Liverpool’s newest forward speaks about how quickly he’s settled at his new club.
With the exception of a few high profile signings (Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah come to mind), Jürgen Klopp has usually taken a cautious, slow approach to transitioning new players into his lineup. This has been especially true when those players were brought in for depth, rather than to compete for a role in the first choice 11.
This fact makes it even more impressive how quickly Diogo Jota has settled in and become a reliable attacking option for the German manager. While a dependable rotational alternative for Liverpool’s potent attacking triumvirate of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah has long been needed, few could have predicted Jota would lay such a strong claim to the role so quickly.
The young Portuguese forward was given a chance to talk about his almost instant impact in an interview with the official Liverpool club website today.
“I think it has been a great month for me, not only because I signed but everything else that has happened,” said Jota. “I have been able to help the team, which has been my biggest desire since I joined. To be able to do that this fast, I am really pleased with it.”
It’s impossible to deny that he has helped the team already. Despite signing just 6 weeks ago, Jota has already made eight appearances and scored three goals for Liverpool, each of them quite important. He scored in his Premier League debut against Arsenal to put the match to bed, netted the winner against Sheffield United, and broke the deadlock against FC Midtjylland in the Champion’s League this week.
It’s an impressive early return for a player who’s had to quickly get up to speed to fit into Liverpool’s style of play, and has to compete for playing time with one of the most talented groups of attacking players in football. According to Jota, believing in himself and listening to Klopp’s direction has been the key to settling in at his new club.
“The most important thing is to always believe,” Jota said. “Since the first day I was here, the manager spoke with me about things I needed to do. I have tried to focus on that because obviously when you change teams there are a lot of things you need to adapt to.”
Klopp has been highly complimentary of Jota since his signing, saying earlier this week that he is very easy to like because he’s not only a talented player, but also a very nice guy. The young forward was understandably thrilled to receive such a compliment from his manager.
“Obviously when I heard those kind of words from a person like him, it made me happy. When I first joined the club, I always tried to do my best on the pitch but also off the pitch. I try to have a good relationship with everyone. So, when I heard those words, I think I am doing those things well. That’s what I will always try to do.”
Jota’s hot start has been one of the most encouraging storylines of this young season. All signs point to him being a very solid option going forward when Klopp needs to give one of Mane, Firmino, or Salah a break. With a compact, hectic schedule for the next several months, Jota’s ability to effectively spell those three could prove invaluable to maintaining the health and productivity of Liverpool’s forward players.
All the squad injury updates in one place ahead of West Ham at Anfield
Virgil Van Dijk has reportedly undergone “successful” surgery for his knee ligament injury, and will begin to focus on his rehabilitation. This is the best possible news, as minor complications or changing situations can be discovered during surgery, but no timeline has been communicated about the Dutchman’s return to the side. The manager, when asked about the impact of Van Dijk’s near spotless injury history prior to Pickford’s lunge, was positive.
“He’s a quick healer and he’s a pain-coper, so that’s all clear. All these things, yes, they help.”
Rhys Williams, Neco Williams, Jake Cain and Nat Phillips have been seen continuing to train with the first team.
Fabinho is not in the squad for the weekend, though Jürgen Klopp has referred to his issue as a “little injury.” Though not much is known about the Brazilian’s niggle, it’s possible that Klopp is being cautious given the fixture congestion, and Reds fans should not fear a long-term absence.
Captain Jordan Henderson, who was subbed at halftime in Denmark, “did not have a fitness problem.” Instead, the shift in personnel was planned as a means to manage minutes, a move Klopp has labelled “responsible.” (Que a collective sigh of relief.)
The manager has reported that Naby Keïta and Thiago Alcântara have been making “good progress,” though fans can expect caution despite the players being back in training. Despite the loss of Fabinho and Van Dijk, the manager is insistent players will not be “rushed” back into action, which might lead to further injury.
“If somebody is in training again that doesn’t mean you can use them immediately. Sometimes we have to, but as much as we can avoid it we should try to do that.”
While gaps in personnel might be stressful for fans, a cautious approach to a challenging schedule is something that should be lauded. Klopp continues to meet with medical staff on a daily basis to ensure he is being responsible with his players — and the manager’s tendency to avoid “rushing” players back, allowing the medical team to do their jobs to the best of their ability, will certainly pay off in the long run. What fans and Klopp alike don’t want to see is a newly returned player heading off injured.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kostas Tsimikas remain sidelined with injury, though Oxlade-Chamberlain might return to action next month. No updates have been provided about their fitness at present, and Joël Matip, too, remains unlikely to feature at the weekend with a muscle injury.
Can the Reds go 63 matches unbeaten at Anfield — and equal the club’s all-time record for an unbeaten league run at home?
LIVERPOOL VS. WEST HAM UNITED
| Saturday, October 31st |Premier League | Anfield5:30PM GMT/1:30PM EST
David Moyes comes to the home of the reigning champions hoping to right a troubling pattern in his managerial career: he has not won a single game at Anfield in his 16 attempts with four different clubs (Everton, Manchester United, Sunderland and West Ham United).
The Hammers have started 2020/21 brightly. After losing the opening two Premier League matches, West Ham have not lost in the previous four, drawing with both Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, and defeating Leicester City and Wolves — though they were defeated by Everton in the Fourth Round of the Carabao Cup. Barring the 1-1 draw with Manchester City last time out, West Ham games have been quite high-scoring affairs, with 26 total goals (17 for, 9 against) scored in just the last five fixtures.
The absence of star-man Mikhail Antonio might prove a challenge for Moyes, though Jarrod Bowen and Sébastien Haller will be expected to fill in for the tricky forward at Anfield. New(ish) boy Tomáš Souček is also one to watch: he’s been in good form for West Ham this season, recycling possession well and playing smart passes to start attacks. He is also strong defensively, and will be the major hurdle for the Reds.
As always worth mentioning with Virgil Van Dijk out of the side: West Ham are a tall squad, with their average height coming in at just below 6 feet (180 cm). Since the restart, they have created 55 shots from set pieces (including corners), scoring 10. It’s likely that Moyes will have concentrated on set plays as an area to exploit in Van Dijk’s absence.
Projected Liverpool Lineup (4-3-3)
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Williams, Gomez, Robertson; Henderson, Thiago, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mané
Real predicted lineup: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Williams, Gomez, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum; Firmino, Jota, Salah, Mané
Quite honestly, who knows what we’ll see at center of dense tomorrow and moving forward. You assume Klopp will aim to get Joël Matip back for Manchester City, as you wouldn’t imagine the manager will want to sacrifice a midfielder for the role against Pep Guardiola’s side, and it would be a big ask to field youngster Rhys Williams at the Etihad.
Reports of Mikhail Antionio being out for this one will be a boon for Klopp (just as the absence of Virgil Van Dijk will be a boost for Moyes’ side), as Antonio is hard to deal with. With Antonio’s unpredictability out of the squad, Klopp might favor minutes for Williams as Matip and Fabinho work to return to fitness.
Luckily Jordan Henderson’s halftime substitution was not required by injury but was rather a “responsible” move from the manager, so we can expect to see the captain in the side. If Thiago is fit he might get a start to help the Reds thread through what will likely be a crowded West Ham midfield and defense; he might be held to making an impact off the bench, though, as Klopp is managing a very difficult schedule and choosing how best to allocate minutes. James Milner put in quite a few minutes midweek, which might make the midfield harder for Klopp to sort out than usual. A such, return to the 4-2-3-1 with either Takumi Minamino or Roberto Firmino in front of Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum (and Diogo Jota slotting in) is possible, and is frankly quite likely.
I’ve predicted a 4-3-3 with Thiago to start purely due to optimism on squad health (and the knowledge that the 4-2-3-1 is graft to watch as the players seem to still be figuring out how the system works), but the manager kept his cards close to his chest in his pre-match press conference, and Thiago likely won’t feature. Don’t be surprised by graft regardless of system, though, as West Ham are well organized and will look to stifle creativity regardless of formation.
West Ham have started the season brightly, but Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah have been involved in eight goals in six games against West Ham, with 11 goals and six assists between them. Mané has scored in each of his last four appearances against West Ham, and will look to continue this deadly pattern. Diogo Jota, who has scored in each of his two Premier League appearances, will look to score in each of his first three if given the chance; the last player to do this was one Luis García.
Also a notable positive: should he start today, it will be Trent Alexander-Arnold’s 100th league start. This accomplishment follows quickly after Andy Robertson’s similar accomplishment and Salah’s 100th goal — these markers coming in rapid succession underscore the stability within the squad.
What the Managers Had to Say
Jurgen Klopp, speaking on the schedule challenges this season, and changing formations: “It’s more difficult — nearly impossible, but it’s possible … My job is to use the squad in the best possible way, and that’s what I try to do.”
David Moyes, looking for his first win at Anfield: “Probably the biggest thing going up to play Liverpool is without their supporters: their support makes such a difference, with no crowd behind them hopefully that might make a difference as well.”
Referee: Kevin Friend Assistants: Simon Beck, Eddie Smart Fourth Official: Craig Pawson VAR: Chris Kavanagh Assistant VAR: Sian Massey-Ellis
Kickoff is set for 3PM GMT/10AM EST tomorrow, and television listings for the match can be found on LiveSoccerTV. In the meantime, we’ll be keeping you updated with all the buildup to the game, including team news as it’s released, our live matchday thread, and post-match recaps from The Liverpool Offside staff. If you want to join the discussion, sign up for an SB Nation account to have your say on the action as it happens.
The keeper weighs in on the recent controversy.
Speaking to Sky Sports he was recently asked about his views on Jordan Pickford’s challenge that effectively ended Virgil Van Dijk’s season causing damage to his anterior cruciate ligament.
“Every goalkeeper has a different way to play, a different way to move. But in that moment, a 100%, it was not a necessary movement”, Alisson said during a video interview.
“Thinking of what I have in my mind when I go for a situation, I go to finish the situation, because I know that if I go too soft, I know that the opponent can score. Everyone has their own way to go for the ball – I don’t agree with that [Pickford’s] way, everybody can see that. It was just an unnecessary movement.”
Social media has reacted with some objections to Liverpool’s apparent ongoing vilification of Pickford, with Jurgen Klopp and Georginio Wijnaldum having expressed their disapproval in recent interviews as well. Reports from this week also suggest that Pickford has had to hire security personnel to watch over his home, after allegedly receiving death threats over the Van Dijk incident.
That of course is an unacceptable and extremely worrying development, if true. How it makes Liverpool as a club the villain here is unclear. When players or the manager continue to receive the same line of questioning from the media, whether it’s right after the game or two weeks later, they’re not likely to change their stance. The challenge was horrendous and reckless and remains so today, and will remain so two months down the line – made worse by the fact that neither Everton nor Pickford faced any consequences.
Expecting an ounce from empathy from football media by maybe excluding the issue from their questioning of players and staff, is wishful. If the threats persist however, some sort of statement by Klopp during a press conference may be helpful. At some point, if the questioning continues, players may have to politely decline to comment on an issue that’s now in the past, to avoid further fueling the fire.
Meanwhile, Liverpool continues to sorely feel Van Dijk’s absence, with makeshift centre-half Fabinho now sidelined for a couple of weeks with a hamstring issue.
In a reversal, the Hammers’ Michail Antonio is set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
When you are in the midst of a center back injury crisis as Liverpool are, the absolute last player you want to go up against is a big physical in-form striker such as West Ham’s Michail Antonio.
With the reigning league champions set to welcome the Londoners to Anfield for Saturday’s Premier League clash, reports had emerged that the burly forward was expected to pass a fitness test to make the matchday squad and do his level best to make young Rhys Williams’ league debut at the heart of defense a troublesome one.
However, an update has reversed that prediction, with Antonio now projected to miss at least a month of action stemming from the hamstring injury picked up in last week’s 1-1 draw with Manchester City, per the Guardian. With David Moyes’ squad on a four-match unbeaten streak and their star striker averaging a goal every other match, the weekend’s clash had been shaping up to be a tricky one for the injury-ravaged Reds, with Joe Gomez joining Williams as the only fit central defenders in the squad.
Jürgen Klopp has backed Williams and his fellow academy defenders to step up to the plate. However, with domestic and European fixtures coming thick and fast, any edge he can give his makeshift center back pairing helps. With Antonio now out, the Reds will only need to worry about the 6’4 Tomáš Souček and the 6’3 Sébastien Haller when the Hammers come to town.
Up the Reds.
With the Reds weathering a defensive injury crisis, links to the star center back have reemerged
Three gritty wins on the bounce since losing star center defender and defensive linchpin, Virgil Van Dijk to a season-ending ACL injury has been proof that Liverpool are refusing to give up on what had originally been shaping up to be promising campaign.
However, the Dutchman has since been joined on the injury list by Joël Matip and converted midfielder Fabinho, leaving academy youngster Rhys Williams to partner the last remaining first team center half, Joe Gomez in the heart of defense.
A January defensive recruitment drive has naturally been mooted in the press, as Jürgen Klopp will be expected to belatedly replace last season’s fourth choice center back, Dejan Lovren sold to Zenit St. Petersburg in the summer.
While the rumor mill will surely recycle some of the defenders linked to the Reds in the most recent transfer window, such as Brighton’s Ben White, RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano and Schalke 04’s Ozan Kabak, another name familiar to Liverpool fans could reemerge: Napoli’s star center back, Kalidou Koulibaly.
“I love Naples and Naples loves me, that’s the most important thing,” the defender said via Sky Sports when recently questioned about a potential transfer away.
“I always make myself available game after game, I still have three years of contract, I’m calm, the teams are looking for me but I’m still here.
“I play at my level and I help this team and these people because I want to give something back to them then we’ll see what happens.”
The colossal defender has been the most coveted name on the market since Van Dijk joined the Reds in 2018, and had been subject to serious interest from Manchester City in the summer. However, the Citizens were ultimately put off by the £90m price tag, landing instead on their fourth-choice target in a £68m deal for Porto’s Ruben Dias.
The Senegalese international had a difficult 2019-20 campaign, with injuries limiting him to the fewest minutes he’d played in a league campaign for Napoli since arriving from Genk in 2014. The lanky defender often struggling badly in the games he did appear, including a horror show in a comprehensive two-legged 4-2 defeat to a weak Barcelona in last season’s Champions League round of 16.
“I had a more difficult season [last year] even if I didn’t do badly but we know the level I have and we knew I could give more,” the 29-year-old admitted.
“This year the coach told me that it mattered a lot about me because I have to help the team and I had to get back to my level. He simply told me the truth and told me to my face and I went to work and available to everyone and today we see the result,
“But we must be aware that the season is still long and there are many games where we need to maintain this level.”
The once-in demand center defensive star has shown signs of returning to form, leading his Napoli squad to 2nd in both the Serie A table and their Europa League group. Nevertheless, it is almost certain that there will not be a bid from Liverpool or anyone else approaching the most recent £90m valuation due to the financial pressures brought about by the pandemic-fueled cash crunch.
The club say they’re hard at work getting everything in order for the day fans are able to return to Anfield.
Before the 2020-21 season started, the hope some was for fans to return quickly albeit in limited numbers, with the most optimistic plans even suggesting there could be fans in the stands for the Community Shield between Liverpool and Arsenal as a test run.
That never happened, but when the season started, the hope was for fans to return by the start of October. We’re now at the end of that month and a return for the fans looks farther off than ever with cases of coronavirus on the rise in England and around the world.
Despite that, the Premier League and their member clubs insist that they’re continuing to explore ways to bring the fans back—and to ensure that when it is possible for them to start to return to stadiums, it can be done in a manner that’s safe for all involved.
“It was expected that the opening fixtures of the 2020-21 season would take place behind closed doors until at least October,” read a statement from the club today, “with the likelihood that stadiums would then initially operate at reduced capacity.
“As of the end of September, this plan was postponed due to increasing cases of COVID-19. However, we are continuing to work to ensure that when the time is right for spectators to return, we are in the best possible position to welcome fans back to Anfield.
“We are working on a number of new processes and systems, which will be introduced in the coming weeks, that will enable us to be properly prepared to welcome fans back to Anfield as safely and efficiently as possible when government guidelines allow.”
Given the current situation, it’s difficult to imagine any processes or systems that would make it possible for fans to return any time soon. Still, if the club does have a plan that doesn’t involve waiting for things to improve, it will be interesting to hear what it is.
Realistically, though, it seems unlikely at this stage that fans could return in any numbers in 2020, with it fair to wonder at this point if fans will be able to return at all this season and a return in the new year likely dependant on the formulation of a vaccine.
Liverpool’s rivals got the shortest possible turnaround following European play and Klopp doesn’t understand why.
Last week, Manchester City were given the shortest possible turnaround following their Wednesday Champions League tie with Porto when they kicked off the weekend’s Premier League action against West Ham.
For Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, City may be rivals on the pitch—and City dropping two points to West Ham certainly won’t have hurt his own side’s chances—but it’s something he believes shouldn’t happen.
“I think everybody would agree that if you play Tuesday night, you can play the Saturday 12:30pm game, but the Premier League never realises that,” Klopp noted “They always put in the Wednesday night game.
“Last Saturday, Man City had to play this game. We are obviously not friends, we play against each other and fight against each other, but how is that possible? They just aren’t bothered, I don’t understand why.”
Klopp has regularly complained in the past that, compared to the other big leagues, the Premier League appears to have no interest in making the schedule work for its top sides that are engaged in European action.
It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that in the midst of the most congested season ever he would again take issue with scheduling choices that seem designed to punish its top sides—even if those sides are rivals.
As things stand, though, it’s difficult to see those in charge changing anything, with fixture congestion and scheduling a point of contention for years and the league consistent in its disinterest to complaints.
Well, Trent certainly knows a thing or two about being thrown into the deep end.
The sizable hole in defence created by Virgil van Dijk’s injury has suddenly grown into a ginormous one. And yet, not everyone is in full-blown panic mode. Take Trent Alexander-Arnold for example. While he’s obviously gutted about losing Fabinho for a few weeks, Trent sees the silver lining in all of it. Speaking to Liverpool FC’s official website.:
“Obviously he’s covering in at centre-half and he’s been playing unbelievable in the last few games. Obviously that happens and it’s disappointing – hopefully it’s not too long because we’ll miss him. That position is probably a little bare at the minute to say the least but we’ve got an amazing squad, you’ve seen Rhys Williams stepping in and doing a world-class job. At such a young age with such little experience, unbelievable from him. He never really put a foot wrong. Well done to him and I think he’s got a bright future ahead.”
“I think he’s an amazing player, he’s shown that over the last few weeks. He wasn’t with us much last season but he came in this season and showed how good a player he is. The manager obviously trusts him a lot and he’s been playing a few minutes. To be thrown in at the deep end on the biggest of stages is tough to do, tough to perform, but he never really put a foot wrong. So I think he’ll definitely be in the manager’s thoughts hopefully come the weekend and further on.”
And of course, Trent knows what he’s talking about – he too was given a baptism of fire, making his first league start in a 1-1 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford, after a handful of EFL Cup and Premier League substitute appearances. After spending last season on loan at Kidderminster Harriers in the Conference, Rhys Williams has suddenly been thrust into an important squad role in pretty bizarre circumstances. He’s held up well so far. West Ham, Atalanta, and Manchester City await.
The Cockney Kevin Großkreutz was taken off early in the second half against Man City.
The games, they come quick. Liverpool FC play again on Saturday and as they sweat on news about Joël Matip’s availability, their opponents West Ham United have had a injury boost of their own. Taken off shortly in the early stages of their 1-1 draw with Manchester City, there were initial fears that Antonio would be out for quite some time with (what else) a hamstring issue.
However, according to The Athletic’s West Ham United correspondent Roshane Thomas (on the U Irons Podcast), that initial fear has subsided, and he now thinks that “he should be fine for Liverpool but again, we’ll know more later in the week.”
With 3 goals in 6 games, the wing-back-turned-winger-now-striker has been an integral piece of David Moyes’ side that has experienced an resurgence since Project Restart. His relentless workrate, and improved efficiency in front of goal will be key for an organised West Ham team that’ll look to sit back and pick its battles.
Perhaps all we can do is take a page from our goalkeeper, and pray that Rhys Williams or whoever else is playing besides Joe Gomez can get a grip on this guy at Anfield this weekend.