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On Sunday afternoon, Arnaut Danjuma sat on his couch to look at the Merseyside derby. Villarreal did not have a recreation on the weekend as a result of Copa del Rey remaining, so it gave the Dutch winger an ideal alternative to look at Liverpool, the workforce he’ll face Wednesday of their Champions League semifinal, first leg.
To be clear, there was nothing Danjuma did not know already about Jurgen Klopp’s workforce: He is a type of gamers who’s a soccer fanatic in his free time as nicely. He simply loves the sport — loves enjoying it, watching it and speaking about it, however the principle purpose he watches is to be taught. Study his opponents, study what different forwards do, study methods to get higher and emulate different forwards. And, in doing so, methods to get higher himself.
“I watch every little thing,” he tells ESPN. “I’m a fan to start out with and since I need to develop into probably the greatest on this planet, watching loads of soccer will enhance my expertise. Watching can educate you numerous. I additionally do loads of evaluation alone video games. One hour daily, I watch clips of myself in video games or coaching. I’ve a private striker coach, Antonio Rodriguez, working with me. We scrutinise every little thing collectively.
“In trendy soccer, it isn’t nearly your expertise. It is also about soccer intelligence and the quantity of labor you set in exterior of the pitch. There may be a lot you’ll be able to be taught by simply watching your self again. After which, you additionally be taught lots by watching your opponents.”
So on Sunday, his full focus was on Liverpool: how they performed, how they arrange, their patterns of play, their motion. There’s lots to be impressed with with regards to Liverpool this season. Nonetheless, it isn’t the method that Danjuma or Villarreal are taking.
“One of the best ways of approaching this recreation is to method it in the identical as we did earlier than,” he stated. “We now have crushed some European giants alongside the way in which already, which is already an achievement and we’re all assured in our personal skill. We should always hold doing what we’ve been doing and imagine in our personal technique.”
The “Yellow Submarine” may have the identical mindset they’d in opposition to Juventus and Bayern Munich within the two earlier rounds. In each ties, they shocked everybody, not simply by getting via however by the way in which they did it. Their journey to this point on this competitors has been distinctive. They completed second in a gaggle with Manchester United, Younger Boys and Atalanta, charging their technique to the semifinals with big victories away at Atalanta to qualify for the last-16, in Turin in opposition to Juventus to e-book their place within the quarterfinals, and at dwelling in opposition to Bayern to defy all the percentages over the 2 legs, eliminating the Bundesliga champions 2-1 on combination.
“Perhaps the remainder of the world did not anticipate us to get this far, however we’ve at all times been assured,” Danjuma stated. “Our path to the semis was not simple, which makes it even higher, however you do not beat the groups we’ve crushed by coincidence, which is an effective signal for us earlier than going through Liverpool — one other large and probably the greatest golf equipment on this planet.”
“We confirmed in opposition to Juve and Bayern that it isn’t luck. We now have a technique — a mode of play. Juve and Bayern are two completely completely different groups. Juventus are probably the greatest defensive groups on this planet, whereas Bayern have a few of the finest forwards on this planet and play very attacking soccer. For us to have the ability to beat them confirmed our high quality and technique. With Liverpool, we all know what we are going to face.”
All weekend, Emery and his gamers labored on their tactical plan for the primary leg at Anfield on Wednesday. As soon as once more, they have been meticulous of their preparations: via video evaluation and reps on the coaching pitch, they have been making ready what to do with the ball and with out the ball, in addition to methods to attempt to pinpoint the weaknesses in Liverpool’s defence.
“Emery is particular: he is one of many most important the explanation why I got here to Villarreal,” Danjuma stated. “It is such a privilege to work beneath him as a coach. He’s so open with the gamers and I’m studying a lot from him. It’s actually pleasurable to work with him. He is likely one of the finest. He’s completely different.”
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One in every of Emery’s greatest achievements with Villarreal to this point this season is the flexibility he has instilled in his gamers, which has given them confidence in opposition to any opponent.
“One in every of our most important strengths is to have the ability to execute what the supervisor needs in an virtually good method and play differently relying on the opponent,” Danjuma stated. “[Emery] is such an elite tactical coach to have. In case you execute his recreation plan, you will have an ideal likelihood of profitable no matter who the opponent is. We now have a lot in our locker. We are able to sit again and play on the counter. We are able to play with the ball and create. We are able to do every little thing.”
Their subsequent problem is arguably their hardest but in on this competitors. Liverpool not solely boast Klopp on the touchline, however a lineup wealthy with expertise like Mohamed Salah, Thiago, Sadio Mane and Alisson, in addition to the ambiance of Anfield’s Kop and the membership’s plain pedigree in Europe as one among simply 4 golf equipment to win Europe’s prime membership competitors greater than 5 occasions.
“The 2 issues that amaze me [about Liverpool] are the extreme excessive press — they do this so nicely — and the excessive line of defense. As a ahead, it’s so nice to have a excessive line of defense behind you as a result of it retains you excessive up the pitch.”
After which there’s the determine of Virgil Van Dijk. Danjuma performs with him for the Netherlands and is aware of him nicely.
“I need to play in opposition to the most effective to show myself and check myself in opposition to the most effective. That is why I play this recreation. Clearly enjoying in opposition to Virg can be particular for me as a result of he’s my captain within the nationwide workforce. Defensively, I do not suppose it will get any higher than him, however I need to rank myself in opposition to the most effective. I believe I’ve proven to this point in my profession that I may cause some harm. I’ve to maintain doing it and be constant, so I am trying ahead to a recreation in opposition to somebody of his profile.”
Is it higher to play in opposition to a buddy and somebody you realize nicely — and who is aware of you nicely — or not?
“It is a good query! I do not know. A striker vs. defender battle is sort of a recreation of chess. You need to keep unpredictable.”
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There’s one other poignant be aware for Danjuma as this week marks his first return to England as a participant, lower than a yr after leaving Bournemouth and the Championship for Villarreal.
“England represents nice recollections for me. It looks like a homecoming,” he stated. “I had two wonderful years there. It made me extra mature, I developed lots and it took me to the place I’m proper now.
“For me, the Premier League will at all times be completely different than the remainder of the world. It’s the finest league, and also you need to compete there. The ambiance within the stadiums are so particular too. It was a privilege to play there and at all times particular to come back again.”
At 25, that is arguably the most important recreation of his profession. There can be many extra to come back, too, whether or not as a Villarreal participant or suiting up elsewhere. After only one season at la Ceramica, he is attracting curiosity from the most important golf equipment in Europe. Paris Saint-Germain are massive followers; Danjuma additionally impressed Manchester United when he performed them this season and was excellent. He is nonetheless valued extremely in England, in fact, and in Italy. If he comes up massive in opposition to Liverpool, anticipate many extra golf equipment to take a seat up and take discover.
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