two full backs are experts at delivering pinpoint balls into dangerous areas.

Given his considerable height he is good in the air but Edouard is also incredibly quick and intelligent. His movement is incredible. He often starts at the edge of the area and makes darting runs across the defenders before arriving on the scene just in time to latch onto the ball and score.

Celtic won nine of their next 10 games after the tactical tweak with Edouard getting on the scoresheet nine times and setting up four other goals, as Celtic landed an unprecedented quadruple treble and Edouard scooped the club’s

Celtic reverted to a back four for their opening game of the 20/21 season, with Edouard again the sole striker, but the outcome was the same, a roaring success as the Frenchman was too hot to handle for the Accies.

Celtic have slapped a £40 million price tag on Eduaord’s head to fend off interest, as they are hell bent on keeping the striker for at least another year, with boss Lennon telling reporters after the game at the weekend:

“We don’t want him to go anywhere!”

Given that the full extent of financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic on clubs have yet to been revealed, it is a hefty price to pay and a huge gamble to take for a Premier League club, especially one like Crystal Palace who are rumoured to be interested, given that that could amount to nearly all their transfer budget.

Edouard will feel indebted to Celtic for giving him his break in football, and he seems settled in Glasgow. He has a great relationship with the fans, who adore him, he is a well liked member of the squad and has embraced the ethos of the club very well, understanding the history and what it means to play for Celtic.

It is therefore difficult to see him leaving this summer with the allure of the opportunity to write his name into Celtic and Scottish folklore looming very large in the background. It will take a huge offer to prise Celtic’s jewel from their all conquering crown.

If a lucky club manages to do so they may have unearthed another gem from Scotland, and Edouard will hope to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Andy Robertson and Virgil Van Dijk before him, fellow exports who have made it to the pinnacle of world football.