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The young defenders who could cover Van Dijk, Fabinho

Tue, 10/27/2020 - 23:00

Virgil van Dijk's long-term injury has given Jurgen Klopp plenty to ponder in terms of his selections at centre-back over the coming weeks, and with Fabinho also going off on Tuesday night against Midtjylland, he may have to turn to youth.

Fabinho had started the three games following Van Dijk's injury, but the Brazilian went off in the 2-0 win over Midtjylland with what looked like a hamstring injury.

It is unclear whether Joel Matip will have recovered from a muscle injury to play against West Ham at Anfield on Saturday, but when he returns, Matip and Joe Gomez are set to be Liverpool's first-choice pairing. Nevertheless, Dejan Lovren's departure in the summer leaves the club short on experienced alternatives.

Fabinho was forced off in the first half Image: Fabinho was forced off in the first half on Tuesday night

With Premier League and Champions League games coming thick and fast over the next month or so in this condensed season, Klopp admitted on Tuesday he would need to dip into Liverpool's academy to bolster his backline.

"We have very young and inexperienced alternatives and at the moment it looks like we have to choose one of them."

Here, we look at some of the standout young defenders in Liverpool's ranks...

Liverpool's upcoming games
  • Oct 31: West Ham (h)
  • Nov 3: Atalanta (a)
  • Nov 7: Man City (a)
  • Nov 25: Atalanta (h)
  • Nov 28: Brighton (a)
  • Dec 1: Ajax (h)
  • Dec 5: Wolves (h)
  • Dec 9: Midtjylland (a)
  • Dec 12: Fulham (a)
Rhys Williams Rhys Williams replaced Fabinho against Midtjylland on Tuesday night Image: Williams replaced Fabinho against Midtjylland on Tuesday night

If Liverpool are to look to their youth ranks for cover at centre-back, it seems Rhys Williams is likely to be the first player Klopp would turn to. The 19-year-old, who replaced Fabinho on Tuesday night against Midtjylland, made his Liverpool debut in September, starting alongside Van Dijk and then being partnered with Fabinho in the second half, as the Reds beat Lincoln 7-2 in the Carabao Cup, and played again in the defeat to Arsenal in the next round.

Part of Liverpool's 2019 FA Youth Cup-winning side, Williams signed a five-year contract earlier in 2020, underlining the club's belief in his potential.

Rhys Williams replaced Fabinho against Midtjylland on Tuesday night 1:00 Former Wigan manager Paul Cook analysed Liverpool teenage defender Rhys Williams during a guest slot on Sky Sports News' The Football Show

Williams - who has confessed to studying Van Dijk's performances and post-match analysis of the Dutchman's displays - had a loan spell in non-League last season with Kidderminster Harriers and made his England U21 debut this month.

Against a Midtjylland side who rarely threatened, Williams eased his way into action with a solid display on Tuesday at Anfield. Tougher tests are to come.

"He did really well," said Klopp after Tuesday's game. "The only problem now is we have four days until the West Ham game, you will make a story of him every day and then he has to prove he can deal with that again. Everything was calm around him. We will try to do that as well.

"To be really clear and positive, Rhys was not in one situation tonight a problem for us, he played a really good game."

Sepp van den Berg Liverpool defender Sepp Van Den Berg signed for the club for an initial £1.3m in June Image: Van den Berg also attracted interest from Bayern Munich

Netherlands youth international Sepp van den Berg could also be in contention. He made four first-team appearances for Liverpool last season in the FA Cup and Carabao Cup and travelled with the team to the Club World Cup.

However, the 18-year-old - who had also attracted interest from Bayern Munich when he signed for Liverpool in June 2019 - may now be behind Rhys Williams in the pecking order after missing out on a Carabao Cup runout this season.

Van den Berg already has some top-flight experience under his belt, having made 22 Eredivisie appearances with former side PEC Zwolle. "I am calm with the ball, I am quite quick and can run," he said on his arrival at Liverpool, who insisted at the time he was not an 'academy' signing but a player they were looking to develop for the first team.

Nathaniel Phillips Nathaniel Phillips played 90 minutes in Liverpool's FA Cup win over Everton Image: Phillips played 90 minutes in Liverpool's FA Cup win over Everton

Nat Phillips looked like he could be on his way to the Championship last week - and now he is among the players trying to put themselves in position for a first-team role at Liverpool.

Middlesbrough, Nottingham Forest and Swansea were among the second-tier sides weighing up a move for the 23-year-old but ultimately he remained at Anfield to provide extra cover at centre-back.

Phillips had two loan spells at Stuttgart last season, where he made 19 starts in Bundesliga II, and in between he was recalled by Klopp in December when Matip, Lovren and Fabinho were all out injured at the same time.

Klopp said he had been impressed by Phillips' performances in Germany and he went on to start the FA Cup win over Everton in January before returning to Stuttgart for the remainder of the season.

He is not currently in Liverpool's Champions League squad, however.

Billy Koumetio Fabinho was forced off in the first half 0:25 Jurgen Klopp says his Liverpool team must stick together for good and for bad after losing Fabinho to injury in their Champions League win over FC Midtjylland.

At just 17 years old, Billy Koumetio is the youngest player listed here - but the Frenchman is highly rated at Liverpool.

He signed his first professional contract in August and went on to impress Klopp and his team-mates during pre-season. However, a tough afternoon in a friendly at Blackpool may suggest it is too soon for him to step into the fold.

Koumetio was dispossessed for Blackpool's first goal and played an attacker onside in the build-up to them winning a penalty for their second before he was replaced at half-time. Liverpool bounced back to win 7-2 and afterwards Klopp conceded the defender still had things to learn - but backed him to improve.

"I'm pretty sure he will make big steps," said Klopp this summer. "We just have to make sure that we really deal with his age group and physical demands well." But for an ill-timed injury he may well have figured in the Carabao Cup this season. For now though, he is still to make his competitive first-team debut.

Koumetio, out for a part of last season with injury, will soon be back in Liverpool training after also suffering a recent knock.

An experienced alternative?  Image: Jordan Henderson could step in at centre-back

Alternatively, Klopp might be tempted to repurpose another of his midfielders as a centre-back - as he did with Fabinho - thereby ensuring Liverpool maintain plenty of experience in their backline.

If he decides to go down this route, the most obvious candidate to drop back would be Jordan Henderson. The club captain plays an important role in Liverpool's midfield, but Klopp has more bodies in that area following the signing of Thiago Alcantara in the summer.

Plus, Henderson has some experience of playing at centre-back having stepped into the role in the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final against Monterrey last year. Liverpool team-mate Adam Lallana described his performance as "magnificent" that day as he helped the Reds secure a 2-1 win and Klopp was similarly impressed.

"If the manager needed me to go there again," added Henderson, "I would do it."

'A situation that is far from ideal' preview image 0:31 Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp says his injured players will need time to recover as the club's injury crisis worsens.

Analysis from Sky Sports News reporter Vinny O'Connor:

"Clearly losing Fabinho after half an hour was a nightmare scenario for Jurgen Klopp. It was quite obvious at the time that he's injured a hamstring.

"We're not sure yet as we await a scan how long Fabinho will be out for, but at this stage you can't see him being fit to face West Ham at the weekend and then there's Atalanta to come in the Champions League before Manchester City.

"Liverpool have three senior centre-halves injured at the moment, with Virgil van Dijk due to have surgery on his damaged ACL. Last night, Klopp said he didn't know if he would have Joel Matip available for the weekend. Jordan Henderson could fill in at centre-half - we saw that last season in the Club World Cup.

"Fabinho's injury also robs Liverpool of an option in the centre of midfield as well, albeit they have Thiago and Naby Keita coming back from injury. All in all, the situation is far from ideal.

"Unfortunately, injuries have hit and it's left them having to look at younger options to bring in to cover those gaps. There's a number of youngsters who could well get that opportunity to push their case for more senior involvement over the coming weeks."

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Categories: LFC NEWS

Jota on target again as Liverpool labour to win

Tue, 10/27/2020 - 21:58

An injury to Fabinho overshadowed Liverpool's unconvincing 2-0 Champions League win over Midtjylland, with Diogo Jota and Mo Salah on target.

Jota fired into an empty net from the Reds' best move of the game - to score the club's 10,000th goal in history - 10 minutes after half-time when man-of-the-match Trent Alexander-Arnold teed up the Portuguese forward for a tap-in.

That would prove to be their only shot on target until injury-time, but Liverpool had already been made to sweat before half-time when Fabinho was forced off with what appeared an injury to his hamstring, leaving Rhys Williams the only senior defender able to replace him with half an hour played.

Jurgen Klopp had left Roberto Firmino, Salah and Sadio Mane on the bench but even the introduction of the latter pair with an hour played made little improvement to their attacking play.

Liverpool were nearly made to pay when substitute Evander fired just wide before Anders Dreyer went even closer late on, but the hosts added some gloss to a poor performance when Salah converted a penalty he had won himself in injury-time to keep up their perfect start to their Group D campaign.

Player ratings

Liverpool: Alisson (6), Alexander-Arnold (8), Gomez (5), Fabinho (6), Robertson (6), Milner (6), Henderson (6), Shaqiri (6), Minamino (5), Origi (5), Jota (7).

Subs: Rhys Williams (6), Wijnaldum (6), Salah (7), Mane (5), Firmino (n/a).

Midtjylland: Andersen (6), Andersson (7), Sviatchenko (7), Scholz (6), Paulinho (6), Onyeka (6), Cajuste (7), Dreyer (7), Sisto (5), Mabil (5), Kaba (5).

Subs: Anderson (5), Evander (6), Kraev, Pfeiffer (n/a).

Man of the match: Trent Alexander-Arnold

Sluggish Liverpool labour to down Danes

Midtjylland came into Tuesday's game having been hammered 4-0 by Atalanta in their first-ever Champions League group match a week ago, but Klopp insisted the Danish champions would give his side a run for their money - and he was not mistaken.

Star-man Dreyer came close to proving his point with less than three minutes on the clock when he brought down Alexander Scholz's long ball and pulled a strong low save out of Alisson.

Liverpool's changed front three looked uncomfortable as a trio and it was Alexander-Arnold who looked most likely to create an opening, with Takumi Minamino missing a low cross altogether before Joel Andersson stopped another from reaching him after a good run from the Liverpool right-back.

Fabinho was forced off injured in the first half Image: Fabinho was forced off injured in the first half, and was replaced by 19-year-old Rhys Williams

But a match-ending injury to stand-in defender Fabinho on the half-hour mark would prove a bigger concern for the Reds, with Williams, who a year ago this week was starting in defence for Kidderminster in the National League North, his only available replacement.

Perhaps more cautious to protect the inexperienced defender, Liverpool looked more solid in the last throes of the opening period, and saw Jota and Minamino nod Alexander-Arnold crosses wide before going in goalless at the break.

Georginio Wijnaldum replaced Jordan Henderson as Liverpool's second change at the interval before they upped their level of intensity from the restart, and 10 minutes after half-time finally looked like the Liverpool which Klopp has developed in recent years to open the scoring.

It was little surprise Alexander-Arnold was at the heart of the move, timing his run from a one-two with Xherdan Shaqiri to perfection to stay onside before squaring for a simple Jota finish.

Team news
  • Liverpool made four changes from their Sheffield United win, bringing in Xherdan Shaqiri, Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi for Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
  • Midtjylland changed five players from their win at Brondby on Saturday, including a start for back-up goalkeeper Mikkel Anderson due to Jasper Hansen's injury.

Mane and Salah were introduced five minutes later but their introduction, likely sooner than Klopp would have liked, did not have the desired effect as Midtjylland grew back into the game after the setback of the goal.

With 13 minutes remaining, substitute Evander fired wide after shaking off Joe Gomez before the defender was again sluggish as Dreyer drifted past him and fired a glorious chance to level into the side-netting.

Paulinho's clumsy foul on Salah from a long ball in injury-time gave Liverpool the chance to add a second goal they could barely claim they deserved in the final minute, with the Egyptian getting up to bury the spot-kick beyond Mikkel Anderson and ensure the Reds stay top of their group.

What the manager said...

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp told BT Sport: "[Fabinho's injury] is exactly the last thing we needed. What can I say? I know he felt his hamstring, that's not good, he didn't feel it that much, he said he could have played on but with no sprints any more so that doesn't help in that position obviously. We'll see, we have to do a scan and then we'll know more, but that's not good, of course.

"The problem then is the challenges in the moments when you have to be really lively without the ball as well, and then you have to calm down. Tonight, in too many situations that did not happen for us.

"It was a bing-bing, bing-bing game pretty much, with two goals we scored, three big chances for them, I would say. We had a couple more where we could have scored, but it never became an easy one, it was a proper fight until the end."

Man of the match - Trent Alexander-Arnold

Sometimes it can be difficult to pick a man of the match. Not tonight. Alexander-Arnold was head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch, running the show from right-back and making both goals.

He had no problems up against one of Midtjylland's dangermen Mabil, who was removed with 25 minutes to go, and was Liverpool's most creative outlet by a mile.

Had Minamino and Jota had their shooting boots on more regularly, he could have had a quartet of assists, but he can rest easy after a superb double which played a major part in Liverpool's win.

Opta facts
  • FC Midtjylland became the 17th team to play their first-ever UEFA Champions League away game against an English side - with all 17 failing to win and 15 losing.
  • Liverpool failed to register a single first-half shot on target for the first time in 51 home games in all competitions, since October 2018 against Manchester City in the Premier League.
  • Excluding qualifiers, FC Midtjylland have lost eight of their 10 away games in European competition (W1 D1).
  • Liverpool started without any of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane or Roberto Firmino for the first time in the Champions League since 2015-16 and just the 40th time in all competitions since then (P40 W17 D16 L7).
  • Since his Liverpool debut in October 2016, Trent Alexander-Arnold has registered 35 assists in competitions, with no Premier League defender managing more in that time (also 35 for Andrew Robertson).
What's next?

Next up, Liverpool host West Ham at Anfield in the Premier League on Saturday Night Football live on Sky Sports Premier League from 5pm; Kick-off at 5.30pm.

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Categories: LFC NEWS

Klopp's tactical tweak assessed: Will it stick?

Tue, 10/27/2020 - 06:00

After Jurgen Klopp opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation in Liverpool's 2-1 win over Sheffield United on Saturday, the Pitch to Post Review podcast asks: did it work?

To hear more, download the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Review podcast on Apple | Spotify

Klopp played Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson in a midfield two as Fabinho started in central defence again, with summer signing Diogo Jota playing further forward and scoring the winner at Anfield.

The result suggests the tweak worked for Klopp's side, but speaking on the Pitch to Post Review podcast, Sky Sports' Gerard Brand analyses where the formation both helped and hindered Liverpool as they returned to winning ways in the Premier League.

"It's worth mentioning Klopp has tried this system a handful of times over the past 18 months - he'd usually put Adam Lallana or Xherdan Shaqiri there in some way alongside Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.

preview image 3:01 FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool's win against Sheffield United in the Premier League.

"But still these Liverpool players know the 4-3-3 system probably better than they've ever known a formation in their careers. It's been so well-drilled over the past couple years it's like brushing your teeth in the morning, you don't think about it, it just happens, it's muscle memory!

"But I do think in the first half Liverpool missed that third person in midfield and Sheff Utd got on top of them a bit - there was never really that easy get-out-of-jail pass on for Henderson and Wijnaldum, though you've got to give Sheffield United credit there, too.

To hear more, download the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Review podcast on Apple | Spotify

"I also wasn't certain if the front four knew their role inside out at the start, and despite scoring the goals Firmino and Jota were popping up in places where you felt they were just desperate to see the ball rather than impacting the game. Looking at the average positions, a lot of Jota's touches came in that midfield line.

Alisson Becker of Liverpool shows a thumbs up 0:50 The Pitch to Post Review podcast discuss how Alisson’s return to the Liverpool XI could go some way to making up for Virgil van Dijk’s absence.

"I'd be interested to see if Liverpool carry this on because you're playing a Sheffield United side who have a unique system too, so it's probably not the easiest game to get a case study.

"I've just got to say though, Mo Salah, playing in the so-called centre-forward role in this formation, is looking fantastic this season. He's trying new things, he looks sharp, and it's impossible for defenders to book him this season. For a large chunk of last season he wasn't fully fit after his ankle problem. He looks it this season."

Will Klopp go with 4-2-3-1 again this week? Follow live updates from Liverpool's Champions League clash with FC Midtjylland at Anfield on Tuesday evening on the Sky Sports app and skysports.com; kick-off 8pm

Fabinho will need to think like a defender Fabinho Liverpool Image: Fabinho gave away the penalty for Sheffield United to take the lead early on

The spotlight has been firmly on Fabinho in the last week following Virgil van Dijk's lengthy injury, and after a solid performance in the 1-0 win over Ajax in midweek, the midfielder-turned-defender gave away a penalty as Sheffield United took an early lead. Fabinho recovered, and so did Liverpool.

"I think Liverpool's defence overall actually handled Sheff Utd quite well, and although they had a few shots on goal, they were never truly worrying them. I think we're going to have to be careful because the first time Liverpool concede a couple goals in a game - and it will happen because of the nature of this season - naturally we'll look to the defence and blame the absence of Van Dijk. But don't forget Liverpool conceded seven goals to Villa in Van Dijk's final full game before injury.

"All eyes have been on Fabinho; he did give away the penalty and he doesn't need to make that tackle, it's a midfielder's tackle, and I don't think Gomez or Van Dijk are making that challenge. So Fabinho will need to get in the rhythm of thinking like a defender and not a midfielder.

"I thought Gomez's second-half performance was quite encouraging, but like City when they put Fernandinho at centre-back, my interest sits with how the midfield cope without Fabinho."

To hear more, download the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Review podcast on Apple | Spotify

Hits and misses: The grit of champions returns to Anfield Liverpool celebrate against Sheffield United Image: Liverpool celebrate during their return to winning ways in the Premier League

Sky Sports' Ron Walker:

'Without a win in two Premier League games and missing their defensive talisman, let's not get too excited about a narrow victory over a side who can't buy a win at the moment.

'But behind that word of caution, the Reds' performance in their 2-1 win over Sheffield United bore a few remnants of their Premier League-winning campaign.

'It does not take long for memories to become rosier in hindsight, but Liverpool's route to the title last season often did not come through flowing football or total domination, but grinding out results. Remember the last-minute win at Aston Villa in November? Or even Dean Henderson's howler which gifted them a win at Sheffield United in September?

'There were no such gifts from the Blades at Anfield on Saturday, but there was plenty of Liverpool grit to move joint-top against a Sheffield United side who, like their hosts, produced a performance far more reminiscent of their successful 2019/20 than their shaky start this campaign.

'While Chris Wilder's men were growing in confidence after taking their first league lead of the season 13 minutes in, it was Liverpool who struck next out of nowhere thanks to some Jordan Henderson magic and a Roberto Firmino tap-in.

'And with the Blades holding firm well into the second period, a brilliant Sadio Mane delivery found Diogo Jota to power home his first Premier League headed goal at the perfect moment.

'It wasn't vintage Liverpool, but it was winning Liverpool. And after dropping points in back-to-back games, and without Van Dijk, victory in this style may have felt satisfyingly familiar for Jurgen Klopp.'

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Liverpool vs Midtjylland preview

Mon, 10/26/2020 - 21:15

Team news and stats ahead of Liverpool vs Midtjylland in the Champions League group stage on Tuesday; kick-off 8pm.

Team news

Joel Matip, Naby Keita and Thiago Alcantara will not be fit in time for Liverpool's Champions League clash with Midtjylland.

Defender Matip has been out since sustaining a knock in the Merseyside derby on October 17, while Thiago (knee) was injured towards the end of the game at Goodison Park and fellow midfielder Keita - back in training after testing negative for coronavirus - has not played since coming off at half-time in the 7-2 hammering by Aston Villa just before the international break.

Liverpool's tactical tweak assessed on the latest Pitch to Post review podcast - download on Apple | Spotify

With Matip out, as well as long-term absentee Virgin van Dijk (knee), midfielder Fabinho will continue to deputise in central defence.

Midtjylland's first-choice goalkeeper Jesper Hansen is a doubt after being forced off injured in the second half against Brondby. Mikkel Andersen could fill in.

Head coach Brian Priske said: "I am very happy with Jesper. He has been performing at a very high level for a number of years but Mikkel has always performed well when needed. I am confident he will do a good job."

How to follow preview image 3:01 FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool's win against Sheffield United in the Premier League

Follow Liverpool vs Midtjylland with our dedicated live blog across Sky Sports' digital platforms and on Gillette Soccer Special, live on Sky Sport News and Sky Sports Premier League from 7pm.

Opta stats Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool comes off due to an injury during the Premier League match between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park on October 17, 2020 in Liverpool, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. 1:25 Jurgen Klopp says he has liked how his Liverpool team have adapted to the absence of defender Virgil van Dijk
  • FC Midtjylland will be just the third Danish side to face Liverpool in European competition, after Odense Boldklub in the 1983-84 European Cup and Brøndby in the 1995-96 UEFA Cup.
  • This will be FC Midtjylland's first UEFA Champions League encounter against an English side - they've faced English teams on six previous occasions in all European competition, winning three times (D1 L2).
  • Liverpool have only lost one of their last 26 home games in all European competition (W18 D7), although that defeat came last time out versus Atletico Madrid in March (2-3). They haven't suffered consecutive home defeats in Europe since December 2009.
  • This will be FC Midtjylland's first away game in the UEFA Champions League - each of the previous four Danish sides to compete in the competition lost their first away game.
  • FC Midtjylland are the 17th team who will play their first ever UEFA Champions League away game against an English side - none of the previous 16 to do so have won, with 14 of them losing (most recently FC Qarabag losing 0-6 at Chelsea in September 2017).
  • Following their 1-0 win at Ajax on MD1, Liverpool are looking their first two group stage games in a single UEFA Champions League campaign for just the second time, previously doing so in 2008-09.
  • Liverpool haven't kept a clean sheet in any of their last four UEFA Champions League home games. They've shipped eight goals in total across these four games, more than they had in their previous 13 in the competition at Anfield (7).
  • Liverpool's Mohamed Salah has been involved in nine goals in nine UEFA Champions League group stage games at Anfield (8 goals, 1 assist). The Egyptian is also just two goals away from equalling Steven Gerrard's club record of 21 goals in the European Cup/Champions League.

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Klopp: Midtjylland won't wave white flag

Mon, 10/26/2020 - 15:10

Jurgen Klopp believes FC Midtjylland are a "proper challenger" in their Champions League group and does not expect the Danish champions to "wave the white flag" at Anfield on Tuesday.

Midtjylland were only founded 21 years ago and are competing in the group stages of the competition for the first time, having won their third Superliga title last season.

The club, from the small city of Herning, were seen as early pioneers of football's 'moneyball' movement, with an added emphasis on data-led decision-making around team selection and recruitment.

Klopp revealed he had enquired about a visit to the club during his sabbatical between leaving Borussia Dortmund and taking the reins at the Premier League champions and says he has nothing but respect for their approach.

Midtjylland began their Group D campaign with a disappointing 4-0 home defeat to Italian side Atalanta, but Klopp insists his side are expecting a "proper fight".

Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool comes off due to an injury during the Premier League match between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park on October 17, 2020 in Liverpool, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. 1:25 Jurgen Klopp says he has liked how his Liverpool team have adapted to the absence of defender Virgil van Dijk

"They are really good," Klopp said. "The 4-0 against Atalanta was not a 4-0 - that was the result but it didn't look like that kind of game.

"They have a clear plan. We have a clear plan as well, which is adaptable. We have to make a lot of good decisions in the game and show that we are ready for a proper fight.

Midtjylland were thrashed 4-0 at home to Atalanta in their first ever Champions League group stage game Image: Midtjylland were thrashed 4-0 at home to Atalanta in their first ever Champions League group stage game

Asked about the prospect of facing a 'smaller club', Klopp replied: "Ladies and gentlemen, you Danish guys need to work on your confidence. We don't see you as a small club, we see you as a proper challenger in this group.

"Nobody is part of the group because they are nice cities or whatever, they are there because they are a good football team.

Liverpool players celebrate taking the lead at Ajax through Nicolás Tagliafico's own goal Image: Liverpool players celebrate the only goal of the game in their 1-0 win at Ajax last week

"They earned the right to be in the Champions League in the season before and Midtjylland, after an impressive comeback against Brondby, are now [joint] top of the table so it means they are good again.

"They won't wave the white flag. They will be here and give everything they can.

"There are no small teams in the Champions League. How small or big you are is shown on the pitch, not in any press conferences before."

preview image 3:01 FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool's win against Sheffield United in the Premier League

On the opposition's philosophy, Klopp added: "What it shows about football is a lot of things are possible if you think quicker or differently from other people. If you try things in a different way, you can make big jumps.

"In Denmark, the Copenhagen teams used to be the main teams and this team is disturbing that a little bit. They have all my respect."

Liverpool's throw-in coach not giving away secrets

There are many differences between the champions of England and the champions of Denmark, but the two clubs have shared one thing in common: their throw-in coach.

Former Danish athlete Thomas Gronnemark has worked for both sides and also previously helped out at fellow Group D opponents Ajax.

Liverpool hired Thomas Gronnemark in 2018 as a throw-in coach Image: Liverpool hired Thomas Gronnemark in 2018 as a throw-in coach

Klopp hired Gronnemark in 2018 and it had a real impact in Liverpool's title-winning season, with the team scoring 14 of their 85 Premier League goals from throw-in situations.

Asked about Gronnemark's knowledge of Midtjylland, Klopp said: "We saw the influence of Thomas when we watched Midtjylland in the analysis but it was a pretty silent week.

"Thomas is 100 per cent professional and we don't ask him what they do and he would not give Midtjylland the answers.

"He's a super guy and helped us a lot.

"Throw-ins are a big part of our preparation but it's not the only part so we have to think about a lot of things.

"We know they will not make a lot of mistakes around throw-ins. They will have their routines, like we have a few. We just have to make sure we can use ours and deny theirs."

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Categories: LFC NEWS

Ref Watch: Maguire lucky, Digne's red card correct

Mon, 10/26/2020 - 13:20

Former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher is back to assess the controversial decisions from around the Premier League...

Dermot joined Rob Wotton on Sky Sports News to review the big decisions...

Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea preview image 2:52 FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the 0-0 draw between Manchester United and Chelsea in the Premier League

INCIDENT: Chelsea will feel they should have had a first-half penalty when Harry Maguire held down Cesar Azpilicueta as a free-kick was swung into the United box.

The incident in pictures... Harry Maguire was fortunate to avoid giving away a penalty for this hold on Cesar Azpilicueta Image: Maguire was fortunate to avoid giving away a penalty for this hold on Azpilicueta Harry Maguire climbs over Cesar Azpilicueta to head clear Image: Maguire climbs Cesar Azpilicueta to head clear Harry Maguire climbs over Cesar Azpilicueta to head clear Image: Maguire climbs over Azpilicueta to head clear

VERDICT: When you see the images again, Martin Atkinson's view is not the best, but when you see the angle from behind the goal that VAR had, you've got to give a penalty. You only had to see one replay from behind the goal. You see the impact it has on Azpilicueta because he's held down, the arms are around his neck, he cannot head the ball and Maguire actually heads the ball away. It has to be a penalty.

The incident raises an interesting issue in so much as the ball was in play and I wonder if it wasn't scrutinised enough because it was cleared so quickly. Therefore they didn't look at it as they should have done, which was quite ironic because the ball went up the other end and there was a tackle on Marcus Rashford - which I don't think was a penalty - and it was looked at a number of times, which was a lot easier because the ball was dead.

The learning process here is when the ball is in play, you've still got time to scrutinise it thoroughly.

Should Chelsea have had a penalty? Harry Maguire climbs over Cesar Azpilicueta to head clear 0:30 Chelsea players appealed for a penalty following this incident between Maguire and Azpilicueta, but their claims were waved away Southampton 2-0 Everton preview image 2:51 FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Southampton's win over Everton in the Premier League

INCIDENT: Lucas Digne failed in a couple of attempts to bring down Kyle Walker-Peters as he drove forward, before catching the Southampton full-back on the back of the leg to bring a straight red card from referee Kevin Friend.

VERDICT: I think you've got to give a red card for that. I've spoken to a lot of people who think otherwise but when you put your studs down somebody's Achilles you are always going to be sent off for serious foul play. I fully accept he didn't mean to do it and he didn't mean to be malicious, but there are a lot of tackles that players make that are not meant to be, that are mistimed and clumsy and they get sent off.

I just think it is inevitable that he's going to be sent off for that.

Redknapp on Digne's red: The game's gone Referee Kevin Friend gives Lucas Digne of Everton a helping hand and a straight red after his tackle on Kyle Walker-Peters of Southampton during the Premier League match between Southampton and Everton at St Mary's Stadium on October 25, 2020 in Southampton, England. 1:28 Jamie Redknapp and Kieron Dyer agree that Lucas Digne was unfortunate to be given a red card for his challenge on Kyle Walker-Peters Arsenal 0-1 Leicester preview image 2:51 FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Leicester's win against Arsenal in the Premier League

INCIDENT: Arsenal looked to have got off to the perfect start in the match when Alexandre Lacazette flicked Dani Ceballos' corner in off the post inside four minutes. But the Gunners' celebrations were short-lived, with an instant offside flag penalising Granit Xhaka for interfering with play, despite not touching the ball.

Arsenal and Leicester players protest as the Gunners' early goal is ruled out for offside 0:42 Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta was angry that this goal from Alexandre Lacazette was disallowed after Granit Xhaka was deemed to be interfering with play when in an offside position

VERDICT: It's difficult for me to explain this. Offside is not my specialist subject and I sought guidance on this as to why it was disallowed. My first reaction was that Xhaka touched the ball, but he doesn't.

The assistant flags because he thinks Xhaka is in the vision of the goalkeeper. They feel he's so close to Kasper Schmeichel and the goal in his starting position that it impacts on the goalkeeper and his ability to move either way. That's why it was disallowed. The assistant signalled it to the referee, the referee agreed with it and the VAR felt the assistant and the referee were right on this occasion.

preview image 2:19 Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta says he could not understand why officials ruled out Lacazette's first-half goal in the 1-0 defeat to Leicester

INCIDENT: Hector Bellerin, who is already on a yellow card, dives into a challenge on James Justin and, with the ball gone, catches the Leicester full-back late. The referee doesn't award a free-kick and therefore there's not a second yellow card, much to the frustration of Leicester.

VERDICT: It's not a second yellow card because the referee didn't give a free-kick. I don't know how he didn't give a free-kick. He just doesn't think it's a foul for whatever reason. I would suggest that if he'd given a foul, he'd have given a second yellow card. I thought it was a foul.

INCIDENT: With Lacazette trying to get his head to the ball, Kieran Tierney's cross hits Christian Fuchs' arm as the defender tries to clear the ball. No penalty is given.

VERDICT: I just can't see that it's a handball. The ball comes across and it might brush against him, but he's gone to kick the ball and his arms are by his sides. You'd be very unlucky to be penalised for that.

Liverpool 2-1 Sheffield United preview image 3:01 FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool's win against Sheffield United in the Premier League

INCIDENT: Fabinho lunged in on Oli McBurnie on the edge of his own box. Mike Dean initially awarded the visitors a free-kick, but VAR referee Andre Marriner ruled the foul had occurred inside the box, leaving Sander Berge to beat Alisson from 12 yards.

VERDICT: The referee thought it was a foul so therefore they check if it is a penalty because it was so close to the line of the penalty area. The line belongs to the goalkeeper and his foot is on the line so that's where the foul occurs and therefore it goes into the penalty area.

I thought the VAR did really well because he relayed to Mike Dean that it was a factual decision. He could go and give a penalty because it was on the line. The process was really good.

The foul is a subjective decision. The referee thought it was a foul, the VAR thought it was in the penalty area and the VAR didn't think it was a clear and obvious error not to give a foul. Therefore, a penalty was given.

INCIDENT: Sheffield United had serious cause to believe they could have had another penalty with half-time approaching when Berge went over Diogo Jota's outstretched leg just inside the area, but a well-placed Dean saw nothing untoward.

VERDICT: I didn't think this was a penalty. I thought there was minimal contact and there's as much contact from Berge as there is from Jota.

We've got to be very careful. There's physical contact in every football match, from every single challenge, but for me, this wasn't a penalty.

Fulham 1-2 Crystal Palace preview image 2:56 FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Crystal Palace's win over Fulham in the Premier League

INCIDENT: Graham Scott brandished a red card to Aboubakar Kamara for his challenge on Ebere Eze having consulted his pitchside monitor.

VERDICT: When you see the referee's view, yellow card. When you see the replay and see he comes down on him with his studs, I think red card. The process was good as well because the referee genuinely thought it was a yellow card, but he gets sent to the screen, looks at it and changes his mind to a red card, which I agree with.

Wolves 1-1 Newcastle preview image 2:57 FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the 1-1 draw between Wolves and Newcastle in the Premier League

INCIDENT: Newcastle won a free-kick after Conor Coady's foul on Callum Wilson. Josh Murphy whipped it around the Wolves wall and into a slither of space between the goalkeeper and the post, securing a point for his side.

VERDICT: This is where referee subjectivity comes into play. The referee in this match thought it was a foul and he gave a free-kick. What I will say is as a referee sometimes you are lucky and sometimes you are unlucky. The consequence of giving that free-kick is a goal. If the goal isn't scored, we wouldn't be talking about it, but some will give a free-kick, others won't. That's how it is.

West Ham 1-1 Man City preview image 2:44 FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from West Ham's draw with Manchester City in the Premier League

INCIDENT: Czech Republic internationals Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal exchanged passes in a tight space near the right touchline, before the former swung in a cross from which Michail Antonio found the net with an instinctive bicycle kick. City protested that Soucek had handled the ball in the build-up, but VAR Peter Bankes back at Stockley Park decided it was accidental and allowed the goal to stand.

VERDICT: It would have been ruled out last season, but this is where people are applauding the new rule. I'm still not convinced Soucek actually handles the ball, Does it come of his thigh or his hip? Does it cushion off his arm? I'm not sure of that, but what I am sure of is that as it goes on he retrieves the ball, he doesn't score from that, he doesn't cross from that because the ball is crossed by another player, Antoni scores a wonderful goal and everybody is happy.

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Liverpool 2-0 Midtjylland commentary

Mon, 10/26/2020 - 12:16

FTFull Time AETAfter Extra Time LIVEThis is a live match. ETExtra Time HTHalf Time

Liverpool vs FC Midtjylland. UEFA Champions League Group D.

8:00pm, Tuesday 27th October 2020.

Anfield.

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Being black in football: Past, present and future

Sun, 10/25/2020 - 13:30

As part of Black History Month, Patrick Davison speaks with three pioneers of English football to discuss the past, present and future of race relations within the game.

They were stars, among the best players in what was fast becoming the world's greatest league.

John Barnes, Paul Ince and Andy Cole grew up in a country that could be hostile, but inspired by the trailblazers who showed it could be done - the likes of Cyrille Regis, Viv Anderson, Luther Blissett, Barnes himself, and many, many more.

Together they laid a path for those that followed.

"The way they excelled showed that no amount of adversity was going to stop them from becoming the best in the business," Troy Townsend, head of development at Kick It Out, tells Sky Sports. "They didn't tip-toe, they exploded onto the scene, the mould had been broken. There's so much those guys would have had to overcome."

He's not wrong.

Barnes scored 142 top-flight goals for Watford, Liverpool and Newcastle.

Andy Cole scored 187 Premier League goals, and still sits as third all-time top scorer.

Paul Ince clocked up 467 top-flight appearances, and was England's first appointed black captain in 1993.

Those black players before them had made it easier, but not easy.

Ince: "There has always been fight, there has always been this never-say-die attitude. I go back to my childhood, and I used to hang around with all these lads on the corner of the street. There was a gang called Becontree boys, a bit older than us, and they used to drive by in their cars and shout racial abuse at us, every night.

"Every single night for about two years. That's when I was 13 or 14, so I had experienced that. I married a white girl, I was with my wife Claire since I was 17, when I was at West Ham. It wasn't known in the 80s to see a white person with a black person.

Image: Paul Ince: "I always had this issue: if they said anything about your colour, or about your wife, it's going off in the tunnel"

"I experienced racism in my early times at West Ham. I remember we went away to some team and we were 4-0 down, and I was just warming up down the sidelines, and they were hurling abuse, coins, bananas. For an 18, 19-year-old kid, that's pretty harrowing. To experience it, was frightening."

Cole: "Do I believe I'd become a role model? Not at all. I'll always take my hat off to those who went before me. I know how much hard work they've put in for people like me. What they went through, I know, hand on heart, I couldn't have done it.

  ANDY COLE OF NEWCASTLE UNITED SOCCER CLUB DURING A CLUB PHOTOCALL BEFORE THE START OF THE 1994/5 SOCCER SEASON. Mandatory Credit: Mike Cooper/ALLSPO Image: Andy Cole was also the first black player to break the British transfer record in 1995

"I remember when a certain individual tried to name me Chalky. To this day, I think he's still waiting for me to answer him. I don't answer to Chalky. I don't accept nonsense like that."

Barnes: "When the team is not playing well, the fans would start to boo me. That was a difficult time for me. Regardless of whether bananas came on the field with me, or racial abuse, or whatever, I felt much stronger looking into the crowd seeing black fans who were racially abused. That I felt was wrong, and that we had to deal with, and still now we have to deal with that situation."

When the team is not playing well, the fans would start to boo me. John Barnes

Townsend: "Back in the 70s and 80s, the abuse was horrendous. They would have faced the worst of language, stadiums full of people that hated them, bananas, which became synonymous with black people: 'You're a monkey, there's a banana'."

Read more Black History Month content on Sky Sports, including exclusive interviews and features, here

A whole new ball game? Paul Ince feels Liverpool need to sign a striker Image: The 90s brought fresh hope, and the birth of the Premier League, but did racism still exist?

Then came the Premier League. In 1992/93, the excitement of the new English top-flight took over. But did it eradicate racism?

Townsend: "People talk about the 90s as glory years, the Premier League being born, and this whole new era of exciting products, it meant: did we have to talk about racism anymore? Is it really a thing? If you want me to be honest, racism was swept under the carpet. If you want to talk to those players, they would say they were still having those experiences. Things were still happening."

Ince: "It seemed everything was great and everything was perfect. It wasn't perfect for the black players in their teams. We were still experiencing racial stuff. It's not an issue for me to deal with it from the stands. But when a white professional player says it, then it would annoy me.

"I always had this issue: if they said anything about your colour, or about your wife, it's going off in the tunnel. That was it! They were the only two things that riled me, and there were plenty of times that did happen in the early 90s."

Smashing through barriers

Despite the odds and the abuse, black players continued to smash through barriers. Starting with Barnes, who became the first black player to establish himself at Liverpool, the club who had become England's dominant force.

Barnes: "I was thrusted into the limelight, so all eyes were going to be on me, but I trusted my ability, my footballing ability, my team-mates and the environment Liverpool gave me, to show what I could do."

John Barnes and Peter Beardsley with the First Division trophy Image: John Barnes won two league titles and two FA Cups with Liverpool

Cole was the first black player to break the British transfer record in 1995, moving from Newcastle to Manchester United for £7m in 1995, while Ince was recognised by the England national side as their main leader, in a time where the likes of Tony Adams, Alan Shearer and David Seaman were heavily involved.

Ince: "For me to have that armband, it was like a little kid again. You're so excited, your stomach is bubbling, and you just think: 'Wow, really? Are you sure?'.

Image: Ince captained England in the 90s, most notably in the infamous draw in Rome against Italy to send Glenn Hoddle's side to the 1998 World Cup

"It probably more so hit home in Rome, captaining them to the draw that got us to the World Cup. I got home to a sack full of letters from all over the world. That hit home to me how much it meant to them that I was a black England captain."

Abuse comes under spotlight in 1995   ERIC CANTONA OF MANCHESTER UNITED IS LED OFF THE PITCH AFTER FIGHTING WITH A FAN AFTER BEING SENT OFF DURING THE CRYSTAL PALACE V MANCHESTER Image: Eric Cantona was banned for eight months for kicking a Crystal Palace fan in 1995

Among that, 1995 brought one of the most infamous moments in the Premier League. Manchester United's Eric Cantona was banned for eight months for kicking a Crystal Palace fan in the stands at Selhurst Park.

Abuse from fans came properly under the spotlight for the first time, but not in the way that had been anticipated. Was it nevertheless the straw that broke the camel's back?

I'm probably happy it was a white Frenchman that took the stance, rather than any black player. Why? ... I wonder if they'd have still been allowed in the game. Troy Townsend

Ince: "At the time it was scary and it wasn't right, but he only did what everyone else wanted to do."

Cole: "It took someone like Eric to say: 'Enough is enough, I can't handle this no more'."

Townsend: "I'm probably happy it was a white Frenchman that took the stance, rather than any black player. Why? Because I think they would have been dealt with differently, harsher. And I wonder if they'd have still been allowed in the game."

The managerial void Paul Ince during a match between Blackburn Rovers and Liverpool at Ewood Park on December 6, 2008 Image: Ince is one of only a handful of black British managers to take charge of a Premier League side

Many successful black players have looked to make the move through to management, but still, in 2020, the lack of BAME British managers is startling.

The Premier League is yet to implement the Rooney Rule - requiring clubs to interview at least one BAME candidate - and it is clear there is much work to be done in this area.

Cole: "I remember when I retired and Sir Alex Ferguson said to me: 'Right, come on Coley, get yourself into the coaching badges'. I said: 'No, it's not for me'. I didn't think there was going to be an opportunity for black managers to manage at the elite level, and I'm not prepared to jump through hoops for nobody."

Ince: "We're not saying we should have the job because we're black. We're saying give us the chance to sit in front of you guys, and explain how we look at this club and take it forward. That's not even happening. We just want to feel that we are equal to everybody else. Hopefully in the next two, three, four years, we'll be seeing some light at the end of the tunnel."

Townsend: "The game doesn't trust them. Why are we not on the merry-go-round of managers? Because there is a merry-go-round."

Barnes: "We have a perception of different groups' ability, and the perception for hundreds of years about a black man's ability to think, a woman's ability to lead a fortune 500 company, and somebody who is gay's ability to go to war and fight. It's because of what we have been wrongly told about them, and that's what we have to change."

Players flourishing now Marcus Rashford replaces Raheem Sterling for England Image: The likes of Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling are flourishing in modern-day football

And so in football and society, huge challenges remain. But on the pitch, it's a Premier League where talent flourishes, and that is something a group of pioneers from its early days helped to build.

Cole: "For black players to excel at the highest level, it's nice to see."

Ince: "We have a voice now, and that's the most important thing. I'm thinking about the future, I'm thinking about my son Thomas. It's definitely in a better place, that's the great thing, we are pioneers to hopefully pave the way for other black players so they are racially abused less and less when they step onto a football pitch. We have come a long way, but we've still got a long, long way to go."

10:58 As part of Black History Month, Japhet Tanganga, Wilfried Zaha and Michail Antonio give a fascinating insight into life as a young black footballer in London, with the help of footballing pioneers from the area

Barnes: "You can look at a League Two team in the middle of nowhere where you wouldn't find a black man, but you've got six black players playing for their side. That is a big difference."

Townsend: "This generation of your Sterlings, your Rashfords, your Sanchos, I could go on, there's so many talented figures out there now. Our young players are saying to the world: 'We're ready, we want to play, we can see the stage and we want to dance on it'. But the journey now is just as long as how far we've come. We have to acknowledge how far we've come, but let's not rest on our laurels."

Read more Black History Month content on Sky Sports, including exclusive interviews and features, here

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Firmino conundrum at Liverpool

Sun, 10/25/2020 - 08:16

Roberto Firmino went into Liverpool’s game against Sheffield United under scrutiny having scored only twice in his previous 26 appearances. The forward was waiting not only for his first Premier League goal at Anfield this season but his first shot on target.

Midway through the first half, with his team already a goal behind to the battling Blades, and having touched the ball only four times, the fewest of any player on the pitch, the Brazilian's famed 'unseen work' was proving harder to spot than ever before.

But then came the equaliser and with it the accompanying smile.

By the time that Firmino was withdrawn late on, he had not only had 44 touches of the ball, but one could also point to the fact that he had covered the most ground of anyone on the pitch, made the most sprints, and been clocked as his team's fastest player.

Isn't it always the way with Firmino?

When he is scoring goals and Liverpool are winning games, as they did here 2-1 in the end, it is time to celebrate everything else that comes with a Firmino performance.

When he is not finding the back of the net, as has happened too often for his liking over the past nine months, the calls for Jurgen Klopp to find another solution grow louder.

The Liverpool boss has made his feelings plain on the subject.

"For me, it is not even close to becoming a problem," said Klopp when asked recently about this goal drought. "These are the things where I have to be different to the outside world. For me, it is just important how influential the player is, how it works for the team.

"It was always clear when a player like Bobby, if he is not scoring and people start focusing on that then you realise that even he loses the ball from time to time."

It can feel like even discussing Firmino's flaws is tantamount to an admission of ignorance, an acknowledgement that the game's nuance and subtlety has been missed. Appreciating Firmino is an acquired taste but a taste worth acquiring.

preview image 3:01 FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool's win against Sheffield United

There is a certain logic to that given Liverpool's success. Any debate about one of their players should start from the endpoint and work back from there. This is a team that has been so brilliant that, by definition, everyone is contributing something crucial.

When scoring decisive goals in tricky away fixtures at Southampton, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Tottenham or Wolves, as Firmino did last season, or netting that extra-time winner against Flamengo to help his team become world champions, that contribution is obvious.

When the goals stop - and Firmino's Premier League tally since February still stands at only two, the same as most of the back four, a trio of midfielders and September signing Diogo Jota - then it is necessary to look to other performance metrics.

After all, that is precisely what Klopp is doing.

"It's normal that you discuss it," he added.

"We discuss performances - individual and team performances - but not in the same way as you, obviously. Yes, we want him to score, we want him to come into the position where he can score. But it is not the one thing I think about when I think about Bobby, obviously."

What sort of things is Klopp thinking about instead?

Firmino's off-the-ball movement is a feature of Liverpool's game and it can be measured. He covered more ground than any other forward in the Premier League last season and not just because he featured in all 38 of Liverpool's matches in their title-winning campaign.

Roberto Firmino's running stats for Liverpool in the 2019/20 season Image: Firmino's impressive running stats for Liverpool in the 2019/20 season

The statistics show that Firmino also spent the lowest percentage of time walking of any Premier League forward. It sums him up. He is perpetual motion, making life difficult for defenders, leading the press, and determining where and when Liverpool win the ball back.

Over the course of last season, Firmino was jogging for almost 90 minutes longer than any other Premier League forward and his total of 484 high-intensity sprints was the fourth most by any player regardless of position. His work rate typifies Klopp's Liverpool.

Roberto Firmino's ball-winning stats for Liverpool in the 2019/20 season Image: Firmino's impressive ball-winning stats for Liverpool in the 2019/20 season

This is a team that won possession of the ball in the final third more times than any other last season and Firmino was directly responsible for that happening on 37 different occasions. Again, this was the most by any Premier League player. It sets him apart.

But the fact that much of this work by Firmino can go unseen and is harder to spot than a Mohamed Salah strike or an inch-perfect Andy Robertson cross has a logical consequence. It also follows that it should be harder to spot if a player stops doing that unseen work.

For example, if Salah's function in this Liverpool team is to score goals then it is fair to assume that if he stops taking those chances then he is no longer doing his job properly.

Firmino's form is trickier to assess because he has another role to play. But if he cannot be measured by goals or assists then can he still be measured by these more esoteric metrics?

Consider that statistic for the number of times that possession has been won in the final third - a list that Firmino topped last season. A very different picture is emerging this time around.

Firmino has won the ball back in that zone only once this season. Not only is he no longer top of the Premier League list but there are even ten Liverpool players who have won back possession in the final third more times. It is Sadio Mane who is leading the press now.

Against Sheffield United, this change was obvious with the inclusion of Jota seeing Firmino take on a deeper role in a 4-2-3-1 formation. It requires different qualities and during the early part of the match it was not only the opposition players who were struggling to pick him up - his own team-mates appeared to be bypassing him too.

Roberto Firmino's heatmap shows that he has played slightly deeper for Liverpool this season Image: Firmino's heatmap suggests he is playing slightly deeper for Liverpool this year

But as the game wore on his influence grew, drifting to the flanks, showing for throw-ins, and playing one lovely cushioned pass to Jordan Henderson that almost allowed the Liverpool captain to slide Mane through on goal. He appeared buoyed by the goal.

Klopp was certainly pleased with his new-look forward line.

"It gives us an extra option," he explained.

"It brought Mo in a different position, where I have to say he played an incredible game. Mo and Sadio didn't score but played outstanding. Sadio was in the one-on-one situations pretty much undefendable. Mo between the lines, sensational. And the other two boys scored and played good as well, so that helps obviously."

preview image 4:02 Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said his side had to work hard to beat Sheffield United

For once, then, Klopp found himself praising his two former golden boot winners, Salah and Mane, for their performances despite failing to find the net, while it was Firmino who delivered the goal.

Even so, the fact that Jota was also among the scorers presents an interesting decision for Klopp. The new arrival is showing that he can adapt and looks right at home in that front three. "He has exactly the quality we need," added the Liverpool boss.

Could Jota play the pressing game that Klopp demands alongside Salah and Mane, while also delivering a better goal return than Firmino? Or would Liverpool's attack suffer in unforeseen ways because of the intangibles that Firmino brings to the team?

Perhaps it is a question for another day while Klopp attempts to accommodate all four of them in the same team. For now, the focus is on a wait that has now ended. But expect the conundrum of evaluating the contribution of Roberto Firmino to continue.

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Firmino, Jota mount Liverpool comeback to blunt Blades

Sat, 10/24/2020 - 21:51

Goals in either half from Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota gave Liverpool a 2-1 comeback victory over a spirited Sheffield United at Anfield.

The Blades, with only a point to show from their opening five games of the season, took a surprise lead after 13 minutes when VAR ruled Fabinho's foul on Oli McBurnie had been just inside the home box - giving Sander Berge the perfect chance to beat the restored Alisson from 12 yards.

A stunning cross from Jordan Henderson teed up Liverpool's equaliser four minutes before half-time, with Sadio Mane's header palmed out by Aaron Ramsdale to Firmino, who scored just his third goal in his last 27 games for Liverpool.

The Blades continued to impress after the break without seriously threatening to further concern Alisson on his return from injury, and found themselves behind when Jota netted his first Premier League headed goal from Mane's excellent delivery.

Victory sees Liverpool leapfrog Aston Villa - who have played a game less - into second place, level with city rivals Everton, who also have a game in hand on their neighbours.

Player ratings

Liverpool: Alisson (6), Alexander-Arnold (7), Gomez (8), Fabinho (5), Robertson (7), Henderson (8), Wijnaldum (7), Jota (7), Salah (7), Firmino (7), Mane (7).

Subs: Minamino, Milner (n/a).

Sheffield United: Ramsdale (6), Baldock (7), Basham (6), Egan (8), Stevens (6), Osborn (7), Berge (7), Lundstram (6), Ampadu (6), McBurnie (7), Brewster (5).

Subs: Burke (7), McGoldrick (6).

Man of the match: Jordan Henderson.

How Liverpool came from behind at Anfield

How would Liverpool cope without Virgil van Dijk? His name had dominated discussions in the build-up to Saturday's game, in spite of the Reds' relatively comfortable win over Ajax in midweek, but they flew out of the blocks at Anfield and could have led inside two minutes.

Andrew Robertson's inviting ball down the outside found Mane's run, and with Ramsdale opting to race off his line, the winger's slide pass towards Firmino looked certain to be tapped home until a vital sliding block from John Egan took it behind.

Sheff Image: Sander Berge gave the visitors a shock lead from the spot

Trent Alexander-Arnold caused the goalkeeper more problems with an audacious free-kick from the half-way line which saw him back-peddling to tip the ball over his crossbar and spare his blushes.

The half would swing on a momentary lapse from Fabinho, so impressive in Amsterdam on Wednesday night, but rash to lunge in on McBurnie on the edge of his own box. Mike Dean initially awarded the visitors a free-kick, but VAR referee Andre Marriner ruled the foul had occurred inside the box, leaving Berge to beat Alisson from 12 yards.

Their sudden burst of confidence which followed was clear to see, as McBurnie then skewed an effort wide when well-placed before Ben Osborn's well-struck volley was palmed away by Alisson. The Blades had serious cause to believe they could have had another penalty with half-time approaching when Berge went over Diogo Jota's outstretched leg just inside the area, but a well-placed Dean saw nothing untoward.

Team news
  • Alisson returned from injury for Liverpool as one of four changes from their Merseyside derby draw last weekend.
  • Rhian Brewster made his first Sheffield United start in place of David McGoldrick, with Ben Osborn and Ethan Ampadu also brought in.

Moments later the half would take another sudden swing, as Liverpool made something out of nothing to level. Jordan Henderson's wicked cross from the right found Mane at the back post, but after keeping out his header Ramsdale was powerless to stop Firmino following up from close-range.

That didn't take the wind out of the Blades' sails before half-time, and neither did their heads drop after with George Baldock seeing a goalbound effort deflected behind within two minutes of the restart, before Salah fired just over at the other end from a half-cleared corner.

Soon Salah did find the back of the net with a textbook take and finish from Alexander-Arnold's whipped cross from deep, but his celebrations were cut short as a rapid VAR check ruled his run had taken him a foot or so beyond the last man.

Roberto Firmino tapped home to bring Liverpool level Image: Roberto Firmino tapped home to bring Liverpool level

They would not be cut short for long. Having defended so well against him all evening, Baldock allowed Mane space to cross from the left and Jota, having peeled off Enda Stevens at the back post, nodded in an excellent header.

Salah nearly wrapped up the points with another smart move nine minutes from time, turning Egan and heading for goal, but this time the woodwork, rather than VAR, denied the Egyptian.

Sheffield United never gave up the ghost in a performance which had plenty to savour but, most frustratingly for Chris Wilder, nothing to show for it as the Blades remained in the bottom three, while Liverpool moved joint top of the developing Premier League table.

What the managers said...

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp: "We started brilliantly, I liked the start a lot, we then conceded a goal which is not even a foul - that doesn't help. Then you are 1-0 down.

preview image 4:02 Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said his side had to work hard to beat a resilient Sheffield United side 2-1 at Anfield.

"For us it was a bit too hectic, when you have these four offensive players, but all four offer an option in behind, you have nobody in between. but then the goal we scored was perfect. We didn't do that often enough though, so we wanted to change that at half-time.

"We changed it at half-time, were completely superior, were everything we wanted to be, scored a second goal and another one which was I think offside, I don't know, but Sheffield Untied never gave up.

"They are a fighting unit, I respect it a lot, Chris is doing an incredible job, it's really tricky to play against them, but we won it and I'm more than happy."

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder: "I thought the attitude was terrific. You're always going to be up against it because of the quality that you're playing against.

preview image 3:49 Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder felt his side were unfortunate not to take anything away from their trip to Anfield which ended in a 2-1 defeat.

"They had more of the possession but I thought we were in the game right until the end. There's a lot of disappointed players in there and from my point of view, disappointed as a manager because I think we just did enough to get a result out of the game.

"It was more like us, it was more aggressive and more competitive. It was more of a Sheffield United performance that everybody has seen over the last two or three years and we needed to get back to that with the attitude in our approach.

"If you allow good players to get their heads up, they'll pick you off and I thought we made contact with them and then that gave us the opportunity to play as well."

Man of the match - Jordan Henderson

In addition to conjuring a rabbit out of a hat to create Liverpool's equalising goal when they looked likely to be frustrated until the interval by their visitors, Jordan Henderson led with the captain's armband, edging out Joe Gomez to the man of the match award.

He won possession back more than anyone else on his side (10) while making the most interceptions (3) of anyone on the pitch, and in addition to his superb cross for Mane, nearly provided the Senegal winger another golden opportunity with a wonderful pass into the area after half-time.

No-one came close to completing the number of opposition-half passes (66) as the skipper, who demonstrated his quality with and without the ball for the Premier League champions.

Opta facts
  • Liverpool have won four consecutive Premier League games against Sheffield United by an aggregate score of 9-1.
  • Liverpool extend their unbeaten run at Anfield to 62 games in the Premier League (W51 D11), winning 28 of their last 29.
  • Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 13 Premier League home games when conceding the first goal (W10 D3), winning each of the last nine in a row.
  • Sheffield United are winless in nine Premier League games (D1 L8), the longest current run of any side in the competition.
  • Liverpool have conceded 14 goals in their first six Premier League games this season, it took them 15 league games to ship the same amount in 2019-20.
What's next?

Liverpool are back in the Champions League this week, facing FC Midtjylland on Tuesday; Kick-off at 8pm. Next weekend they host West Ham at Anfield in the Premier League on Saturday Night Football live on Sky Sports Premier League from 5pm; Kick-off at 5.30pm.

Sheffield United face another tough test as they take on Manchester City at Bramall Lane next Saturday; Kick-off at 12.30pm.

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Adrian: I can't defend Pickford tackle

Fri, 10/23/2020 - 18:10

Adrian has become the latest Liverpool player to criticise Jordan Pickford for the tackle that seriously injured Virgil van Dijk, saying he cannot defend his fellow goalkeeper's actions.

Van Dijk will undergo surgery on the knee injury he sustained in last weekend's Merseyside derby and Jurgen Klopp says he is not putting a timescale on the defender's return.

Pickford was not punished by the officials for the tackle, with the VAR official David Coote deciding it was not worthy of a red card. Liverpool asked the Premier League after the game to investigate the use of VAR in the incident.

The England No 1 has also avoided post-game disciplinary action from the authorities, which Klopp said earlier this week was difficult to accept. Georginio Wijnaldum went further, describing Pickford's actions as "stupid".

Adrian told Sky Sports: "It was a very bad challenge in a very bad position. It was late. I think no players are allowed to do this kind of challenge.

"I am a goalkeeper and I always defend the goalkeepers, but going for a ball like this is not fair. In that situation, he has not many chance to block the ball - just hurting the other player.

Adrian Image: Adrian has started Liverpool's last four games following an injury to Alisson

"Your body is at risk every time you play. You have a few challenges you are allowed to do but I don't accept this kind of challenge and the Premier League don't accept these kind of things."

Klopp and Wijnaldum hit out at lack of punishment

Speaking earlier this week, Klopp said it was difficult to accept Pickford's lack of punishment for injuring Van Dijk, while Wijnaldum criticised Everton's tackling during the game, in which Richarlison was sent off for a dangerous tackle on Thiago.

"A few days ago something that should not have happened in a football game, happened," said Klopp. "It was not the first time and it won't be the last, but both challenges were difficult to accept.

Pickford collides with Van Dijk 1:13 Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti says goalkeeper Jordan Pickford did not intend to injure Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk and that his challenge was 'mistimed'

"We can't change this now. I spoke the day after and it's hard for us as Virgil is our boy. It is difficult to take because the referee doesn't see it.

"Michael Oliver is an excellent referee but he had the best view. Then VAR forgets the rules. As a human, I don't want to see Everton players punished, but we all agree if you do something wrong, you have to deal with consequences.

"Right now there are only two people suffering with the consequences and they are Virgil and Thiago."

Wijnaldum added: "The way Pickford went into the challenge was completely, in my opinion, stupid.

Pickford collides with Van Dijk 1:31 Liverpool's Gini Wijnaldum says Everton take their tackles in the derby too far and has described Jordan Pickford's tackle on Virgil van Dijk as stupid and completely unacceptable

"I believe that he didn't want to injure Virgil the way he injured him but the way he took the tackle, he didn't care about what happened after the tackle.

"I think we had it a lot with the games against Everton. In my opinion, they take it way too far in the games we play against them.

"We know it's a derby and everyone wants to win the derby but they took it a little bit over the top.

"The tackle from Richarlison on Thiago was also a nasty tackle. The way they were doing it was completely unacceptable. It makes it harder that they will not be punished."

Will Van Dijk injury end title race like Aymeric Laporte's did?

Aymeric Laporte's injury last season put Man City out of the title race by Christmas. Will Liverpool's season go a similar way? Or are they better set up to cope with the absence of their talisman, who played every single minute of their historic title-winning season in 2019/20?

On the latest Pitch to Post Review podcast, Jasper Taylor is joined by Gerard Brand and Ben Ransom to analyse exactly what this means for Liverpool.

Download the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Podcast on Apple - or listen on Spotify above...

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Klopp: No return date for Van Dijk

Fri, 10/23/2020 - 14:45

Jurgen Klopp is refusing to put a timescale on Virgil van Dijk's return from the serious knee injury suffered in last weekend's Merseyside derby.

Van Dijk is yet to undergo surgery on the cruciate ligament damage he suffered in a challenge from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

The Dutch defender could miss the rest of the season but Klopp would not give an estimated return date during Friday's press conference.

"I can understand that people are interested in that," said the Liverpool boss. "Virgil was here, he is okay.

Pickford collides with Van Dijk 1:13 Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti says goalkeeper Jordan Pickford did not intend to injure Virgil van Dijk and that his challenge was 'mistimed'

"But when it comes to the surgery and stuff, it doesn't make sense for us to give a time schedule. We'll do that at an appropriate time, but he's as good as possible.

"We don't want to know how long he is out for, it will take time for sure. In the end, all people are different so we can't say for him it's that long, for him it's that long.

"It makes sense from a specific moment in the recovery and rehab time.

"Everybody copes differently with it that's why there is no need for an update."

Fabinho is covering at centre-back for the injured Virgil van Dijk Image: Fabinho is covering at centre-back for Van Dijk

Klopp has backed Fabinho to fill in for Van Dijk at the heart of Liverpool's defence after impressing alongside Joe Gomez at centre-back during Wednesday's Champions League win against Ajax.

"They're (Van Dijk and Fabinho) different players but both can defend, that helps obviously," said Klopp.

"We all know Fab can play this position, he played against Bayern for example in a home game, and was absolutely great.

Saturday 31st October 5:00pm Kick off 5:30pm Sky Sports Premier League HD

"I'm not surprised he can play the position but it's all about getting used to each other. I don't think this line played together before the Ajax game.

"There are a lot of things from an organisational point of view. You cannot talk about it or exchange notes about it; it's just to feel what's right and wrong, high line or low line, this kind of stuff.

"That's why I said there is a lot to improve because these boys need to get used to each other."

Rhian Brewster Image: Rhian Brewster could face his former side on Saturday

Liverpool return to Premier League action on Saturday when they face Sheffield United, live on Sky Sports Box Office.

It means a quick return to Anfield for Rhian Brewster, who joined the Blades from Liverpool in a £23.5m earlier this month.

"We all know him very well and that's the problem, we know how good he is. That's the situation," said Klopp.

"We need to be 100 per cent focused if he starts. But not only him. Sheffield United are doing really well; they had a pretty tough start fixture-wise.

"I'm pretty sure Chris (Wilder) is calm enough to know all the good things they did are still good and they just have to keep them going. That's what they will try and that makes it really a very intense game.

"It's Sheffield United; the way they play, if you want to win the game you have to be intense yourself.

"And if Rhian is then on the pitch, we know we should not let him finish at all because wherever he gets the ball he is a natural finisher and that's his biggest threat."

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Liverpool vs Sheffield United preview

Fri, 10/23/2020 - 13:45

Team news, stats and prediction ahead of Liverpool vs Sheffield United in the Premier League on Saturday; Kick-off 8pm.

Team news

For the first time in 75 Premier League games, Liverpool will be without Virgil van Dijk as the Dutchman begins his long road to recovery following his anterior cruciate ligament injury.

Midfielder Alex Oxlade Chamberlain (knee), and defender Konstantinos Tsimikas (thigh) both remain out.

Alisson Becker is one of four players Jurgen Klopp will make a late check on. The Brazil international has missed three matches with a shoulder injury but has returned to light training and could potentially make a return ahead of schedule.

Thiago Alcantara, Naby Keita and Joel Matip are being assessed but are all doubtful, with Klopp having discussions with the medical department over the trio.

Joe Gomez and Fabinho of Liverpool warm up prior to the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Burnley FC at Anfield on July 11, 2020 in Liverpool, England. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images) 0:54 Jurgen Klopp praised the performance of new centre-back pairing Joe Gomez and Fabinho against Ajax, but insists the duo will need time to fully adapt to the demands as a partnership

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder would have "no hesitation" handing club-record signing Rhian Brewster his full debut against his former club.

Max Lowe had to be withdrawn with a head injury against Fulham and the Blades are awaiting a doctor's report before deciding if he travels to Merseyside.

Meanwhile, midfielder John Fleck will be out for up to six weeks with the back problem that saw him miss out against the Cottagers.

Listen to the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Preview Podcast on: Spotify | Apple | Castbox.

How to follow

Liverpool vs Sheffield United will be broadcast live on Sky Sports Box Office; Kick-off at 8pm.

Sky Sports customers can watch in-game clips in the live match blog on the Sky Sports website and app. Highlights will also be published on the Sky Sports digital platforms and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel shortly after the final whistle.

Jones Knows' prediction preview image 3:08 FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Everton's draw with Liverpool in the Premier League

This is the last thing Chris Wilder and his likeable Blades team need - a trip to the champions, who haven't lost at home since April 23, 2017.

Looking at the Blades' performance metrics, I'm certain Wilder will turn things around - getting a first goal in a football match will be crucial as they don't really possess the players to go chasing a game but are superb at protecting a lead. This fixture will be about staying in the game for as long as possible. A tough ask, indeed, with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in deadly form in front of goal.

I can't foresee too many problems for Jurgen Klopp's men even without Virgil van Dijk, as Fabinho looks a very reliable understudy - as explained here by my colleague Peter Smith, who was suitably impressed by his performance in the 1-0 win over Ajax on Wednesday. Home win to nil.

JONES KNOWS PREDICTS: 2-0 (11/2 with Sky Bet)

Opta stats preview image 2:50 FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Sheffield United's draw with Fulham in the Premier League
  • Liverpool have won their last three Premier League games against Sheffield United without conceding a single goal, winning by an aggregate score of 3-0 last season.
  • Sheffield United have lost 19 of their last 23 away top-flight matches against Liverpool (W3 D1) with their last win at Anfield coming back in April 1994 (a 2-1 victory courtesy of a brace from Jostein Flo).
  • Since having their league title win confirmed last season, Liverpool have conceded 25 goals in 12 Premier League games - no side has conceded more. Their previous 25 league goals conceded had come across a period of 38 games.
  • Liverpool haven't failed to win three consecutive Premier League games since May 2018 (D2 L1), with the Reds currently winless in their last two in the competition (D1 L1).
  • Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 61 Premier League home games, winning 27 of their last 28 at Anfield. They've netted 162 goals in these 61 games (2.7 per game), while conceding just 40 in return (0.7 per game).
  • Sheffield United have lost 16 of their last 17 away league matches against the reigning top-flight champion, winning the other 1-0 in 1971-72 at Highbury against Arsenal via a goal from Stewart Scullion.
Pitch to Post Preview podcast: Mata exclusive, Everton latest, Coady's rise at Wolves

Juan Mata is the special guest on this week's show, and he tells Peter Smith about Man Utd's return to form, looks ahead to their clash with Chelsea, and shares his views on the work being done off the pitch by Marcus Rashford.

Plus, we have more fallout from the Merseyside derby as Alan Myers explains Everton's perspective, Johnny Phillips discusses cult hero Conor Coady's importance to Wolves, and Sky Sports Data Editor Adam Smith delves into the numbers behind the Premier League's goal rush, and makes a bold Pitch!

Listen to the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Preview Podcast on: Spotify | Apple | Castbox

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Ancelotti: Pickford 'really sad' over Van Dijk injury extent

Thu, 10/22/2020 - 12:15

Jordan Pickford is "really sad" how his "mistimed" challenge on Virgil van Dijk led to the Liverpool defender sustaining a serious knee injury, according to Carlo Ancelotti.

Liverpool confirmed Van Dijk would require surgery after he was unable to continue following a challenge by Toffees goalkeeper Pickford in the first half of the 2-2 draw in the Merseyside derby on Saturday.

It is unclear how long the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury will sideline Netherlands captain Van Dijk for, but he was omitted from the Reds' 25-man Premier League squad.

Ancelotti insists claims that Pickford's challenge was premeditated are "too much" and added everyone at Everton hopes Van Dijk can "recover soon and well".

"To be clear, we are really sorry for the injury of Virgil van Dijk," Ancelotti told the Everton club website.

"Every one of us hopes he can recover soon and well.

"There was this contact with Jordan Pickford: it was mistimed contact.

preview image 2:50 Former England goalkeeper Rob Green analyses the collision between Pickford and Van Dijk which resulted in a serious injury for the defender

"But the fact the Premier League is so fast, it is not so difficult to arrive a little bit later.

"Jordan arrived a little bit later but his intention was to try to reach the ball.

"It was not to hurt Virgil van Dijk. To say it was premeditated, and this and that, in my opinion, is too much. Virgil van Dijk knows this.

Jurgen Klopp 2:25 Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp says Everton's challenges on Van Dijk and Thiago Alcantara were difficult to accept and that they are the only ones now dealing with the consequences

"Jordan is really sad, really disappointed [that he is injured].

"It was a strong contact, maybe mistimed, but sometimes in football, it can happen."

VAR reviewed the incident and decided Liverpool should not be awarded a penalty as Van Dijk was in an offside position before the clash, while it concluded Pickford's challenge was also not worthy of a red card.

James set to miss Saints trip over injury sustained in Van Dijk challenge James Rodriguez is congratulated by Carlo Ancelotti as he's substituted in the second-half Image: James Rodriguez has scored three goals in the Premier League this season

Meanwhile, Ancelotti expects Everton to be without James Rodriguez for their Premier League match against Southampton at St Mary's on Sunday.

Rodriguez, who has been influential since his summer arrival from Real Madrid, sustained the injury during a challenge from Van Dijk in the early stages of the derby.

Despite completing the full match at Goodison Park, the Colombia international is unlikely to feature as the league table-toppers seek to extend their unbeaten start to the season.

"Unfortunately, James had a problem during the game [against Liverpool]," Ancelotti said.

"He had a mistimed tackle with Virgil van Dijk at the beginning of the game and I think he will not be available for the game against Southampton."

Sunday 25th October 1:00pm Kick off 2:00pm Sky Sports Premier League HD

Everton are already without Richarlison, who will serve the first game of a three-match ban for his red card challenge on Thiago, while Ancelotti also expects club captain Seamus Coleman to miss "two or three weeks" with "not a big problem".

"We have to put in other players who have the desire to play," the Italian said.

"We are working this week on this and I think we are going to choose a good line-up for the game against Southampton.

"Alex [Iwobi] is a player who works hard. He is fast and with his quality he can help the team be better in certain situations.

"He [potentially] has an opportunity to play but also we have Bernard and Anthony Gordon.

"We have a lot of opportunities to replace Richarlison and James.

"We are already moving on."

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Klopp blames 'tricky' pitch for 'exhausted' Liverpool

Wed, 10/21/2020 - 22:35

Jurgen Klopp said a "tricky" pitch in a rain-sodden Amsterdam left both sides "exhausted" in Liverpool's 1-0 win at Ajax.

The Reds kicked off their Champions League campaign with three points and a clean sheet in their first game since Virgil van Dijk was ruled out by a long-term injury, with a makeshift centre-back pairing of Fabinho and Joe Gomez performing well at the back and Nicolas Tagliafico's unfortunate own goal giving the visitors three points in the Netherlands.

Liverpool still found life tough going at times, with Fabinho needing to clear Dusan Tadic's first-half effort off the line and Davy Klaassen striking the post from 20 yards within two minutes of the interval.

Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana was only seriously tested once before a flurry of injury-time chances as the hosts chased a late equaliser, something Klopp felt owed a lot to the conditions in the Dutch capital.

Liverpool players celebrate after Sadio Mane's effort was turned into his own net by Nicolas Tagliafico Image: Sadio Mane's effort was turned in by Nicolas Tagliafico for the only goal of the game

"We were good enough to win the game, that's what you need," he told BT Sport. "I think both teams can play better football, it was pretty wild at moments. I think the pitch was really tricky, deep, muddy a little bit, both teams looked really exhausted pretty early.

"Three days ago it looked completely different, yesterday in training too but it was the same for Ajax too. They are where we are, early in the season, that cannot be the reason really.

"You need to score a goal, we did that, we didn't use our chances which is a bit of a shame, they had a big one with the post directly after half-time. When you're 1-0 up these things can happen but all over I am really fine with the game because it was not our sunny shine world-class football day, but in a tournament like the Champions League you need the result and we got it.

"It's a good example for how the boys played; it was not perfect but they fought like crazy, in that situation it helped massively, but apart from that, I really liked the fresh legs when we brought them on. The medical department told me Henderson could not play 90 minutes - okay, he had 45, and did really well."

preview image 0:36 Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp says the 'wild' nature of the match was the reason he substituted all three of his forward line at once.

Another tactical move involved switching Liverpool's regular front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino for Takumi Minamino, Xherdan Shaqiri and Diogo Jota with an hour played, something Klopp felt re-energised his side for the last third of the game.

"Game management is one thing, the power of the other three is the other thing," he said. "You saw they were fresher, the hardest working, it's a shame Diogo didn't score, Shaq was lively and Taki is a machine, he defends everywhere and then offensively he's really involved.

"If we can make five changes in midweek games, we will probably have to do that most of the time."

Fabinho 'helped' Liverpool backline

A man-of-the-match performance from Fabinho in the absence of Van Dijk provided some encouragement as to how Liverpool may be able to cope without their defensive talisman, with Klopp adamant he would not have paired the Brazilian with Gomez had he not been comfortable he was content playing at centre-back.

The 26-year-old, who joined Liverpool from Monaco in 2018, has played only five games for the club in central defence - with four resulting in clean sheets for his side.

Klopp told his post-match press conference: "Fabinho can play in the position, he likes playing it actually. If I'd have asked him to play right-back, I don't think he would have enjoyed it so much, but in our situation at the moment we have to keep these boys fit and they can help us a lot.

Fabinho made a crucial goal-line clearance against Ajax Image: Fabinho made a crucial goal-line clearance against Ajax

"Fabinho, I'm not surprised that he played well there or we would have thought about a different solution, even though that would have been very tricky. I'm really pleased tonight, pleased for him, it gave him confidence and helped us.

"He was good, but even he can play better! This combination with Joe and Fabinho, I don't think they've played together before, maybe once.

"They need to get used to each other, to the verbal demands in that position, what you have to say to help the midfielders, so it was a good performance, but there's a lot to improve which is good. How high or low is the last line in each moment? Counter-pressing, how do we react there, and it was absolutely good for tonight."

Analysis: Fabinho boost for Liverpool

Sky Sports' Peter Smith:

'Liverpool weren't at their best and perhaps they were fortunate Ajax were below their top level, too. Davy Klaassen smashed a post with a drive just after half-time but despite the hosts having possession and territory late on as they pushed for an equaliser, Liverpool's defence - with Fabinho at the heart of it - were able to stand firm without facing many dramas.

'At the final whistle, Fabinho ranked second for tackles, clearances and interceptions among his Liverpool team-mates and could add another sure-footed centre-back performance to his CV.

'The last one came just a few weeks ago against Chelsea in the Premier League. But that time Fabinho was playing alongside the security of Van Dijk.'

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Farcical own goal hands Liverpool win at Ajax

Wed, 10/21/2020 - 22:00

Liverpool came through their first game without Virgil van Dijk unscathed as Nicolas Tagliafico's own goal gave them a 1-0 Champions League win at Ajax.

Tagliafico stumbled onto Sadio Mane's mis-hit shot to divert it beyond Andre Onana 10 minutes before half-time in what would prove the only goal of the game in an open match at the Johann Cruyff Arena.

Liverpool kept a welcome clean sheet despite the absence their talismanic defender, with stand-in centre back Fabinho proving a more than adequate replacement at the back, denying Dusan Tadic on the line with an acrobatic clearance before the break.

Ex-Everton midfielder Davy Klaassen nearly haunted his former rivals two minutes into the second period but was denied by the foot of the post with Adrian beaten, while the Liverpool goalkeeper also made important saves in either half from Quincy Promes.

But Liverpool defended their box stoutly for the most part on a night as they successfully came through their first test without the world's second-most expensive defender in their ranks.

Player ratings

Ajax: Onana (6), Mazraoui (7), Schuurs (7), Martinez (6), Tagliafico (6), Gravenberch (5), Klaassen (6), Blind (7), Neres (6), Kudus (n/a), Tadic (7).

Subs: Promes (6), Ekkelenkamp (5), Labyad (6), Huntelaar, Traore (n/a).

Liverpool: Adrian (6), Alexander-Arnold (7), Fabinho (8), Gomez (6), Robertson (8), Wijnaldum (7), Jones (6), Milner (7), Mane (7), Salah (7), Firmino (7).

Subs: Henderson (7), Minamino (7), Jota (7), Shaqiri (6), Rhys Williams (n/a).

Man of the match: Fabinho

How Liverpool edged to Amsterdam victory

How would Liverpool cope in Van Dijk's absence? After making a bright start in Amsterdam, things quickly became more difficult for Jurgen Klopp's makeshift backline.

Fabinho announced his arrival to the Liverpool defence with two excellent early tackles in quick succession to deny Tadic and David Neres in his own box, but could do little as Tagliafico was allowed to turn and feed Ryan Gravenberch, whose low effort from 20 yards whistled past the near post.

The hosts went closer on the half-hour when Klaassen was allowed space down the same flank to find Promes in the area who, after exchanging passes with David Neres, found himself one-on-one but was denied by a sharp reflex save from Adrian.

Team news
  • Ajax restored Lisandro Martinez to the heart of defence, with a formation shake-up seeing forward Lacina Traore dropping out.
  • Having lost Virgil Van Dijk and Thiago Alcantara to injury, Liverpool made four changes, as Curtis Jones made a first Champions League start.

Moments later he was made to regret that miss as Liverpool went ahead with more than a touch of good fortune. Having turned Perr Schuurs from a throw-in, Mane's scuffed shot was heading well wide before deflecting off an off-balance Tagliafico and beyond Onana for a farcical own goal.

Ajax continued to push but were nearly caught on the break for a second when Andrew Robertson mounted a 50-yard run before finding Mohamed Salah, whose goalbound shot was blocked by Noussair Mazraoui with Onana likely beaten.

But the hosts were centimetres away from going into half-time level as Tadic lofted a ball over Adrian in the closing stages, only for Fabinho to race back and produce an acrobatic clearance on the line.

Two minutes after the break Ajax went close again when Klaassen rifled a first-time effort against the foot of the post from 20 yards with Adrian scrambling to reach it.

Liverpool's biggest threat for most of the second period came from set-pieces, with Fabinho close to crowning a fine personal performance when his header from Robertson's corner was deflected just past his own post by Onana's clumsy punch.

Liverpool players celebrate taking the lead at Ajax through Nicolás Tagliafico's own goal Image: Nicolas Tagliafico became only the second player to score a Champions League own goal against Liverpool, after Deportivo de La Coruna Jorge Andrade in November 2004

On the hour, Klopp opted to replace all three of Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino for Xherdan Shaqiri, Takumi Minamino and Diogo Jota, with the latter soon turning Schuurs before the defender recovered to block his strike behind.

At the other end, a fast Ajax break called Adrian into a rare second-half save when Neres looked inside to Promes, who fired low at the near post with an effort the goalkeeper was more than equal to.

As the need to throw the kitchen sink at Liverpool became more desperate with time ebbing away, so too did the gaps in the home defence become more apparent.

The visitors had survived Ajax's increasing onslaught relatively well before coming close to doubling their advantage in the dying moments when Onana denied Wijnaldum on the break before Minamino's rebound effort was also cleared.

There was still time for Ajax to come close with the final chance of the game as Adrian's unconvincing punch from a Tagliafico cross was turned goalward by Jurgen Ekkelenkamp, but he could not keep his effort down and ensured Liverpool began their Champions League campaign with maximum points.

Man of the match - Fabinho

There's a long way to go to prove that Fabinho can prove an adequate stand-in for the colossal figure of Virgil van Dijk, but his performance in Amsterdam was at least a promising step in the right direction.

Of the five games the Brazilian has covered at centre-back, Liverpool have kept four clean sheets. Wednesday night's owed a lot to his performance at the heart of defence, too.

He showed good alertness to make two important tackles one after the other on David Neres and Quincy Promes before half-time, but his crowning moment came when clearing Dusan Tadic's effort off his own goal-line to keep their clean sheet intact.

What the manager said...

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp told BT Sport: "We were good enough to win the game. That's what you need. I think both teams can play better football, it was pretty wild at moments. I think the pitch was really tricky, deep, muddy a little bit, both teams looked really exhausted pretty early.

"Three days ago it looked completely different, yesterday in training too but it was the same for Ajax too. They are where we are, early in the season, that cannot be the reason really.

"It's a good example for how the boys played; it was not perfect but they fought like crazy, in that situation it helped massively, but apart from that, I really liked the fresh legs when we brought them on, the medical department told me Henderson could not play 90 minutes - okay, he played 45, and did really well."

What's next?

Liverpool host winless Sheffield United on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Box Office; Kick-off at 8pm.

Ajax are also back in action on Saturday, and face a trip to mid-table VVV; Kick-off at 3.30pm.

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Categories: LFC NEWS

FSA accuses 'billionaire owners' of power grab

Wed, 10/21/2020 - 13:58

The Football Supporters' Association has accused "billionaire foreign owners" of threatening to destroy the structure of English football, by their repeated attempts to drain power and money from the game.

Sky News exclusively uncovered plans by some of England's biggest clubs, including Manchester United and Liverpool, for a European Premier League, backed by FIFA.

Whilst the proposals do not encourage the break-up of domestic competitions like the Premier League, they do seem to offer a suggested replacement for the Champions League, with huge potential revenues and little chance of relegation for founder members.

Kevin Miles, chief executive of the FSA, has told Sky Sports News: "The timing of it now, after the knock-back of Project Big Picture, proves that behind the scenes there are repeated attempts by the big, billionaire owners in England and Europe to carve out an ever-bigger slice of football revenues for themselves.

Gary Neville has called for action to tackle the lack of diversity at boardroom level 1:49 Sky Sports' Gary Neville says the timing of talks about a European Premier League during a pandemic is 'obscene' and there is a danger 'football will eat itself'

"That would have a devastating impact on domestic leagues, and a huge impact on clubs up and down the pyramid. It would threaten the very existence and the structure of English football that we have known and loved for many years."

Miles also believes that the foreign ownership model adopted by most of the 'Big Six' is at the root of the problem.

"Many of them don't understand the culture, and have no sympathy and support for the pyramid of how the game is organised here," he added.

 flag of FiFA are seen prior to the UEFA U21 Championship Qualifying match between Wales U21 and Germany U21 at the Racecourse Stadium on September 10, 2019 in Wrexham, Wales. 0:55 Liverpool and Manchester United are in talks about proposals to launch a new FIFA-backed European Premier League

"They've perhaps grown up with a franchise model of sport. They seem to want to guarantee their own involvement in these competitions at the highest level, and give themselves control over it."

Miles says if this European idea went ahead, it would make the elite Premier League clubs untouchable, in terms of financial power.

Kevin Miles, Chairman of the Football Supporters Association                                                                            Image: Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters' Association, is concerned by the proposed European Premier League

"The European competition money is already the biggest distorting factor in the competitive playing field of the Premier League, with the same clubs tapping into that money year after year," said Miles.

"And that's why the biggest chasm in English football is developing - not between the Premier League and the Championship - but between the top six and the rest of the Premier League".

0:28 Jurgen Klopp would not be drawn on the news Liverpool and Manchester United are in talks about proposals to launch a new FIFA-backed European Premier League

He also says the financial situation for lower league football clubs is reaching crisis point, and he is adamant it is down to government - rather than the football family - to help them survive the Coronavirus pandemic.

Miles added: "I don't think it's right that the government is expecting the Premier League clubs to provide the financial solution for those lower down.

"If a National League club is entitled as a business to government support to ensure it survives, then I don't see why that shouldn't apply to League One and Two clubs as well. They are all businesses essential to the communities who have paid their taxes, in some cases for 150 years.

"They are entitled to this sort of bailout. The government needs to take some responsibility here, in making sure clubs who are essential to the fabric of our society, can survive going forward."

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Van Dijk omitted from Liverpool's PL squad

Tue, 10/20/2020 - 20:40

Virgil van Dijk has been omitted from Liverpool's 25-man Premier League squad after suffering a serious knee injury against Everton.

Van Dijk requires surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament, which was damaged in a collision with Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford during Saturday's Merseyside derby.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp says no time frame has been set for the defender's return.

VAR reviewed Pickford's challenge on Van Dijk and decided Liverpool should not be awarded a penalty as Van Dijk was in an offside position. VAR also concluded that Pickford's challenge was not worthy of a red card.

Liverpool are understood to have contacted the PGMOL over the weekend for clarification on a number of decisions during the derby.

Virgil van Dijk injury 3 2:57 Dermot Gallagher tells Ref Watch that Jordan Pickford should have been sent off for his challenge on Van Dijk regardless of the offside

Van Dijk will be a huge loss but Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is confident that they can counter that loss, and that the Netherlands international will return even stronger.

"It's a tough one. It's a big blow for us," said Henderson. "For him personally, obviously. But for us as a team, a massive blow.

"I'm just gutted for him. It's a difficult moment, but that's when you need to be there for each other. I'll be there as much as I possibly can for him, I'm sure the lads will do the same.

Saturday 31st October 5:00pm Kick off 5:30pm Sky Sports Premier League HD

"But I'm sure he'll be back stronger. In the meantime we've got to do everything we can to help make us stronger and basically go and win as many games as we can for him, really.

"That's down to us as players to make sure that when he is back and he is fit that we're still fighting to be successful and fighting for trophies.

"You've got to use times like this to be stronger and to be even more together than we already are. And use it as a positive in some way - I know it sounds ridiculous at the moment, but that's what you need to try to do. We need to try to look forward and try to help us in the next however many months Virgil will be out for."

Liverpool's Premier League squad

Thiago Alcantara, Trent Alexander Arnold (homegrown), Roberto Firmino, Alisson Becker, Joe Gomez, Joseph Hardy, Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Naby Keita, Caoimhin Kelleher (homegrown), Sadio Mane, Joel Matip, James Milner, Takumi Minamino, Divock Origi, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (homegrown), Nathaniel Phillips (homegrown), Andrew Robertson, Mohamed Salah, Adrian, Xherdan Shaqiri, Teixeira Da Silva, Diogo Jota, Konstantinos Tsimakis, Georginio Wijnaldum

Premier League squads for 2020/21 season

Each Premier League club have submitted a squad list for the 2020/21 season.

Each squad contains no more than 17 players who do not fulfil the "Home Grown Player" (HGP) criteria.

The rest of the squad, up to a total of 25 players, must be "Home Grown".

Clubs are also allowed an additional list of registered U21 players.

What is a Home-Grown Player?

A "Home-Grown Player" means a player who, irrespective of nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to The Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons, or 36 months, before his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21).

Rules on U21 players

U21 players are eligible over and above the limit of 25 players per squad.

For the 2020/21 campaign Under-21 players will have been born on or after 1 January 1999.

Carragher calls for January replacement

Jamie Carragher believes that the loss of Van Dijk should be the catalyst for his former club to bring forward their plans to add a new defender.

"Liverpool's next big signing had to be a centre-back anyway and I am talking next summer," Carragher told Monday Night Football.

"Dejan Lovren went and they didn't replace him so they only have three centre-backs and one of those, Joel Matip, is always injured.

"There are question marks now about Joe Gomez.

"So there is no doubt that Liverpool had to go big in the transfer market next summer. That was the next one. That has now got to be brought forward to January 1st, whoever the target was in the summer. Not the end of January. Not [wasting time that month] negotiating with a club."

Who will replace Van Dijk in the short term?

Sky Sports News' Ben Ransom:

"Like Fernandinho, bringing Fabinho into defence and losing him midfield could be a blow for Liverpool.

"But I think Fabinho will be the natural replacement, certainly going into next season. He can talk to everyone, he's the one player, like Van Dijk, who can get Gomez or Matip alongside him, and tell the full-backs to tuck in."

Read the full discussion from the Pitch to Post podcast

Could any of the young players step up?

Rhys Williams, Sepp van den Berg, Nathaniel Phillips, and Billy Koumetio are among the leading young centre-backs at Liverpool who Jurgen Klopp could play with Van Dijk out.

Find out more about the standout prospects

Pitch to Post podcast: Has Van Dijk injury derailed season?

Was Saturday the day Liverpool's title hopes took the cruellest of turns?

Jasper Taylor is joined by Gerard Brand, Ben Ransom and Keith Downie to dissect the weekend's action in the Premier League, leading of course with Van Dijk's ACL injury and what that might mean for the champions.

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Categories: LFC NEWS

Klopp: Difficult to accept; Gini: Pickford stupid

Tue, 10/20/2020 - 20:05

Jurgen Klopp says it is difficult to accept the lack of action taken after the injury to Virgil van Dijk following his collision with Jordan Pickford in Saturday's Merseyside derby.

The Liverpool centre-back is scheduled for knee surgery after suffering anterior cruciate ligament damage after a tackle by Pickford, who will face no disciplinary action.

VAR reviewed the incident and decided Liverpool should not be awarded a penalty as Van Dijk was in an offside position. VAR also concluded Pickford's challenge was not worthy of a red card.

Later in the derby, which ended 2-2 at Goodison Park, Liverpool midfielder Thiago avoided serious injury after being on the receiving end of a challenge from Richarlison which resulted in a red card for the Brazilian.

Klopp was joined by Liverpool midfielder Gini Wijnaldum in his strong words for the incident, describing Everton's tackling in the game as "completely unacceptable" and accusing them of "taking it way too far" in Merseyside derbies.

"A few days ago something that should not have happened in a football game, happened," Klopp said ahead of Liverpool's Champions League game against Ajax on Wednesday.

"It was not the first time and it won't be the last, but both challenges were difficult to accept.

Virgil van Dijk injury 3 Image: Virgil van Dijk was injured in a challenge by Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the Merseyside derby at the weekend

"We can't change this now. I spoke the day after and it's hard for us as Virgil is our boy. It is difficult to take because the referee doesn't see it.

"Michael Oliver is an excellent referee but he had the best view. Then VAR forgets the rules. As a human, I don't want to see Everton players punished, but we all agree if you do something wrong, you have to deal with consequences.

"Right now there are only two people suffering with the consequences and they are Virgil and Thiago."

Pickford collides with Van Dijk 1:31 Liverpool's Gini Wijnaldum says Everton take their tackles in the derby too far and has described Jordan Pickford's tackle on Virgil van Dijk as stupid and completely unacceptable

Wijnaldum said: "Of course we are upset. The way Pickford went into the challenge was completely, in my opinion, stupid.

"I believe that he didn't want to injure Virgil the way he injured him but the way he took the tackle, he didn't care about what happened after the tackle.

"I think we had it a lot with the games against Everton. In my opinion, they take it way too far in the games we play against them.

"We know it's a derby and everyone wants to win the derby but they took it a little bit over the top.

"The tackle from Richarlison on Thiago was also a nasty tackle. The way they were doing it [tackling] was completely unacceptable. It makes it harder that they will not be punished."

Klopp refused to be drawn on the news of Liverpool and Manchester United's plans to join Europe's biggest football clubs in a new FIFA-backed competition.

 flag of FiFA are seen prior to the UEFA U21 Championship Qualifying match between Wales U21 and Germany U21 at the Racecourse Stadium on September 10, 2019 in Wrexham, Wales. 0:55 Liverpool and Manchester United are in talks about proposals to launch a new FIFA-backed European Premier League

The two Premier League clubs are in talks about a bombshell plot involving Europe's biggest football clubs to join a new competition that would reshape the sport's global landscape.

Klopp said: "I have absolutely no time to think about this, I am not involved in it.

"I deal with the daily stuff and I don't want to disappoint you but I'm not involved in this. I can't say anything, sorry."

Will Virgil van Dijk injury end title race like Aymeric Laporte's did?

Aymeric Laporte's injury last season put Man City out of the title race by Christmas.Will Liverpool's season go a similar way? Or are they better set up to cope with the absence of their talisman, who played every single minute of their historic title-winning season in 2019/20?

On the latest Pitch to Post Review podcast, Jasper Taylor is joined by Gerard Brand and Ben Ransom to analyse exactly what this means for Liverpool.

Download the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Podcast on Apple - or listen on Spotify above...

Daniel Sturridge lifts the Champions League trophy after Liverpool's win over Tottenham in 2019 Can English sides seize their Champions League chance?

Last season's Champions League ended in bitter disappointment for the Premier League's representatives.

Holders Liverpool crashed out in the round of 16, their fate sealed in a wild defeat to Atletico Madrid at Anfield. Tottenham, the previous year's runners-up, were outclassed by RB Leipzig at the same juncture, while Chelsea suffered a similar fate against Bayern Munich.

Manchester City and Manchester United join Chelsea and Liverpool as the quartet of Premier League teams who head into this year's competition, and they go into it knowing the tournament is one of the most open in recent memory.

Real Madrid are in a state of transition and Barcelona teetering on the brink of full-blown crisis following a tumultuous summer in which a disillusioned Lionel Messi tried to engineer his departure.

There is uncertainty around Italian heavyweights Juventus, too, after the appointment of Andrea Pirlo as head coach this summer.

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Categories: LFC NEWS

PGMOL: Ref did not forget VAR rules in Merseyside derby

Tue, 10/20/2020 - 14:06

David Coote, the video assistant referee in charge of Saturday’s Merseyside derby, did not forget VAR rules during the match, the Professional Game Match Officials Limited has said.

Liverpool have asked the Premier League to review the application of VAR in two key incidents during their 2-2 draw with Everton.

Sky Sports News has been told the club have called into question the failure to scrutinise Jordan Pickford's challenge on Virgil van Dijk and take appropriate action.

They have also asked for clarity on which part of Sadio Mane's body was deemed to be offside, as well as the moment that VAR decided to freeze the frame, as a potential winning goal in added time was ruled out.

 Image: Michael Oliver took charge of the game at Goodison Park, with David Coote as the VAR

Pickford's challenge on Van Dijk forced the defender off with an injury and manager Jurgen Klopp believed his side should have been awarded a penalty.

Officials are reviewing officiating of the match, as is standard procedure after each round of Premier League games.

A spokesperson for the PGMOL has told Sky Sports News that, contrary to a report in the Daily Mail, Coote did not 'forget' rules that state he could review the incident despite the offside in the build-up.

The PGMOL has highlighted that three officials are responsible for overseeing VAR, including an assistant and 'hub commander' to ensure correct protocols are followed.

Virgil van Dijk comes off due to an injury Image: Liverpool have not specified how long they will be without Van Dijk

The Football Association confirmed Pickford will face no retrospective action as the incident was seen by the match officials at the time.

Who will replace Van Dijk in the short term?

Sky Sports News' Ben Ransom:

"Like Fernandinho, bringing Fabinho into defence and losing him midfield could be a blow for Liverpool.

"But I think Fabinho will be the natural replacement, certainly going into next season. He can talk to everyone, he's the one player, like Van Dijk, who can get Gomez or Matip alongside him, and tell the full-backs to tuck in."

Could any of the young players step up?

Rhys Williams, Sepp van den Berg, Nathaniel Phillips, and Billy Koumetio are among the leading young centre-backs at Liverpool who Jurgen Klopp could play with Van Dijk out.

Find out more about the standout prospects

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