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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 ultimate, 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 effectively. He simply loves the sport — loves enjoying it, watching it and speaking about it, however the principle purpose he watches is to study. Find out about his opponents, study what different forwards do, study easy methods to get higher and emulate different forwards. And, in doing so, easy methods to get higher himself.

“I watch all the things,” he tells ESPN. “I’m a fan to begin with and since I wish to turn into among the finest on this planet, watching a number of soccer will enhance my abilities. Watching can train you a large number. I additionally do a number of evaluation alone video games. One hour day-after-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 things collectively.

“In fashionable 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 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 on the subject of Liverpool this season. Nonetheless, it isn’t the strategy that Danjuma or Villarreal are taking.

“The easiest way of approaching this recreation is to strategy it in the identical as we did earlier than,” he mentioned. “We have now crushed some European giants alongside the best way already, which is already an achievement and we’re all assured in our personal capacity. We should always maintain doing what we have now been doing and imagine in our personal technique.”

The “Yellow Submarine” could have the identical mindset that they had in opposition to Juventus and Bayern Munich within the two earlier rounds. In each ties, they shocked everybody, not simply by getting by however by the best way they did it. Their journey up to now on this competitors has been distinctive. They completed second in a gaggle with Manchester United, Younger Boys and Atalanta, charging their method to the semifinals with large victories away at Atalanta to qualify for the last-16, in Turin in opposition to Juventus to guide their place within the quarterfinals, and at dwelling in opposition to Bayern to defy all the chances over the 2 legs, eliminating the Bundesliga champions 2-1 on mixture.

“Perhaps the remainder of the world did not count on us to get this far, however we have now all the time 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 have now crushed by coincidence, which is an effective signal for us earlier than going through Liverpool — one other big and among the finest golf equipment on this planet.”

“We confirmed in opposition to Juve and Bayern that it isn’t luck. We have now a method — a mode of play. Juve and Bayern are two completely completely different groups. Juventus are among the finest defensive groups on this planet, whereas Bayern have a few of the greatest 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’ll 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: by 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 easy 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 pleasing to work with him. He is without doubt one of the greatest. He’s completely different.”

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Considered one of Emery’s largest achievements with Villarreal up to now this season is the flexibility he has instilled in his gamers, which has given them confidence in opposition to any opponent.

“Considered one of our primary strengths is to have the ability to execute what the supervisor desires in an nearly good method and play otherwise relying on the opponent,” Danjuma mentioned. “[Emery] is such an elite tactical coach to have. In case you execute his recreation plan, you’ve got an ideal probability of profitable no matter who the opponent is. We have now 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 things.”

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 certainly 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 extraordinary excessive press — they try this so effectively — 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 effectively.

“I wish to play in opposition to the perfect to show myself and take a look at myself in opposition to the perfect. That is why I play this recreation. Clearly enjoying 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 wish to rank myself in opposition to the perfect. I believe I’ve proven up to now in my profession that I could cause some harm. I’ve to maintain doing it and be constant, so I am wanting ahead to a recreation in opposition to somebody of his profile.”

Is it higher to play in opposition to a good friend and somebody you understand effectively — and who is aware of you effectively — or not?

“It is a good query! I do not know. A striker vs. defender battle is sort of a recreation of chess. It’s a must 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 reminiscences for me. It appears 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 all the time be completely different than the remainder of the world. It’s the greatest league, and also you wish to compete there. The ambiance within the stadiums are so particular too. It was a privilege to play there and all the time particular to return again.”

At 25, that is arguably the most important recreation of his profession. There will probably be many extra to return, too, whether or not as a Villarreal participant or suiting up some other place. 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, count on many extra golf equipment to take a seat up and take discover.

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