October 12, 2022
Villarreal star talks Champions League, works for Unai Emery and faces Liverpool

On Sunday afternoon, Arnaut Danjuma sat down on his sofa to watch the Merseyside derby. Villarreal didn’t have a game this weekend due to the Copa del Rey final, so it gave the Dutch winger a perfect chance to watch Liverpool, the team he faces in Wednesday’s semi-finals -final first leg of the Champions League.

To be clear, there was nothing Danjuma didn’t already know about Jurgen Klopp’s team: he’s one of those players who is also a football fanatic in his spare time. He loves the game — loves to play it, watch it and talk about it, but the main reason he watches it is to learn. Find out about his opponents, learn what other attackers are doing, learn how to improve and imitate other attackers. And, in doing so, how to improve himself.

“I watch everything,” he told ESPN. “I’m a fan to begin with and because I want to be one of the best in the world, watching a lot of football will improve my skills. Watching can teach you a lot. I also do a lot of analysis on my own games.” day, I watch clips of me at a game or in training. I have a personal forwards coach, Antonio Rodriguez, who works with me. We scrutinize everything together.”

“In modern football it’s not just about your talent. It’s also about football intelligence and how much work you put in off the pitch. There’s so much you You can learn just by looking back. And then you also learn a lot by watching your opponents.”

So on Sunday he focused entirely on Liverpool: how they played, how they set up, their patterns of play, their movements. There are plenty of reasons to be impressed when it comes to Liverpool this season. However, this is not the approach taken by Danjuma or Villarreal.

“The best way to approach this game is to approach it the same way as before,” he said. “We have already beaten some European giants along the way, which is already an achievement and we are all confident in our own abilities. We have to keep doing what we have been doing and believe in our own strategy.”

The ‘Yellow Submarine’ will have the same mindset he had against Juventus and Bayern Munich in the previous two rounds. In both matches, they shocked everyone, not only by succeeding, but also by the way they did it. So far, their run in this competition has been exceptional. They finished second in a group with Manchester United, Young Boys and Atalanta, working their way to the semi-finals with huge away wins at Atalanta to progress to the round of 16, in Turin against the Juventus to book their place in the quarter-finals, and at home to Bayern to defy the odds over both legs, knocking out the Bundesliga champions 2-1 on aggregate.

“Maybe the rest of the world didn’t expect us to go this far, but we were always confident,” Danjuma said. “Our path to the semi-finals wasn’t easy which makes it even better, but you don’t beat the teams we’ve beaten by chance which is a good sign for us going into Liverpool – another giant and one of the best clubs in the world.”

“We showed against Juve and Bayern that it’s not luck. We have a strategy – a style of play. Juve and Bayern are two totally different teams. Juventus are one of the best teams defenses in the world, while Bayern have some of the best strikers in the world and play very attacking football. Being able to beat them showed our quality and our strategy. With Liverpool, we know what we are going to face.”

All weekend Emery and his players worked on their tactical plan for the first leg at Anfield on Wednesday. Again, they were meticulous in their preparations: through video analysis and training ground rehearsals, they prepared what to do with and without the ball, as well as how to try to spot Liverpool’s weaknesses. defense.

“Emery is special: that’s one of the main reasons I came to Villarreal,” Danjuma said. “It’s such a privilege to work under him as a coach. He’s so open with the players and I learn so much from him. It’s really nice to work with him. He’s one of the best . He is different.”

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One of Emery’s biggest achievements with Villarreal so far this season is the versatility he has instilled in his players which has given them confidence against any opponent.

“One of our main strengths is being able to execute what the manager wants almost perfectly and playing differently depending on the opponent,” Danjuma said. “[Emery] is such an elite tactical trainer to have. If you execute his game plan, you have a great chance of winning, regardless of the opponent. We have so many things in our locker. We can sit and play on the counter. We can play with the ball and create. We can do anything.”

Their next challenge is arguably their toughest yet in this competition. Liverpool not only have Klopp on the touchline, but a talent-rich line-up in the likes of Mohamed Salah, Thiago, Sadio Mane and Alisson, as well as the atmosphere of Anfield’s Kop and the club’s undeniable pedigree in Europe as the one of four clubs to win Europe. top-flight club competition more than five times.

“The two things that surprise me [about Liverpool] are the intense high press – they do it so well – and the high defensive line. As a striker, it’s great to have a high defensive line behind you because it keeps you high on the pitch.”

And then there is the figure of Virgil Van Dijk. Danjuma plays with him for the Netherlands and knows him well.

“I want to play against the best to prove myself and test myself against the best. That’s why I’m playing this game. Obviously playing against Virg will be special for me because he’s my captain in the national team. Defensively , I don’t think it’s better than him, but I want to be among the best I think I’ve shown so far in my career that I can cause damage I have to keep doing it and be consistent, so I’m looking forward to playing against someone of his profile.”

Is it better to play against a friend and someone you know well – and who knows you well – or not?

“That’s a good question! I don’t know. A striker versus defender battle is like a game of chess. You have to stay unpredictable.”

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There is another poignant note for Danjuma as this week marks his first return to England as a player, less than a year after leaving Bournemouth and the Championship for Villarreal.

“England represents great memories for me. It’s like going back to basics,” he said. “I spent two incredible years there. It made me more mature, I evolved a lot and it brought me to where I am right now.

“For me, the Premier League will always be different from the rest of the world. It’s the best league, and you want to compete in it. The atmosphere in the stadiums is so special too. It was a privilege to play there and always special to come back.”

At 25, it’s probably the biggest game of his career. There will be plenty more to come, whether as a Villarreal player or in costume elsewhere. After just one season at La Ceramica, he aroused the interest of the biggest European clubs. Paris Saint-Germain are big fans; Danjuma has also impressed Manchester United when playing them this season and has been outstanding. It is still very popular in England, of course, and in Italy. If he comes in big against Liverpool, expect plenty more clubs to sit up and take notice.


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