The Anfield Roar: Throughout our series detailing why we love each Premier League club, we will undoubtedly talk about the great atmosphere at their home stadium because that is one of the main reasons the PL is revered around the world. But Liverpool’s home atmosphere at Anfield is on another level. It is perhaps unrivalled on the planet. Under the lights Anfield on a big European or Premier League night, the Kop comes alive and the ferocious chanting and passion spills down from the Liverpool faithful. The Anfield Roar has always been famous but it has regained its gusto in recent seasons since Jurgen Klopp‘s arrival and he often whips the crowd into a frenzy with his constant gesticulating for them to raise the noise levels. Anfield always delivers and that is why it should be on your bucket list. The fact Liverpool haven’t lost a home Premier League game since April 2017 says it all. Anfield is a fortress and the famous roar has been restored. Many teams are beaten before the game even kicks off as ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is belted out with scarves held high and the roar arrives. It is a sight and sound to behold.
Jurgen Klopp and heavy metal football: Since he arrived in 2015 Liverpool have come alive and they’ve won the UEFA Champions League, come so close to winning the Premier League title and are on the verge of lifting their first league title in 30 years as they currently sit 25 points clear even though the 2019-20 season is suspended. Klopp has pulled everything together. He has an incredible knack of knowing the right thing to say at the right time, the right way to act in front of the TV cameras and fans and he has created a family among his players and staff. The German coach has done so much to galvanize Liverpool off the pitch with his personality but on it has been his biggest achievement. His personality is extremely likeable and the way he celebrates every goal, corner kick, throw in and tackle fuels the energy behind Liverpool’s high-pressing. His gegenpressing style has taken years to fine tune at Liverpool but his current squad have it down to a tee and his famed heavy metal football is revered around the world. Direct play, high-intensity pressing and incredible work rate is key to his style working and the fans are totally on board. He currently has a better win percentage (61.3 percent) than any manager in their history which showcases his amazing consistency whilst being handed the funds by American owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) to cleverly assemble this team. Klopp will go down as one of the greatest managers the club has ever seen in their incredible history. His smile is a close second.
An incredible history: Six UEFA Champions League titles. 18 league titles. Seven FA Cups. Eight League Cups. Three UEFA Leagues. Three UEFA Super Cups. One Club World Cup. The list goes on and on. From Bill Shankly to Bob Paisely and Joe Fagan, Liverpool have dominated English and European soccer for decades at a time and their proud history puts them up their with the greatest teams the world has ever seen. Their incredible history is celebrated each and every day by their fans who laud past teams, legendary players and managers and the Song which became famous over the last few seasons details their dominance perfectly. Allez, Allez, Allez, indeed.
Giving us so many greats, decade after decade: One thing that Liverpool has always delivered as well as trophies is legendary players and managers. We’ve already mentioned Shankly, Paisley, Fagan and now Klopp as managers who have shaped the game but on the pitch the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Kevin Keegan, Graeme Souness, John Barnes, Robbie Fowler, Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and now Mohamed Salah have become global superstars thanks to their heroics on the pitch in the famous red shirt. Liverpool is a club synonymous with success and having the greatest players in history represent them. Liverpool fans treat their legendary players as god-like figures and the vast majority truly belong in soccer’s pantheon.
The shutdown of soccer in Switzerland has cost two former Arsenal players their jobs.
After reportedly refusing to take a paycut, FC Sion in the Swiss Super League announced that it had fired nine players, including defender Johan Djourou and Alexandre Song. Also included is Swiss National Team midfielder Pajtim Kasami, Ivory Coast forward Seydou Doumbia, and club captain, Xavier Kouassi. Kouassi also formerly played for the New England Revolution.
According to a report in Switzerland newspaper Blick with quotes from Djourou, the players were asked to sign new contracts, with less than 24 hours notice, that would have significantly cut their wages. The report states the players were asked to sign a contract that would have provided them a maximum of 12,350 francs, or around $12,521 in salary. It’s unclear whether that’s a yearly salary or monthly, though it’s the same as the maximum available in unemployment insurance.
According to Djourou, the players as a whole rejected the request from upper management, but it ended with nine players losing their jobs. Internally, Djourou said, the players had discussed donating some wages to the staff, as the whole club struggles in this crisis. Djourou only joined Sion in January and played just once before suffering another injury.
The Swiss Super League has been suspended since March 1, when the Swiss government banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people in response to the spread of the new Coronavirus.
Song and Djourou were teammates at Arsenal between 2005 and 2012.
Germany leads the way on salary cuts as virus hits
Sometimes players aren’t given a choice. In Scotland, Hearts has asked all its players and other fulltime employees to accept a 50 percent pay cut, or contract termination.
The cuts come as clubs across Europe grapple with a sudden shortage of funds. Wage bills for the season were budgeted on the expectation of income from TV broadcast fees, sponsorships and ticket sales, which are all being scaled back.
Germany is leading the way on voluntary cuts.
Gladbach is a surprise title contender and on track for a lucrative Champions League spot next season. If the season isn’t played to the end, it’s not clear how European places will be doled out.
Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says the players approached the club with an offer of voluntary pay cuts, and the coaching staff, directors and executives have joined in.
“I am very proud of the boys. A clear signal: We are standing together for Borussia in good and bad times,” Eberl said Thursday. He didn’t specify how much of a salary cut they’d agreed to.
Gladbach CEO Stephan Schippers said the club and Bundesliga are in their toughest financial situation in more than 20 years because of lost revenue from ticket sales, TV and sponsorship.
Gladbach played a game last week in an empty stadium. The club estimated it lost about 2 million euros ($2.16 million) in revenue by playing without fans.
The German league has said clubs could collapse if the season doesn’t resume. It’s arguing for games in empty stadiums so broadcast and sponsor deals resume to mitigate the financial impact.
At second-tier Karlsruhe, players have agreed on reduced salaries for March, April and May.
“For us as a team there’s no question that we are moving even closer together in the club and want to do our part,” captain David Pisot said. Thomas Hitzlsperger, CEO of Stuttgart, told local newspapers that salary cuts would be on the agenda there too.
Other clubs are enforcing pay cuts.
Scottish club Hearts said all fulltime employees will be asked to take a 50 percent pay cut from April. The only exception will be smaller cuts for those with annual salaries below 18,135 pounds ($21,100).
“I want to assure everyone that these decisions have not been taken lightly. If I was not absolutely convinced that this is necessary for the future sustainability of our business, I would not be asking our employees to face these cuts,” chairman and CEO Ann Budge said Wednesday.
In Switzerland, clubs have asked players to sign up for wage reductions as part of a federal government-backed unemployment insurance program. On Friday, Sion announced it fired nine players – including former Arsenal teammates Johan Djourou and Alex Song – for refusing to agree.
European football’s governing body, UEFA, is trying to help. It’s postponed the European Championship to 2021 to allow national leagues to finish their seasons and keep clubs afloat.
UEFA has extended a March 31 deadline by one month for clubs to show they have no outstanding debts for taxes and transfer fees.
The “Financial Fair Play” system monitors at least three years of accounts for hundreds of clubs that qualify to play in the Champions League and Europa League. Clubs that fail to break even on commercial income and spending on transfers and wages risk sanctions that include being expelled from competitions in the most severe cases.
UEFA said the established rules allow for unforeseen circumstances, which “is taken into account as part of the clubs’ assessment on a case by case basis.”
What happens to Man City’s recruitment if ban is upheld?
It’s hard to tell, as this isn’t like Nicolas Pepe choosing Arsenal despite the club’s Europa League standing.
This is two seasons without the UCL guaranteed — assuming the ban is not reduced — and there’s no close comparison in UEFA history when it comes to massive sides getting this heavy of a punishment while still staying top flight.
We’re in new territory here, fellow humans.
The closest comparison we have, perhaps, is when Juventus was sent to Serie B as a result of the calciopoli scandal. Juventus lost Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram, Patrick Vieira, Emerson, Gianluca Zambrotta, Adrian Mutu, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
But The Old Lady was able to sign French international Jean-Alain Boumsong as well as Italian national teamers Cristiano Zanetti, and Marco Marchionni.
Good players, but not the cream of the crop.
Man City can kiss the idea of bringing Lionel Messi aboard if the world’s greatest player decides not to exit Barcelona this summer, and neither Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, nor Timo Werner will look its way.
Given the balancing that will need to come via Financial Fair Play and missing out on Champions League revenue, we may see City sell two players for heavy riches (and put a lot of faith in Phil Foden).
You have to think City will retain enough Premier League talent to remain a challenger in both domestic cups and perhaps even the league.
Can City supplement that by using one or two monumental transfer fees (Leroy Sane, Kevin De Bruyne) to do what Real Madrid has done and buy green mega prospects to develop over two seasons? Maybe players a bit more developed, like Boubacar Kamara and Boubakary Soumare, who will take the rich new deals and believe City will get it done by qualifying in year two of the ban?
And could winning the Champions League sate some of the club’s longtime stars, like Sergio Aguero, and convince them to stick around through the “rebuild?”
How many times have we seen players from teams without UCL hope linked with Champions League desire as a reason for wanting out of their current clubs? At Newcastle alone we’ve seen Georginio Wijnaldum, Moussa Sissoko, and Yohan Cabaye use that rationale, while WilfriedZaha at Palace and Abdoulaye Doucoure at Watford are prime current examples.
Now perhaps those players who want a look at a Premier League title and an upgrade and pay will turn their eyes to City anyway. Perhaps we’ll see a hyped-up old MLS approach, where very young megawatt prospects meet stars on the downside join City.
But it seems likely that City will drift from the top of the table and suffer for at least one season while their top dogs move away to greener pastures.
Either way, next season looks great for Liverpool.
Every great team has a great leader driving it on, demanding high levels day in, day out and raising the bar so high than even their incredibly talented teammates get nowhere near reaching it. They may not be the most gifted players technically but there’s something about them, an aura and confidence they exude which makes everyone around them feel unstoppable.
That is what makes them, and their teams, so great.
Virgil van Dijk and this current Liverpool team well and truly slot into that category as he is the driver of one of the greatest teams in sporting history who sit 22 points clear at the top of the table and can win the PL title at the earliest point in history.
The way in which they are calmly but mercifully dismantling every team that comes their way reflects VVD’s relaxed relentlessness. They are on track to go the entire 2019-20 Premier League season unbeaten (24 wins from 25 games so far) while setting records for the most wins and points secured in a single season and are closing in on Arsenal’s record of 49 PL games unbeaten.
Jurgen Klopp‘s entire team deserve praise but Virgil van Dijk deserves the most.
Jordan Henderson is the captain who has taken his game to new levels, Alisson‘s heroics in goal aren’t under-appreciated, two British full backs have developed into world-class talents and the front three speak for themselves. But Van Dijk kicked Klopp’s project onto the next level as soon as he arrived at Anfield.
Don’t be fooled by Van Dijk’s delightful flicks, masterful long-range passes, elegant stride and beautifully cushioned headers. He is not here to chillax. He is at Liverpool to win. If you watch Virgil van Dijk for the first time, it is like watching a U18 player in a U12 league. He is quicker, stronger and smarter than every other player on the pitch.
Perhaps the only other signing in Premier League history to have more of an impact, on the pitch and off it, than Van Dijk is Eric Cantona. There is a relaxation and likeable arrogance about both individuals. Yes, Cantona was out there and still is, but the way his arrival kicked on a very good United team to one which became a dynasty was both subtle and dominant. Van Dijk’s arrival in January 2018 had the same impact at Liverpool.
Liverpool’s previous laughably shaky defense suddenly had a new leader, one who demanded the best each and every time they stepped out on the pitch. Van Dijk does not suffer fools gladly. He has work way too hard from Groningen to Celtic and then to Southampton to get to this point and not make the most of it.
Since he arrived at Liverpool from Saints just over two years ago for a then world-record fee for a defender of $100 million they have lost just four games in the Premier League. They have finished fourth then second, won the Champions League and are on the verge of a record-breaking Premier League title in 2019-20. He was also runner up in the Ballon d’Or voting for 2019 (the last defender to win that title was Fabio Cannavaro in 2006), was the man of the match in the UCL final, has become the captain of the Dutch national team as their incredible resurgence under Ronald Koeman continues and simply put the last two years could not have gone any better for him.
When you speak to Virgil van Dijk you start to understand why he is achieving all of this. He looks into your eyes as if he’s searching for your soul to see if you are worthy of his time. At least, that’s what it feels like. With a laugh and a quick quip in his fluid Dutch accent which is almost as smooth as his play on the pitch, he calms down every situation but doesn’t waste a word with his answers. Ruthless. Efficient. Classy.
“Everyone can have their opinion, have their say on the situation we are in right now but we all know that we as a group, everyone who is involved at Melwood, we are not getting carried away,” Van Dijk told Pro Soccer Talk after his header set Liverpool on their way to a big win against bitter rivals Man United at Anfield last month. “The second part of the season just started and we all know anything is still possible. The good thing is that we have that mentality that we just focus on one game at a time.”
There is that focus and that drive from Van Dijk which you can see during and after games. He isn’t one for over-celebrating and can often be seen throwing his arms in the air in disdain when a loose pass is played or a mistake is made by one of his teammates. But the other side to him is that he is a total team player, one who lavishes praise on his teammates and can easily switch off as he’s often seen smiling and joking and enjoying time with his family and daughters in the tunnel area at Anfield after the full time whistle.
From a statistical point of view, Virgil van Dijk is very, very good but his numbers do not actually place him as being head and shoulders above other Premier League center backs like you might think.
When you look at the numbers on the surface, Virgil Van Dijk doesn’t appear to be exceptionally dominant. Very good, yes. Historically exceptional? That takes a bit more work to uncover.
When you dig into deeper statistics that describe a defender’s activity on the pitch – things like interceptions, tackles won, clearances, and aerial duels won – you see a player who is among the league leaders but not one who is dominant in the way that N’Golo Kante was in his pomp at Leicester City.
Here’s a list of the league leaders in those defensive stats:
The notion that all of these defensive actions are necessarily equal in value isn’t the point of the exercise but rather to point out that, by the raw numbers, Virgil Van Dijk is among the best center backs in the Premier League but not necessarily a dominating force.
The “eye test” tells us otherwise so we have to dig a little deeper and perhaps the way to do that is to layer on the concept of style of play and the resulting opportunity for a center back to take defensive actions.
Simply put, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, and Jack O’Connell have a lot more opportunity to make interceptions, win tackles, clear the ball, and win defensive aerial duels because their opponents have the ball a lot more. Time of possession stats have their own challenges but, in this case, judging this by the number of passes each team completes is ideal because any pass made is an opportunity for a defender to intervene. What the numbers show us is that Liverpool enjoy just under 61% of possession while Sheffield United only have the ball 43.5% of the time and Burnley even less at 40.4% (Manchester United are less ball dominant but closer to Liverpool at 56.5%).
If you want to get a sense of how dominant Virgil Van Dijk is, think about the fact that he is putting up statistics equivalent to the other statistical leaders in the league in defensive statistics with only two thirds the opportunities to make those interventions. If you corrected for possession, Van Dijk’s would be in the range of 16 to 17 defensive contributions per match which would better approximate his dominance as a center back.
So, there you have it. In a team which doesn’t have to defend that often because they are so good going forward, Van Dijk still ranks among the Premier League’s best center backs.
He leads the Premier League with more completed passes (2,051) than any other player this season and the Dutchman had an incredible run of not being dribbled past for 49 Premier League games up until the start of this season.
All of this adds to his aura and there is almost an acceptance of defeat among strikers who now come up against him. They don’t try and dribble past or him or challenge him in the air or try to run behind him because they think and probably know, and for good reason, that he will win that duel.
Virgil van Dijk’s importance to Liverpool cannot actually be measured. The stats show he is an extremely good defender but they can’t measure how big of an impact his mentality, self-confidence and ability to lead others has had on the Liverpool players, staff and even the fans.
When we asked him about Liverpool’s impressive defensive record, the best in the PL which has led to 11 one-goal wins this season, VVD is quick to praise his teammates.
“Everyone is involved in that,” Van Dijk says humbly without hesitation. “We have a fantastic goalkeeper, the full backs doing their jobs, the midfielders and then obviously it starts up front. It is a collective thing but as a defender we are very pleased to keep clean sheets because I think with us, if we keep a clean sheet there is a big chance to win the game. It is a good feeling.”
Simply put: Liverpool have never struggled to score goals but keeping them out was the problem. VVD has fixed that.
A future Ballon d’Or winner, Van Dijk has the potential to go down in history as one of the all-time great center backs and he has already become a Liverpool legend in just two years at the club.
That is so tough to do at such an esteemed, historically successful club. Think about all of the legends which have pass through Anfield and Van Dijk is already among them.
The Song Liverpool fans have for him (to the tune of Dirty Old Town) and chant time and time again sums up his importance and he seems to almost feed off the lyrics as a calming influence in possession and a dominant force at both ends of the pitch.
He’s our center half,
He’s our number four,
Watch him defend,
And we watch him score,
He’ll pass the ball,
Calm as you like,
He’s Virgil van Dijk,
He’s Virgil van Dijk.