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On Sunday afternoon, Arnaut Danjuma sat on his couch to observe the Merseyside derby. Villarreal did not have a sport on the weekend because of the Copa del Rey closing, so it gave the Dutch winger an ideal alternative to observe 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 kind of gamers who’s a soccer fanatic in his free time as nicely. He simply loves the sport — loves taking part in it, watching it and speaking about it, however the principle motive he watches is to be taught. Study his opponents, find out about what different forwards do, find out about methods to get higher and emulate different forwards. And, in doing so, methods to get higher himself.
“I watch all the pieces,” he tells ESPN. “I’m a fan to start out with and since I need to turn out to be top-of-the-line on the planet, watching a whole lot of soccer will enhance my expertise. Watching can educate you a large number. I additionally do a whole lot of evaluation alone video games. One hour day by day, I watch clips of myself in video games or coaching. I’ve a private striker coach, Antonio Rodriguez, working with me. We scrutinise all the pieces collectively.
“In trendy soccer, it isn’t nearly your expertise. It is also about soccer intelligence and the quantity of labor you set in outdoors of the pitch. There’s a lot you’ll be able to be taught by simply watching your self again. After which, you additionally be taught so much 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 so much to be impressed with relating to Liverpool this season. Nevertheless, it isn’t the strategy that Danjuma or Villarreal are taking.
“The easiest way of approaching this sport is to strategy it in the identical as we did earlier than,” he mentioned. “We’ve crushed some European giants alongside the best way already, which is already an achievement and we’re all assured in our personal capability. We must always preserve doing what we now have been doing and consider 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 best way they did it. Their journey thus far on this competitors has been distinctive. They completed second in a bunch with Manchester United, Younger Boys and Atalanta, charging their technique to the semifinals with large 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 residence in opposition to Bayern to defy all the chances over the 2 legs, eliminating the Bundesliga champions 2-1 on combination.
“Possibly the remainder of the world did not anticipate us to get this far, however we now have at all times been assured,” Danjuma mentioned. “Our path to the semis was not simple, which makes it even higher, however you do not beat the groups we now have crushed by coincidence, which is an effective signal for us earlier than going through Liverpool — one other big and top-of-the-line golf equipment on the planet.”
“We confirmed in opposition to Juve and Bayern that it isn’t luck. We’ve a method — a method of play. Juve and Bayern are two completely completely different groups. Juventus are top-of-the-line defensive groups on the planet, whereas Bayern have among the finest forwards on the 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 primary explanation why I got here to Villarreal,” Danjuma mentioned. “It is such a privilege to work underneath him as a coach. He’s so open with the gamers and I’m studying a lot from him. It’s actually fulfilling to work with him. He is among the finest. He’s completely different.”
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One in every of Emery’s greatest achievements with Villarreal thus far 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 primary strengths is to have the ability to execute what the supervisor needs in an virtually good manner and play another way relying on the opponent,” Danjuma mentioned. “[Emery] is such an elite tactical coach to have. If you happen to execute his sport plan, you’ve an excellent likelihood of successful no matter who the opponent is. We’ve a lot in our locker. We will sit again and play on the counter. We will play with the ball and create. We will do all the pieces.”
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 environment of Anfield’s Kop and the membership’s simple pedigree in Europe as considered one of simply 4 golf equipment to win Europe’s high membership competitors greater than 5 occasions.
“The 2 issues that amaze me [about Liverpool] are the extreme excessive press — they try 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 sport. Clearly taking part in in opposition to Virg will probably be particular for me as a result of he’s my captain within the nationwide workforce. Defensively, I do not assume it will get any higher than him, however I need to rank myself in opposition to the most effective. I feel I’ve proven thus far in my profession that I may cause some injury. I’ve to maintain doing it and be constant, so I am trying ahead to a sport in opposition to somebody of his profile.”
Is it higher to play in opposition to a pal and somebody you recognize 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 sport of chess. It’s a must to keep unpredictable.”
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There’s one other poignant observe for Danjuma as this week marks his first return to England as a participant, lower than a 12 months after leaving Bournemouth and the Championship for Villarreal.
“England represents nice reminiscences for me. It looks like a homecoming,” he mentioned. “I had two wonderful years there. It made me extra mature, I developed so much 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 environment 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 sport of his profession. There will probably be many extra to come back, too, whether or not as a Villarreal participant or suiting up someplace else. After only one season at la Ceramica, he is attracting curiosity from the most important golf equipment in Europe. Paris Saint-Germain are large 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 large in opposition to Liverpool, anticipate many extra golf equipment to sit down up and take discover.
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