On Sunday afternoon, Arnaut Danjuma sat on his couch to look at the Merseyside derby. Villarreal didn’t have a sport on the weekend as a result of Copa del Rey closing, 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 didn’t know already about Jurgen Klopp’s workforce: He’s a type 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 primary purpose he watches is to study. Find out about his opponents, find out about what different forwards do, find out about get higher and emulate different forwards. And, in doing so, 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 among the finest on the planet, watching a variety of soccer will enhance my abilities. Watching can train you numerous. I additionally do a variety of evaluation alone video games. One hour on daily basis, 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’s not nearly your expertise. It’s additionally about soccer intelligence and the quantity of labor you place in exterior of the pitch. There may be a lot you possibly can study by simply watching your self again. After which, you additionally study 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 relating to Liverpool this season. Nonetheless, it’s not the method that Danjuma or Villarreal are taking.
“One of the best ways of approaching this sport is to method it in the identical as we did earlier than,” he mentioned. “We’ve crushed some European giants alongside the way in which already, which is already an achievement and we’re all assured in our personal capability. We should always preserve doing what we’ve been doing and consider in our personal technique.”
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The “Yellow Submarine” could have the identical mindset they’d towards Juventus and Bayern Munich within the two earlier rounds. In each ties, they shocked everybody, not simply by getting by means of however by the way in which 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 approach to the semifinals with large victories away at Atalanta to qualify for the last-16, in Turin towards Juventus to ebook their place within the quarterfinals, and at house towards Bayern to defy all the percentages over the 2 legs, eliminating the Bundesliga champions 2-1 on mixture.
“Perhaps the remainder of the world didn’t count on us to get this far, however we’ve at all times been assured,” Danjuma mentioned. “Our path to the semis was not simple, which makes it even higher, however you don’t beat the groups we’ve crushed by coincidence, which is an efficient signal for us earlier than dealing with Liverpool — one other large and among the finest golf equipment on the planet.”
“We confirmed towards Juve and Bayern that it’s not luck. We’ve a technique — a mode of play. Juve and Bayern are two completely completely different groups. Juventus are among the finest 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’ll face.”
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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’ve been meticulous of their preparations: by means of video evaluation and reps on the coaching pitch, they’ve been getting ready what to do with the ball and with out the ball, in addition to attempt to pinpoint the weaknesses in Liverpool’s defence.
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“Emery is particular: he’s one of many most important the explanation why I got here to Villarreal,” Danjuma mentioned. “It’s 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 satisfying to work with him. He is among the finest. He’s completely different.”
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Considered one of Emery’s largest achievements with Villarreal thus far this season is the flexibility he has instilled in his gamers, which has given them confidence towards any opponent.
“Considered one of our most important strengths is to have the ability to execute what the supervisor desires in an nearly good manner and play differently relying on the opponent,” Danjuma mentioned. “[Emery] is such an elite tactical coach to have. In case you execute his sport plan, you will have a terrific probability of profitable no matter who the opponent is. We’ve 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 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 prime membership competitors greater than 5 occasions.
“The 2 issues that amaze me [about Liverpool] are the extraordinary 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 towards the very best to show myself and take a look at myself towards the very best. That’s why I play this sport. Clearly taking part in towards Virg will likely be particular for me as a result of he’s my captain within the nationwide workforce. Defensively, I don’t suppose it will get any higher than him, however I need to rank myself towards the very best. I believe I’ve proven thus far in my profession that I may cause some harm. I’ve to maintain doing it and be constant, so I’m trying ahead to a sport towards somebody of his profile.”
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Is it higher to play towards a pal and somebody you recognize nicely — and who is aware of you nicely — or not?
“It’s a great query! I don’t know. A striker vs. defender battle is sort of a sport of chess. You need to keep unpredictable.”
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There’s one other poignant notice 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 seems like a homecoming,” he mentioned. “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 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 largest sport of his profession. There will likely 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’s attracting curiosity from the largest 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’s nonetheless valued extremely in England, in fact, and in Italy. If he comes up massive towards Liverpool, count on many extra golf equipment to take a seat up and take discover.