Defensive crisis drags down Liverpool title challenge

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As 2018 came to an end, Liverpool would have been very happy indeed. Champions League heartbreak aside they had enjoyed a very good year. Having matched Manchester City toe to toe across 2018 they entered 2019 top of the Premier League table and four points ahead of the champions.

Adding Virgil Van Dijk in the January transfer window and Alisson Becker in the summer had transformed the once weak Reds backline into a formidable outfit. 12 of their 21 games before the turn of the year had seen them keep clean sheets. They had conceded just ten goals in that period, the best in the league. Manchester City were their closest competitors with a tally of 17 conceded.

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EPL Weekend Picks – Round 12

alvaro morata chelsea

The 12th week of the 2018-19 Premier League season sees Manchester City take on Manchester United, while Liverpool host Fulham and Chelsea welcome Everton to Stamford Bridge. Let’s take a look at 11 players who you should consider for your EPL Fantasy team this weekend…

GK – Alisson (Liverpool)
Alisson is an expensive addition at 10.00m but he’s worth every last million. The Liverpool goalkeeper has 42 points this season and he’s likely to add to that tally against Fulham on Sunday.

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Why the Premier League could possibly go to Liverpool or Chelsea

Last Sunday’s display from Chelsea and Liverpool could be christened as the best game so far this season. Both teams exhibited creativity in attack and resilience at the back. The season is still young, but on the evidence of what we witnessed could any of these two beat City to the league title this season?

Liverpool probably made the best recruits in the English Premier league this summer, bolstering their midfield with Naby Keita and Fabinho and another creative option in Xherdan Shaqiri. The Merseysiders have a world class goalkeeper in Allison Becker, who continue to provide great reflexes in the post. Liverpool have enough quality to compete against anyone for the league title this season and they’ve shown that in their last seven league games.

We saw how they conquered Tottenham Hotspurs at Wembley. It wasn’t just about the results, but the football on display has been mesmerizing. And talk of performance their 3-2 victory over Paris Saint Germain was a testament of their mental fortitude.

Not only have Jurgen Klopp reinvigorated the side that lost to Real Madrid in the Champions League finals last season, there seems to be an oomph about them this season. Established players James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum, Roberto Firmino, and Jordan Henderson et al are playing at a level a notch higher that we saw in the previous campaign.

This season Mohammed Salah is not showing the same sophistication with opportunities that have come his way. The Egyptian has scored three goals from a total of 20 shots on target. But Sadio Mane seems to have taken much of the responsibility when it comes to goals. So far adorning the number 10 jersey has yielded four, with Roberto Firmino on two.

James Milner has proven that he still cut it for the premier league with his tireless work in midfield, but Gini Widnaldum is currently Liverpool’s most improved player so far this season. The Netherlands international is playing with a lot confidence, hardly giving the ball away. And guess what, he doesn’t look flustered by the presence of Naby Keita on the bench.

The decision to bring Daniel Sturridge back from loan has proven to be an astute one. In the absence of Roberto Firmino, Sturridge can step up and play an important part in Liverpool’s campaign this season as we’ve seen him score vital goals against PSG in the Champions League and Chelsea in the league.

One significant decision by Kloop, is the center back partnership between Van Dyke and Gomes. The pair have started all seven of Liverpool league games and have conceded just three so far. They share the tag of the best defense with the league leaders, Manchester City.

Chelsea

The great thing about Chelsea this season is the arrival of Mauricio Sarri. His style of play is one that Eden Hazard thrives in, and the Belgian is currently in red hot form as he is beginning to replicate his 2015 performance that won him the PFA player of the year. Also, Hazard is buoyed up his inclusion in the FIFPro World Eleven. The Chelsea forward had a great World Cup tournament with his country, winning the bronze medal.

Chelsea meanwhile occasionally telegraphs fear at the back as Antonio Rudiger and David Luis sometimes struggle against quicker attackers. But in midfield enforcer Jorginho, Matteo Kovacic and Ngolo Kante, Chelsea should be able to dominate and control games. There are still concerns about how Sarri is using a Kante’ in midfield. Despite the French man’s reputation as being destructive, the Italian manager prefers a ball playing holding midfielder in Jorginho who currently top the charts for the number of passes in the league and the most in a game.

Willian and Pedro are great attacking outlets for Chelsea. The Spanish forward has found the net three times while the Brazilian ability to carve open compact defense is proving crucial for Chelsea in when in search of a goal. Chelsea do not boost a striker with the quality of Sergio Aguero as both Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud are not quite reliable. Sarri may require a proven goal scorer in the January transfer window.

Manchester City are favorite based on their performance last season and Pep Guadiola’s reputation for winning back to back league titles, but the Citizens look beatable this season and it’s hard to envisage them go on a winning run as we saw last season. It will take a Miracle for Manchester United to win the league this season as tensions between Mourinho and Pogba is beginning to have a debilitating effect on the other players. The red devils will probably be fighting a Champions League spot.

Meanwhile Arsenal seems to have turned the corner after their earlier struggles, but despite winning their last four games are not convincing given the defensive vulnerabilities and how wasteful they can be in th attack. Tottenham Hotspur will be hoping to maintain fourth spot by the end of the season.

As it stands Chelsea and Liverpool look set to deny Manchester city a second straight league cup.

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Van Dijk’s class continues to shine through for Liverpool

VDV

Virgil van Dijk’s been nothing short of exceptional since joining Liverpool in January for a staggering £75 million from Southampton.

Proving his worth again and again, the towering Dutchman has been instrumental towards the Reds’ brilliant start to the campaign and why they now look so formidable defensively. Van Dijk’s all encompassing performance in Liverpool’s dynamic win over Paris Saint-Germain offered another example of what a superb asset he is to Jurgen Klopp.

Facing off against one of the most fearsome frontlines in world football, he played a crucial role in making sure Edinson Cavani, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar endured a tough night at the office.

Physical, athletic and intelligent, he undertook his defensive work with the utmost authority and conviction. Indeed, being so coherent and forthright in his decision making granted him the ideal platform to nullify PSG’s multifaceted strikeforce. Showcasing terrific concentration and always checking his surroundings, the 27-year-old flawlessly chose when to step out and press his man, hold his post, shift across to support a teammate, drop back in unison with his backline or when to track a run in behind.

While his ability to read the play shone brightly, his speed was of equal importance, as this allowed him to rapidly jet across and cover any runs that had been missed by a colleague in wide areas or in transition. Clocked at a scintillating 32.4km/h, quicker than both Neymar or Mbappe recorded, this aspect of his armoury only compounded Thomas Tuchel’s side’s struggles to get the better of him.

Meanwhile, in battles of strength and aerial duels, the colossal 193 cm stopper made life extremely difficult for his adversaries here too. Possessing a powerful leap, hard to outmuscle and very adept at picking up the ball’s flight in the air, so he can duly adjust his body shape, Van Dijk hardly missed in a step in such confrontations.

Remaining well organised for the most part, the Dutch international could be constantly seen communicating and gesturing to his defensive confidantes when to hold their post, shift cross or move forwards or backwards. Another point of note that greatly assisted his, and his teammates’, effectiveness came from the wonderful protection provided to them by Liverpool’s energetic midfield.

Moving onto his offensive contribution, and the Breda born defender passed the ball with aplomb, where he did a top job of changing the angle of attacks, hitting penetrative line breaking passes and constructing attacking moves. Upon factoring in his ball carrying prowess, which often successfully provoked pressing actions to generate a free man or open an exploitable passing lanes, and he was a menace here too.

By the numbers, the fact he completed 94% of his 71 attempted passes, hit nine accurate long balls, made two key passes and chimed in with nine defensive actions demonstrated his fantastic contribution.

In his post-match comments, it was clear to tell how much he’s loving life at Anfield under Klopp’s tutelage, gleaming: “I’m enjoying every single bit of it. You know, it’s a great time to be a Liverpool player, you want to play these games, you want to play these clubs we are going to face. You want to play at the highest level (and), you know, enjoy it.

“I want to win things, I want to create memories here and write history as well with all these boys. You need to have ambitions, and with the size of this club, with the people around here and the history of the club, we want to try and win everything.”

Having unquestionably improved this sensational Liverpool team in the area that most needed addressing, Van Dijk’s impact is now a significant reason why the club are now considered genuine challengers for both the Premier League and the Champions League.

With every passing match, he continues to vindicate the club’s decision to fork out that sideable £75 million transfer fee. He’s just been so good.

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Joe Gomez steps up for Liverpool and potentially England

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As as the case for most of us this summer, Joe Gomez was likely sat on a couch watching England. At the time, the Liverpool defender will have felt a pang of disappointment that the tournament in Russia came too soon for him. A month and a half later he will be delighted he missed out. His absence has propelled his career forward.

For Liverpool, he has benefitted because of Dejan Lovren’s absence. The Croatia defender’s semifinal appearance had already set him up to miss the start of the Premier League season, A stomach problem from the end of last season worsened during the World Cup, ensured his absence.

As a result, Gomez has found himself thrust into the heart of the Reds defence.  Continue reading

Neither Klopp nor Liverpool will fear Champions League Group of Death

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As Liverpool fans watched the Champions League draw from Monaco they will have been cursing their luck. The luck that evaded them in last year’s final has done so in this week’s group draw.

Pulling Paris Saint Germain and Napoli out of the hat can be considered a nightmare. Compared to last year’s pairing with Sevilla, Spartak Moscow and Maribor, it looks all the more horrendous.

Jurgen Klopp is not accustomed to listening to negativity. Instead, his reaction to the draw was nothing but positive. His words can be considered a warning shot to their competitors in Group C. Continue reading

EPL Best XI – Mo Salah stars again

Roberto Firmino Mo Salah

The third weekend of the 2018-19 Premier League season saw Liverpool, Chelsea and Watford continue their winning starts to the new campaign, while Manchester City were held to a 1-1 draw by newly promoted Wolves. But which players stood out to make the EPL Best XI of the Weekend?

GK: Alisson, Liverpool – seven points
With three clean sheets from three matches, Alisson couldn’t have had a better start to life as Liverpool goalkeeper. The Brazilian picked up seven points this weekend, taking his tally for the season to a very impressive 21 points.

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Beating Crystal Palace showed Liverpool’s title credentials

Van Dijk

It was almost fateful that Liverpool would show their title credentials in the place where their last run for the Premier League title came crashing down.

Selhurst Park holds bad memories for the Reds. It is the place where Brendan Rodgers’ team collapsed in such epic fashion to hand the title to Manchester City. Later dubbed Crystanbul it marked the beginning of the end for Rodgers and the need for drastic change at the club.

In giving up a three-goal lead, his side showed all the reasons why they were not worthy of being champions that season. They entertained but lacked the ability to control games or deal with pressure. Time and time again that year they had shown these failings, sometimes escaping but sometimes not. This was a painful example of the latter. Continue reading

Virgil Van Dijk is the defender to have in your Fantasy Premier League team

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With the second gameweek of the Premier League coming up, a large number of football fans will either be placing their bets or will be looking to make some clever changes to their fantasy team. This is arguably the reason to why English football is filled with excitement and mixed emotions.

When it comes to fantasy football, you are expected to pick up a lot of points from your midfielders and attackers, however, having the perfect shot-stopper and a well-balanced defence will allow an individual to get maximum points on a weekly basis. On that note, it’s simply a must to have Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk in the line-up as he is considered as the best centre-back in the league.

Since arriving to Anfield from Southampton in January, the Dutchman has gone on to transform Jurgen Klopp’s defence, from completing the side from a defensive point of view to helping the team move forward through his range of passing and composure on the ball. Although he cost the Reds around a fee of £75million, the deal is so far looking like a great piece of business done by Liverpool.

Once Van Dijk became a regular starter for the Merseyside club, they became a very energetic and physical side to get past as his presence in defence has allowed his side to keep a number of clean sheets, especially in the games at home. Due to his ability to read the game and his positional awareness, the team can more or less rely on the Breda-born star as the last man in defence.

The 27-year-old has been mentioned along with the likes of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld as the best defender within the league, and another good campaign in both the domestic division and the Champions League would see his name being stated as one the best centre-backs of Europe. With his quality starting to be recognised on both sides of the pitch, this does not come as a surprise.

If one does not rate Virgil Van Dijk or believes that he is overrated, below is a four to five minute video clip, showing how complete and influential of a player he is to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Without the former Celtic and Southampton defender, the Reds would not have made it to the Champions League final last season and may have not finished in the top four of the Premier League.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2Aiq1dEFUY

So, for all you fantasy football managers out there, bringing Van Dijk into your team is a no brainer as he will save you money and time from now till the end of the campaign. Not only that, but his injury record is currently impeccable, missing only 19 league games during his four years in England.

On the other hand, it would not be a surprise if a number of people have used the selection of Liverpool players in their midfield or forward department, as the likes Naby Keita, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are expect to roll in the points through their goals and assists.

Overall, the competitive game of fantasy football does come down to many individuals choosing players they like a lot and those who play for a top-six side in the Premier League. Nevertheless, Van Dijk is already showing that he is the main man in Liverpool’s defence, and that his incredible presence and attendance in the backline will help the team to complete a number of clean sheets from now till the end of May.

Top Ligue 1 Defenders in 2017/18 – Fabinho (Monaco)

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Monaco may not have ended up retaining their Ligue 1 title this season, finishing 2nd behind new champions Paris Saint-Germain on the back of a disappointing 13 point deficit. They have, however, qualified for next season’s Champions League after finished two points clear of third place Lyon and three ahead of Marseille. One of the highlights of Monaco’s season has been the continued performance levels of one Fabinho. Fabinho, full name Fabio Tavares (not to be confused with the Rochdale U18 striker of the same name) capped off a great season by sealing a move to the Premier League, where he will join new club Liverpool in July.

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