Jurgen Klopp is furious about Cameroon moving the Africa Cup of Nations to January 2021, something that would hinder the Reds’ likely title defense.
(No, Klopp is not counting his title chickens before they hatch, even if it’s a foregone conclusion).
Cameroon moved the tournament from summer to winter due to its climate, which seems like a decision that could’ve been made ages ago. The nation had hosting rights stripped away for the 2019 tournament, but will host in 2021.
The Reds could be without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Naby Keita for the better part of a month should Senegal, Guinea, and Egypt all qualify for the tournament. Joel Matip could be there with hosts Cameroon if the federation is successful in convincing him to return to the international fold.
Klopp went on a lengthy and mostly understandable diatribe against the move. We write mostly because there’s something lost in translation regarding the import of the tournament.
He’s upset at how it will tax his squad and how he keeps the players happy if he needs to add players just to deal with one month of the schedule.
“Do we really want to open this book? I couldn’t respect Africa Cup of Nations more than I do, I like it, I’ve watched it a lot. Difficult circumstances a lot of times,” Klopp said, via The Liverpool Echo. “It is another tournament, there are too many of them. Other thing is it doesn’t help African players. We won’t sell Naby, Mo or Sadio because of it but if we bring someone in, it affects the decision. Normal process. We have to think about that. Players aren’t asked. … FIFA, who should [step in] doesn’t look like being involved. It’s a strange situation. If we want lesser games they will say take less money. I will say, I am ready to do so. Yes.”
“For us it’s a catastrophe, If we say (a player) can’t go, he’s suspended. How can the club who pay his salary not decide. If he’s injured and we say he cannot play for us, we have to send him to Africa so they can have a look. We don’t have any say. We just plan the route. These are all things that should not be like this. I speak about it now and no one will listen. The moaner from Liverpool again. It’s a complete waste of time. As long as nothing changes, I will keep saying it. It’s about the players, not me.”
The January schedule is filling up, and teams are hoping to navigate the crowded fixture lists with injuries piling up through the winter months. With the FA Cup returning next week and managers hoping to limit minutes as much as possible, this weekend’s games will be critical.
The race for the Champions League spots is heating up, and a number of teams can make serious moves this weekend.
Can Spurs gain ground against the tide? [ STREAM ]
Watford v. Tottenham Hotspur, Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN)
Tottenham doesn’t have Harry Kane. We know that. It’s time for Jose Mourinho to put up or shut up. Spurs haven’t scored in either of their last two Premier League games, and now Mourinho has had the time to figure things out. They now travel to Watford who is running on a high, having won each of their last three league games despite some discipline issues. The Hornets haven’t lost since December 4, which feels like an eternity ago.
Will Arsenal continue to improve under Mikel Arteta? [ STREAM ]
Arsenal v. Sheffield United, Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN)
The Gunners have shown real – but slow – improvement under Mikel Arteta. There are still serious flaws, however, and Sheffield United is a team that can take advantage if given the chance. This is a litmus test match for the Gunners, and a win could get them as many as three places in the table. They were held off the scoresheet against the Blades last time around, and could complete their first double over Arsenal since the 40’s. Oh yea, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is out suspended, a massive loss for the Gunners up front.
Can Aston Villa pull themselves out of the relegation zone, and Brighton into it? [ STREAM ]
Brighton Hove & Albion v. Aston Villa, Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold)
Aston Villa was pummeled by six Man City goals last time out, and the feeling around Villa Park is one of trepidation. Still, the results are there to give fans some hope, and one this weekend would turn things around completely. Three points on the road at Brighton would draw them level with the Seagulls in the table and give them a huge boost in the crowded relegation battle. Jack Grealish has been a motor for Villa this season, but the critical component in a game like this is the defense, a back line that’s given up 43 goals in 22 matches. Will Brighton punish the Villains at the Amex?
Which Chelsea will show up on Tyneside? [ STREAM ]
Newcastle United v. Chelsea, Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC)
Chelsea has been extremely Jeckell & Hyde over the past month, with wins over Arsenal and Spurs but losses to Bournemouth and Southampton and a draw with Brighton. All told, it’s been two months since their last back-to-back wins. Newcastle, meanwhile, put together a draw against a scrappy Wolves side before punishing Rochdale in their FA Cup replay. Christian Pulisic is still injured, but the Blues remain one of the strongest attacking threats in the Premier League. A road loss, however, and the five-point gap to Manchester United could thin considerably.
Can Manchester United put in a shift against Liverpool? [ STREAM ]
Liverpool v. Manchester United, Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)
What a test for Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Defensive problems at key moments have plagued Manchester United this season, and like Chelsea, inconsistencies have proven vital. This game is critical for Solskjaer in the top four race, because a loss risks them falling a significant eight points back of the Champions League places. Still, while the United defense doesn’t instill fear in Premier League opponents, they’ve pulled out solid shifts against good teams this season, like holding both Spurs and Manchester City to a single goal in early December.
Liverpool can afford a few missteps, and Jurgen Klopp has managed his players’ minutes to perfection this campaign. A 14-point lead at the top of the table and a game in hand over Man City means we could see more players rested, and that gives the Red Devils even more hope.
With Jurgen Klopp‘s side 14 points clear at the top of the table, Man United would love to play the role of spoilers and they are the only team to take points from Liverpool so far this season as they are in a battle for a top four finish. And, just leaving this here, Man United have only lost one of their last 11 Premier League games against Liverpool…
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a big decision to make as it is certainly not worth risking Rashford’s long-term fitness, even for a game as important as this one. With Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay injured, United’s midfield will likely be manned by Fred and Matic, with either Jesse Lingard or Andreas Pereira playing ahead of them and Mata starting in place of Rashford on the left. In defense it will be interesting to see if Brandon Williams gets the nod over Luke Shaw as he continues his impressive rise, while the rest of the back four picks itself.
The big worry for United is that if Rashford is out injured, they will lose a lot of their pace on the counter as their plan will likely be to sit back and look to hit Liverpool on the break. The gamble will then be whether or not it makes sense to play Mason Greenwood in attack to replace Rashford, with the teenager showing huge potential but an atmosphere like the one at Anfield may be too risky.
As for Klopp, things are very straightforward for him. Liverpool Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren back in training after their lengthy absences but it is unlikely the two center backs will start given Joe Gomez looks steady once again after a run of games alongside the silky brick wall that is Virgil Van Dijk. Oxlade-Chamberlain will play alongside Henderson and Wijnaldum in midfield with Keita and Milner out injured, while Fabinho is also back in training but is unlikely to be rushed back. The front three and full backs pick themselves.
Below we share our potential starting lineups for both teams for the intense battle at Anfield this Sunday.
Southampton have won six of their last nine Premier League games and in that period only Liverpool have won more points than them, as Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side have totally transformed their season. Ings scoring over 50 percent of their goals has, obviously, played a huge part in that as he’s scored winners against Tottenham and Leicester in shock back-to-back victories.
The red-hot Saints host Wolverhampton Wanderers this Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) hoping to make it six wins in seven in all competitions as their amazing run of form has coincided with Ings being in the form of his life. With that in mind we went along to Southampton’s training ground in England’s New Forest National Park to speak to the man who sits second in the Premier League’s goalscoring charts.
Full disclosure, this is not the first time I’ve met or spoken to Danny Ings. Back in 2015 I was working on a longform story detailing his rise to Liverpool, via Burnley and Bournemouth, as he’d just made his England debut after breaking into Liverpool’s first team as a regular. I visited his dad Shayne and his partner Sue, and spoke to his family and others close to him as he was set to be the next big thing in English soccer at the age of 23.
Ings then ruptured his ACL in Jurgen Klopp‘s first training session as Liverpool boss. And then did it again two years later. He moved to his hometown club Southampton on an initial loan in 2018 and the $26 million deal became permanent last summer. It is the best deal Southampton have made in some time.
With 16 goals to his name in all competitions this season, and 10 in his last 11 appearances in the Premier League, he’s in the form of his life in front of his family and friends. He is dubbed “King of the Scummers” by Saints fans who revel in his two goals in a 4-0 win away at League One Portsmouth, their bitter rivals, in the League Cup earlier this season and he admitted that game, and becoming even more of a local hero, kickstarted his season.
As he smiles widely while rubbing his heavily tattooed hand across his chin, Ings is thriving on the pressure placed on him at St Mary’s, Saints’ home stadium which is only a couple of miles away from where he grew up. The pressure to deliver match tickets each week for friends is one thing, but scoring goals as the No. 9 is on another level altogether.
“I think when I knew when I was coming here, I was inviting a lot of pressure on myself,” Ings said. “To wear the number nine shirt in front of your hometown, there is a lot or pressure in that alone. But for me, because I was playing at Liverpool before that among lots of world class players who I’ve looked up to and tried to learn from, those were the guys who had more questions than I did after back-to-back knee operations. The craving of having that pressure on myself is something that I wanted for so long and coming here excites me to have that pressure because I know if I come off the pitch and I have scored a goal, it means a lot more to me.”
Not content with just scoring goals for his hometown, Ings is also one of very few players who is working hard in the classroom too. He is currently completing an economics degree and is learning to play the guitar when he switches off from being the man of the moment. Add into that his tireless work in the community with the “Danny Ings Disability Sports Project” charity he set up to help children with disabilities, and he’s doing all he can off the pitch.
On the pitch, Hasenhuttl, his boss at Saints, has labelled Ings ‘outrageous’ among other superlatives and recently said that the form of Ings is “due to him working his ass off” every day. Even on his off days. Ings spent his time off in the summer doing one thing: working his ass off.
He was in Portugal and Los Angeles and Miami training with nutritionists and performance coaches, Alex Parsons and Nicky Holender, who worked on building up his core strength ahead of what was a hugely important season.
After three serious knee injuries spread across his time at Burnley and Liverpool, is he making up for lost time?
“For me, I’m just having fun now, my mindset in my career right now is that if I put the work in Monday to Friday, and I know I’ve done everything I’ve done to prepare for the game ahead, I know I can go out and have fun at the weekend,” Ings smiled. “I feel like people are really seeing that in my performances now, I am playing the game, I am smiling, I am happy. When I’m getting the chance I am trying to be as clinical as I can be. I’m not going to score every week, that’s normal. But if I give myself the best chance of getting into those positions, I know that I can score more goals and there are plenty more games still to come in the season.”
His return to form and fitness has led to calls for him to be called up by Gareth Southgate for the English national team in March. Ings is playing it cool when asked about a call up, but his former managers, current teammates and pundits are rallying behind the widely-loved striker who has been through tough times but has shown incredible mental strength to come out of it a better player.
“I would say we are all kind of different players in the way we play for our clubs and the way we have been over the course of our careers, really. Gareth will want a certain striker playing a certain way for him and it is all about what he wants,” Ings said. “The way I am in the system here at the club, it is all about pressing, running behind, not having too many touches on the ball. If that is something that is different to the other lads and how Gareth wants to set his team up, then yeah, I’d say it is definitely a different way for me.”
Playing for Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, Sean Dyche at Burnley, Brendan Rodgers and Klopp at Liverpool and now Hasenhuttl at Saints, the managers Ings have played for are very different and he thanks them all for developing his understanding of the game and all asking him to do different things. But the thing he has always done well is score goals. By the boatload.
Can he explain this glut of goals which has already culminated in his best-ever goalscoring season with 16 games of the season still to go? He has scored plenty of goals this season by sniffing around defenders, pouncing on mistakes and leading Saints’ now famed press under Hasenhuttl.
“It is hard to put my finger on that. Every game I want to try and create as many chances as I can and be in the right positions when the lads are providing. I go back to the momentum, momentum is key,” Ings said. “Any striker will tell you that when you are on a goal run you find yourself ending up in better positions to score goals, your focus is a lot stronger because you have the bug for scoring goals and trying to do the best you can for the team. That is the mindset I’ve been in this season. I am finding myself in great positions because the momentum is there and it is a hunger that we all have as goalscorers.”
Ings is in lethal form at the moment and you will not find one person across the Premier League who is unhappy about it. From his high-pressing to his finishing, plenty of the PL’s big boys will keep sniffing around Ings but he is keen to point out he is very happy at Southampton and isn’t thinking about anything else.
What is achievable for the rest of the season with Saints, a team who had just two wins on the board heading into late November but are now just three points off possible European qualification?
“For every club you want to achieve the maximum you can. We’ve put ourselves in a position now where we have gone further away from where we were and we are edging closer to the teams in and around those [European] places. For us, I feel like it is important we maintain our momentum,” Ings said. “Every game is so tough in the Premier League, you never know what’s going to happen. If we start thinking too far ahead, we might lose a little bit of the focus in the game that is coming at the weekend. You can see how hard the lads are working now to be the best team we can be. You can see how it is clicking and that is the way moving forward. If you look too far ahead you might lose a bit of focus and it is important we don’t do that.”
With Southampton’s fans signing his name loud and proud and hailing him as “one of our own” Ings is a happy man. Back at home, everybody wants to speak with him, everyone wants photos and everyone in the biggest city on England’s South Coast wants tickets to watch him play.
His goals and smiles have been one of the stories of the Premier League season so far as he pushes for the Golden Boot in the final months of the campaign. After his injuries and heartache in recent years, seeing Danny Ings back smiling, and scoring, is a beautiful sight for anybody who loves the beautiful game.
The fact he can now celebrate with his family by jumping on a boat and going fishing in Southampton Water hours after being the hero on the banks of the River Itchen is an added bonus. And one he clearly loves.
One of the most impressive parts of Liverpool’s dominance this season has been the number of injuries Jurgen Klopp has been saddled with amid heavy fixture congestion. That’s about to be somewhat alleviated.
Especially along the back line, Klopp faced an injury crisis after center-backs Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren went down with long-term injuries, while fill-in Fabinho was also left sidelined after deputizing at the back for a bit. All three should now be set to return soon, according to the German boss.
Speaking ahead of the club’s weekend match against Manchester United, Klopp was vague but suggested he expects all three to be in contention to play on Sunday as they return to training shortly. “I wait really until they are on the pitch and somebody tells me they are allowed to do the full session,” Klopp told the official Liverpool website. “It looks like Joel will be in, it looks like Fabinho will be in maybe a day later, I’m not sure. Dejan, maybe he can be in as well.”
Matip’s return is maybe the most welcome of the news, considering the 28-year-old had cemented a spot as Virgil Van Dijk‘s first-choice center-back partner through the back half of last season and first half of this campaign. He has been missing since late October with a knee injury, having made just seven Premier League appearances this season.
Lovren stood in for Matip once the latter went down injured, but that didn’t last long as the Croatian international suffered a hamstring injury in early December, having made just eight league appearances himself. He went down in the 3-0 win over Bournemouth, replaced just before halftime.
Midfielder Fabinho had occasionally moved to the back line as well to serve as cover, but he also suffered an injury and has been missing since late November. An ankle injury felled the Brazilian who was rounding into form in the Liverpool midfield and also performed well as a fill-in defender. He has missed eight league matches but could be on his way back soon.
The host of returners for Liverpool are returning at an opportune time. Liverpool has back-to-back tough Premier League games against Manchester United and Wolves less than a week apart, followed by an FA Cup match next weekend and a visit to West Ham three days later. The Champions League knockout stags also begin in about a month, so getting returners up to speed soon will be of the utmost importance.