Liverpool set for Anfield title as PL ‘confident’ on fewer neutral venues

Liverpool look likely to be allowed to lift the title at Anfield as Premier League chiefs are 'confident' of avoiding using neutral venues.

Each top-flight club has received a written letter from Premier League executive director Bill Bush, who says a maximum of only four matches will need to be held away from home grounds.

The National Police Chiefs' Council football lead officer Mark Roberts last week named six fixtures which were of concern.

One of the fixtures was the Merseyside derby, which is due to be Liverpool's first game back.

Police were fearful fans would congregate around Goodison Park and Anfield if Liverpool are in a position where they can seal their title win in their first game back against Everton.

Liverpool's next game at home to Crystal Palace is also a possible title-clincher, and was included on Roberts' list.

However Merseyside Police have informed the Premier League they feel they will be able to handle matches in the local area.

Bush outlined this in his letter, and added that two other police forces – Greater Manchester and Northumbria – could follow Merseyside's lead, as they continue to monitor their situation.

Of their three matches up for discussion, Greater Manchester police are preparing for Man City v Newcastle and Man Utd v Sheffield Utd to go ahead as planned.

Their only concern is the Man City vs Liverpool clash, which depending on other results could prove to be a title decider.

Northumbria Police are also apprehensive over Liverpool's trip to Newcastle on the final day of the season, though it is likely that any title coronation, if permitted, would occur at Anfield the week prior.

Bush's letter read: "Merseyside Police released a further statement on Friday that, in their view, the Premier League matches scheduled for their area were within their capacity to cover.

"From further enquiries, I understand that the process of review continues at the other two local police forces which had previously requested fixtures be moved.

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Liverpool confirm Neil Critchley replacement amid coaching shake-up

Liverpool have promoted Barry Lewtas to Under-23s manager as replacement for Neil Critchley.

The Reds have reshuffled their youth ranks with underage football halted amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

And Lewtas, who joined the club as Under-12s boss in 2013, and has made his way through the ranks, now replaces Critchley after he was appointed Blackpool boss in March.

Lewtas has been Under-18s boss since replacing Steven Gerrard when the Anfield idol took charge of Rangers in 2018.

Lewtas’ role with the U18s is to be taken by Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, who will step up from the Under-16s.

Lewtas, highly-regarded in the halls of Melwood for the work he has done at the club’s Kirkby academy base, previously worked at Wigan and Bolton.

His promotion is just reward for his work with the club’s youngsters, while he led the U18s to the FA Youth Cup in 2019, defeating Manchester City on penalties.

Academy manager Alex Inglethorpe said: “Barry has been at the club for quite a few years now and has progressed through various age groups.

"This is another step for him.

“He creates a wonderful environment for the players and has struck a good balance between winning games and developing the talent we have.

“More important are his qualities as a person and he’s someone who cares passionately about those he works with and is totally dedicated to the game.

“I’m delighted he’s accepted the challenge.”

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Callaghan on why ’77 European Cup win was turning point in Liverpool’s history

It was the night that started Liverpool’s extraordinary love affair with the European Cup.

On May 25 1977, on a balmy evening in Italy, Liverpool beat Borussia Monchengladbach 3-1 in Rome’s Olympic Stadium.

It was a match that brought down the curtain on the Kevin Keegan era, with Kenny Dalglish about to become the new king of Anfield.

The Reds had already been crowned league champions but had lost the FA Cup final four days earlier to Manchester United. Yet how they bounced back on that unforgettable night in the Italian capital.

Liverpool legend Ian Callaghan says it was the turning point in the club’s glorious history. As soon as you win one, other trophies follow, Callaghan, 78, says.

And who could argue – the Reds now have six European Cups to their name.

Callaghan, who holds the record for Liverpool appearances (857), believes that first trophy was the catalyst for what was to follow.

Callaghan said: “Bill Shankly laid the foundation. He had not been there long when he gave me my debut at 17 (in 1960) and I was there from the start.

“I played in the Second Division and then went on to win two European Cups. I think the first one is the most important one.”

Callaghan was to collect a second winner’s medal a year later, when Liverpool beat Club Brugge at Wembley, but he was an unused substitute that night.

“The 1977 triumph was one of the highlights of my career,” he said.

“Rome was special. The first time you win something it always is. It was like winning the FA Cup for the first time in 1965. It was a great performance, especially after losing to Manchester United in the FA Cup final on the previous Saturday.”

Terry McDermott put Bob Paisley’s side ahead in the 28th minute but Allan Simonsen equalised early in the second half.

Players from that Liverpool team, including Callaghan, remember the next 10 minutes as the most difficult as the Germans so nearly turned the game around.

But Tommy Smith restored the lead in the 64th minute and Phil Neal sealed it from the penalty spot after 82 minutes on a night Keegan, ran the Germans ragged.

Liverpool had already become a domestic force but European glory took them to another level and 1977 was the pathway to greater success. More European Cup triumphs were to follow in 78. 81, 84, 2005, and last season.

The game marked Keegan’s farewell (he moved to Hamburg), but Dalglish came in as his replacement that summer and took the club to even greater heights as both player and manager.

“It’s been unbelievable for Liverpool,” said Callaghan. “But that first trophy is always so important, especially for a club steeped in history and one which is so proud of its past.

“It was Kevin’s last game. He was a fantastic player and was probably the best player on the pitch that night.

“We were having success on a domestic level but then took it across into Europe. After Kevin left, Kenny came in and they won the European Cup the following year at Wembley to carry it on.”

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Virgil van Dijk told he would ‘beat up Didier Drogba’ as ‘lucky’ claim dismissed

Liverpool legend Steve Nicol has defended Virgil van Dijk from claims by Michael Ballack that the Dutchman is "lucky" to be considered the best in the Premier League.

Former Chelsea star Ballack claimed that van Dijk is only held in such high esteem due to a lack of top class strikers around in the modern day compared to years gone by.

"Virgil van Dijk is very lucky to play in an era where there is no [Didier] Drogba, [Frank] Lampard, Alan Shearer, [Thierry] Henry, [Wayne] Rooney, [Robin] Van Persie, [Carlos] Tevez, [Emmanuel] Adebayor and Diego Costa in the Premier League," Ballack said.

"No wonder they think he is the best defender in the league."

However former Reds star Nicol has dismissed the claims and believes van Dijk would have held his own against any player, including Ballack's ex-teammate Drogba.

Nicol told ESPN FC : "Well I'm interested to know which part of his game he's not happy with because if you're looking for a physical battle, are you telling me that Van Dijk couldn't beat anybody up physically? Even Drogba?

"It would be great to watch but don't tell me that Drogba would walk all over him physically.

"Pace-wise I don't remember seeing anybody, whether it's the Premier League or the Champions League, running past this guy. So that's not a problem.

“Can he pass the ball? Yes, he can pass the ball. I'd love to know which part of van Dijk's game he thinks would be susceptible to any of these strikers that he was talking about."

While Ballack is not convinced by van Dijk's capabilities, the Liverpool star has received high praise from another defensive great.

Man City's former captain Vincent Kompany played against many of the names Ballack mentioned, and is in no doubt who the top defender of the Premier League era is.

Kompany told BBC's Football Focus : "The reason why I said it is because Liverpool were a great team before Virgil van Dijk arrived.

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Liverpool and Everton set dates for group training ahead of restart

Liverpool and Everton will both return to group training this week, as the Premier League steps up plans to resume the season.

Everton confirmed they will return to the club’s Finch Farm training ground on Wednesday for the first time since March 12, with boss Carlo Ancelotti will oversee small group training.

Liverpool too, confirmed they will step up their training plans on Wednesday, to include small group training together for the first time, after opening the doors of their Melwood training complex to players for individual training a fortnight ago.

Both clubs will adhere to regulations set out by the Premier League, as clubs voted unanimously to allow groups of up to five players to train with a coach, following social distancing guidelines.

Everton’s players have all agreed to the plans, and will work on fitness, with no contact allowed at this stage of the plans, which have been agreed with the government.

A club spokesperson confirmed: “Carlo Ancelotti and his squad will begin to report back for small group training on Wednesday as part of the first step towards restarting the Premier League, when safe to do so.

“Step One of the Return to Training Protocol enables squads to train while maintaining social distancing. Contact training is not yet permitted. The first stage has been agreed in consultation with the players.”

Liverpool allowed players to train individually at their training ground earlier in the month, with each player given a time slot to work out on their own pitch. That will now be expanded to allow five players to train together on the same pitch.

Both clubs underwent the first phase of testing at the weekend, with players and staff given oral swabs for Covid-19 as part of the Premier League plans to ensure all players are tested by the end of the week as they step up training plans.

Mobile units visited each club to perform drive-by procedures, with results analysed by specialists, and available to the club before Wednesday’s first session.

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Henderson explains unseen quality Van Dijk has brought to Liverpool

Jordan Henderson says Virgil van Dijk's impact off the pitch has been felt just as much as his performances on it during his time at Liverpool.

There were question marks over Liverpool's decision to shell out £75million, then a world record fee for a defender, to bring Van Dijk to Anfield from Southampton in January 2018, but any concerns were wiped away almost immediately when he scored on his debut in an FA Cup win over Everton.

The Dutchman went on to pick up the Champions League and the PFA Player of the Year trophy last season, and stands on the verge of becoming a Premier League champion in the current campaign.

Reds skipper Henderson was full of praise for Van Dijk when asked by BT Sport what he's brought to the team.

“What hasn’t he brought, really?!" he said.

“I couldn’t speak highly enough of him as a player. Of course, everybody knows how good he is and what he’s done over the last couple of years for the team, he’s been immense.

"He’s won his individual awards and rightly so. He’s an unbelievable defender, an unbelievable player. 

“But for me, he’s brought something huge off the pitch. I couldn’t speak highly enough of him off the pitch and the type of man and person that he is.

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"Insulted" Liverpool insist games can be played behind closed doors at Anfield

Liverpool feel “insulted” that many believe their fans would not respect public health guidelines in any Premier League return.

And the club say they can deliver games behind closed doors at Anfield without significant crowds gathering.

In the light of clubs asking the Government to think again over playing matches at neutral venues, the focus has fallen strongly on the champions-elect.

There are fears thousands of fans would gather if they have a game at their own stadium where a first title in 30 years is confirmed.

Privately, the Reds have taken to task those who use Anfield as an example of potential crowd problems and instead offered a variety of strategies to ensure there would be no issues.

It is understood Liverpool would employ a number of measures to ensure no large crowds gather, including direct messages from manager Jurgen Klopp and many of his star players, as well as community leaders.

Liverpool city mayor Joe Anderson has been a dissenting voice, and said: “Even if it was behind closed doors, many thousands of people would turn up outside Anfield to celebrate, so I think it’s a non-starter.”

But the club hit back strongly at his suggestion.

In a sternly worded statement, they said: “We are disappointed by comments (from) Mayor Joe Anderson, (there is) a lack of evidence to support his claims.

“Supporters have (expressed) their determination to respect social distancing measures. In the event of a resumption of football being announced, we would continue to work with them and other key stakeholders in keeping with our collective desire to achieve this crucial objective.”

Liverpool will wait to see the outcome of discussions between the Premier League and Government over a restart, but privately they are adamant it will be possible to stage games at Anfield without incident.

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Virgil van Dijk explains why he chose to sign for Liverpool over Man City

Virgil van Dijk has revealed he took a host of factors into consideration before deciding to join Liverpool.

The Dutchman was also on Manchester City's radar but he opted for a move to Anfield in January 2018.

Van Dijk claims the playing style employed on Merseyside as well as Liverpool's passionate fans were some of the pivotal factors in his decision.

Jurgen Klopp's side reached the Champions League final within six months of his £75m move from Southampton.

And although they came up short Van Dijk looks back on the experience as crucial in his development.

"Before I made the decision to choose Liverpool, I looked at all the aspects of the clubs; the way of playing, the team-mates, the future as well," he told BT Sport.

"The city, the fans everything has got to be a big part of joining a club.

"I think Liverpool at that time when I made the decision was the right decision and obviously to reach the Champions League final in my first six months was obviously a big bonus and helped me a lot in my development."

Since they lost to Real Madrid in Kiev Liverpool have gone from strength to strength and became champions of Europe in June last year.

They are also poised to win their first ever Premier League title should the season resume.

But Van Dijk, who is arguably Klopp's most important player, concedes he needed to adapt to the German's training methods upon his arrival.

"To be absolutely honest, in the first six months that I joined we had more training sessions,” he added.

"It was intense, there were a lot of different things that were going to be asked of me. And I enjoyed it, I enjoyed it a lot – the hard work, the discussions that I had with certain players about the way Liverpool, the way we, play.

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Jurgen Klopp recalls standout moment from Liverpool’s Champions League final win

Jurgen Klopp has recalled his favourite moment from Liverpool's Champions League final triumph over Tottenham last year.

Liverpool defeated Spurs 2-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on June 1, winning the club's sixth European Cup.

It was the first trophy the Reds had won under Klopp, but more were soon to follow as the manager guided his side to UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup success.

Liverpool's win in Madrid came courtesy of a penalty from Mohamed Salah, followed by a late striker from Divock Origi to make the victory safe in the closing minutes.

Origi had already made himself a hero by scoring twice in the Reds' stunning semi-final comeback from 3-0 down against Barcelona a year ago today.

And it is his goal that Klopp remembers most vividly about the final, after the Belgian striker connected with a slick pass from Joel Matip to send Reds fans into raptures.

Asked what was the moment that for him stood out from the final, Klopp told BT Sport: “The wonderful Divock Origi goal.

"It was not our best game – it was not the best game of Tottenham.

“It was a final, we had to learn that as a team that we needed to win these kind of average games.

“We needed to accept that if we do not perform at our best, then we need to do other things to win."

Before the Champions League triumph in Madrid, Klopp has guided Liverpool to three cup final defeats – in the previous season's competition, as well as in the Europa League and League Cup.

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Liverpool’s telling approach to Premier League ‘Project Restart’ meetings

Liverpool are reportedly taking a back seat in the current meetings to determine what will happen to the 2019/20 Premier League season.

Talks between the 20 clubs are ongoing as the division seeks to find a way to resume amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

There is said to be a will to finish the current season across almost all clubs, but the prospect of playing all of the remaining matches behind closed doors at neutral venues is said to be causing some concern among clubs who aren't keen on the idea.

Teams near the bottom of the table are not thought to be too enthusiastic about the idea of forfeiting home advantage for a number of crucial games, even though there would be no fans present.

But with the Premier League stating that the neutral venue option – with matches played at around 8-10 stadia – would be the only way to get the season finished and protect valuable TV revenues, a vote will take place on the plan next week.

For Liverpool, the current suspension of football has left the club waiting to see if they would be afforded the opportunity to seal a much longed-for league title, a first in 30 years.

With any prospect of the season being declared "null and void" never really gaining any traction, the options before the league would either see the season played out – with Liverpool needing at most two wins from nine games to be champions – or curtailed and the final standings determined via a points per game system.

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