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Klopp tabs Matip as ‘one of the best pieces of business’ for Liverpool

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On Friday, in Liverpool’s run-up to a Premier League battle with Sheffield United, Jurgen Klopp labeled Joel Matip as “one of the best pieces of business we did in the last few years.”

He’s not wrong.

“In a world of big transfer fees, to sign a player like Joel Matip on a free transfer is incredible,” Klopp said. Again, he’s not wrong.

The 28-year-old signed on a free from German side Schalke back in the summer of 2016, and he has become a fixture of the Liverpool defense, standing strong next to Virgil Van Dijk as part of one of the best back lines in Europe.

It essentially happened by accident. Matip, signed as nothing more than defensive cover for a squad that included Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho, Joe Gomez, and Ragnar Klavan. Yet he started 27 matches that season, forging a partnership with Lovren with Sakho on his way out, Gomez still too young for a consistent role, and Klavan down the depth chart. The next season van Dijk was brought in and yet Matip pushed through hamstring and ankle injuries to make 22 starts. Last season, en route to a vicious title challenge and a Champions League crown, Matip again was not meant to start, but with Lovren and Gomez both injured, Matip formed a critical partnership with van Dijk and has led by example.

So who else has come from relative obscurity on a savvy bit of business to take a starring role? Here are the five best bits of business in the Premier League currently playing for the club that snagged them, outside of Klopp’s prized center-back of course.

5) Kasper Schmeichel, Leicester City (Leeds United, $2 million)

Goalkeepers never draw the same massive transfer fees as their outfield counterparts, but even so, the Leicester City shot-stopper has been a true man of the badge since joining in 2011, making 341 appearances for the Foxes and proving a key cog in the legendary run to the title a few years back. That team was full of great value players (more on that in a bit), and while they cashed in on some, the son of the legendary Manchester United goalkeeper stuck around the club he loves.

4) Dele Alli, Tottenham Hotspur (MK Dons, $6 million)

As just a teenager, Alli was sent to Spurs in the winter of early 2015 and immediately loaned back to MK Dons for the rest of the season. Immediately, they had to know their mistake. Alli was selected as the Football League Young Player of the Year in April, and his career skyrocketed from there. Providing both a physical presence and free-flowing nature on the ball, Alli has proven a versatile option in midfield for Spurs, and while he struggles to maintain consistent form, his best is both fearsome and artistic. Still just 23 years old, it seems the best may be yet to come for the England midfielder who has already racked up 187 appearances for the London club.

3) Andy Robertson, Liverpool (Hull City, $10 million)

Sure, Joel Matip came for free, but he still might not be the best bit of business on the club. Andy Robertson, Liverpool’s stellar left-back, signed for $10 million and looks to be the makings of a downright star. At 25 years old, he also looks set to be a Red for quite some time, giving the club incredible value for its money. $10 million in today’s market doesn’t net teams what it used to, making it all the more impressive the Reds could snag a player of his promise for such a price. Along with Trent Alexander-Arnold on the other side, the Reds appear set for a long time with one of Europe’s best back lines.

2) Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea (Marseille, $9 million)

The Blues are known for splashing the cash, but the then-23-year-old Spaniard came over from Ligue 1 in the summer of 2012 to little fanfare. He has gone on to make 345 appearances for Chelsea, serving as captain for many and proving a versatile and consistent option along the defense. Perhaps the most stunning part of Azpilicueta’s career is that he only has 25 caps for Spain, a shockingly low number for such a valuable player at one of Europe’s biggest clubs. Still, his service to Chelsea has been a far cry from his measly up-front cost.

1) Jamie Vardy, Leicester City (Fleetwood Town, $1.5 million)

Much has been made of Vardy’s story, having come from the semi-professional ranks and risen up to a Premier League title. For what he’s given Leicester City – 277 appearances and 110 goals, including 83 Premier League strikes in 182 appearances – the fee is next to nothing. Not many could have predicted what Vardy would provide, or that he’d become a regular for the England national team before the rise of Harry Kane, but now the tale has been written. Vardy will go down as one of the most undervalued transfers in Premier League history, deservedly so.

Liverpool: Spurs matches the ‘toughest games we’ve played’

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Liverpool’s star fullbacks have different takes on how last season’s final in Kiev affects Saturday’s match in Madrid, but they agree on one thing: The opposition is a huge challenge.

Many have installed the Reds as favorites to win the European Cup against Tottenham Hotspur, but both Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold remember the dogfights against Spurs this season.

[ MORE: 3 key battles in UCL Final ]

Liverpool won both battles 2-1 but walked away with plenty of respect for the defeated North London side. Here’s Robertson, from the BBC:

“I don’t think they’re underdogs. When we’ve played in the Premier League it’s been the toughest games we’ve played. We know we can cause them problems. Both have very good squads, it is who shows up better on the day. For me it’s very even.”

Alexander-Arnold said it’s going to be a tactical battle and “very difficult for both sides.”

But when it comes to what the 3-1 loss to Real Madrid in 2017-18 does for the club, well, the boys are at odds.

Robertson claims last season’s loss is “irrelevant,” though he admitted the players can use that experience (so perhaps not entirely irrelevant, Andrew).

Alexander-Arnold, on the other hand, sees it as fuel.

“It would be daft to forget what happened last season, we learnt a few things from Real Madrid in Kiev and how they beat us. We’ve matured as a team, shown how we can win games, hold onto leads and keep clean sheets.”

Klopp thrilled with Keita performance, Ox return as Liverpool cruises

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is the right man to have in charge for this particular Premier League challenge.

The Reds won again on Friday to go back atop the league, but will not win the league if they win out and Manchester City does the same.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 5-0 Huddersfield Town ]

When you’re talking a 97-point season that doesn’t end with silverware aloft, you’re talking crazy; Yet that’s what stands before the Reds.

Take it from Andy Robertson, who collected another two assists in the 5-0 defeat of Huddersfield Town.

“We’re onto 91 points and normally that’s enough to win the league,” he said. “I think it’s going to take 97 or 98 and that’s incredible. We’ve fought the whole way, but whoever falls short will be gutted. But it’s something we can be proud of and not sure we could have done any more.”

That feeling is almost a pre-emptive gutting — not exactly possible, we know — but Klopp has done a magnificent job of framing each win for what it is and not in the context of, “But what about Man City?” ad nauseum.

Then again, it isn’t remarkable given the subplots of Friday’s win. Klopp saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain make his long-anticipated return from injury, and Naby Keita scored before the 15th second ticked off the clock at Anfield.

Here’s Klopp on “The Ox,” who missed a chance which would’ve sent Anfield into delirium. From Sky Sports:

“It was nearly heartbreaking when he missed the chance, but you saw him smile. He’s such a wonderful person. He’s a better person than player. Imagine that. He’s a really good player and as a guy he’s outstanding. We’re so happy for him.”

And here’s Klopp on Keita, who is finally finding his footing after getting limited chances to shine in his first season since transferring from RB Leipzig.

“He’s a complete midfielder,” Klopp said. “Today it was his best game in all defending situations he was so difficult to deal with. He’s so quick in small spaces, you can’t stop that. And I don’t know how many balls he blocked tonight. People were asking me what about Naby Keita and we always thought we signed him for next year. He needed time to adapt but thank God he has done it this season.”

Man City, Liverpool go 10-of-11 on PFA Team of the Year

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LONDON (AP) Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba is the only player not from Manchester City or Liverpool to be selected in the Premier League’s Team of the Year for the 2018-19 season.

City had six representatives — Ederson, Aymeric Laporte, Fernandinho, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero — while Liverpool had four, although Mohamed Salah wasn’t among them despite being tied for the top scorer in the league.

Pogba was picked for the team, which is voted for by Premier League players, despite having an up-and-down season. He was dropped for the final matches of Jose Mourinho’s tenure and has had a dip in form under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in recent weeks.

Chelsea forward Eden Hazard wasn’t included, despite being on the six-man shortlist for the Professional Footballers’ Association’s Player of the Year award.

Team of the Year

Goalkeeper: Ederson (Manchester City)

Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool), Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City), Andy Robertson (Liverpool)

Midfielders: Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Fernandinho (Manchester City)

Forwards: Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Sadio Mane (Liverpool)

Stars and duds from Liverpool-Tottenham Hotspur

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There are many talking points from Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat of Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on Sunday.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

This was a match rife with mistakes and squandered chances, and there was not a man who was perfect.

Andy Robertson was very, very good, but a part of the Spurs equalizer. Danny Rose was a Spurs star, but flubbed a late bid to send in a beautiful cross.

Stars

Andy Robertson — The Liverpool left back not only served up an assist while habitually cooking Kieran Trippier, he blocked a seemingly surefire Christian Eriksen equalizer.

Roberto Firmino — This was about so much more than the opening goal — though what a header! — as the Brazilian striker served as a calm playmaker and a bully on the ball.

Georginio Wijnaldum The least celebrated of a safe midfield, Wijnaldum was the best of the bunch and went 90 minutes in the win

Danny Rose — Has been in fine form for club and country, and was a big part of several promising moves coming from Spurs’ left side. Almost was removed from this list for a horrid 87th minute blunder on a scoring chance, but was just too important over the first 87.

Christian Eriksen — Inventive and undeterred, his spinning assist was a just reward for his day’s work.

Lucas Moura — Struggled for much of the first half, but scored the equalizer and took a very smart tactical yellow with Salah on the break in the 79th minute.

Duds

Hugo Lloris — The match-deciding goal is entirely on him, even if it ends up going over the line via an otherwise steady Toby Alderweireld.

Kieran Trippier — As noted in the Robertson blurb, Trippier was very poor on the flank. His quick pass on the equalizer helped, but

Alisson Becker — A fine parry in the second half, but mostly looked out-of-sorts in a big spot.

Moussa Sissoko — Here for one reason: Sprung for a 2v1 with Heung-Min Son, he dribbled toward the defender until a pass was impossible before blazing an effort nowhere near the goal. Son could’ve helped by running away from goal, but my goodness.

Harry KaneThis was going to be “Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah,” but it felt like kicking a dead horse to put Salah here for struggling when he, along with Lloris, produced Alderweireld’s own goal. Kane was largely absent for a star striker, and working hard doesn’t get you the plaudits when you’re a Golden Boot chaser. So maybe Mohamed Salah should be here, too, having scored just once in nine matches.