Get ready for Liverpool 2.0 under revitalized Jurgen Klopp after offseason overhaul

Get ready for Liverpool 2.0 under revitalized Jurgen Klopp after offseason overhaul
Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp gestures during their English Premier League match against Arsenal at Anfield in Liverpool, England, on Apr. 9, 2023. (AP/File)
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Updated 08 August 2023
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Get ready for Liverpool 2.0 under revitalized Jurgen Klopp after offseason overhaul

Get ready for Liverpool 2.0 under revitalized Jurgen Klopp after offseason overhaul
  • Get ready for Liverpool 2.0 under Klopp after an offseason of big change
  • In the 2021-22 season, remember, the Reds narrowly fell short of winning the quadruple

LIVERPOOL, UK: There’s a word Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has used a few times when he talks about the upcoming Premier League season.
Fire.
His players? “You can see the fire in their eyes.”
Klopp himself? “I’m on fire.”
It’s what having a bad season — no trophy and a fifth-place finish in the league — does to a big club. It shakes people, invigorates them.
That’s certainly the case with Liverpool amid its first major overhaul in Klopp’s nearly eight years at Anfield.
Get ready for Liverpool 2.0 under Klopp after an offseason of big change.
There’s a completely new midfield. A much-changed forward line (still, though, containing Mohamed Salah). The repositioning of right back Trent Alexander-Arnold as a hybrid defender-midfielder. There’s even a new captain, in Virgil van Dijk.
The question, now, is how quickly Klopp can bring this new Liverpool together. Can the Reds once again become Manchester City’s biggest threat in the Premier League?
“We try to raise the bar again and again and again,” Klopp said. “For that, you need to make changes and we have obviously made now a lot of changes. That opens the door for a lot of other players.”
The overhaul has been coming for a while because of the way Liverpool had neglected to refresh a midfield that once was the team’s heartbeat, only to quickly become their shortcoming.
Out, first, went James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita because their contracts expired. Then, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho went to the Saudi Pro League.
In has come Alexis Mac Allister, Argentina’s World Cup winner from Brighton, and Dominik Szoboszlai, the captain of Hungary and a star of the Bundesliga at Leipzig. Klopp also wants — and needs — a defensive midfielder and three bids for Romeo Lavia, who plays for relegated Southampton, have reportedly been rejected so far.
Up front, only Salah remains from that devastating front three which led Liverpool to the Champions League in 2019 and a first English league title in 30 years in 2020. Sadio Mane left last year, and Roberto Firmino departed — also for Saudi Arabia — this offseason when his contract at Liverpool expired.
Klopp used to field the same front three nearly every match. Now he has a selection headache with four players — Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota, Cody Gakpo and Darwin Nunez — competing for two spots alongside Salah.
Meanwhile, there are also changes at the back, with Alexander-Arnold undergoing a positional switch at the end of last season which Klopp is likely to persevere with. Alexander-Arnold now uses his fine passing range from a deep midfield role, while reverting to right back when Liverpool doesn’t have the ball.
In Henderson’s absence, Van Dijk has taken the armband and Alexander-Arnold is vice-captain.
It’s quite the turnover as Klopp heads into his eighth full season in charge of Liverpool with the club having spent more than 100 million pounds ($130 million) on new signings in a single transfer window for the first time since 2018.
Klopp said he still feels that tingle of excitement about what’s around the corner, especially because he is desperate to make up for last season when Liverpool didn't even qualify for the Champions League.
In the 2021-22 season, remember, the Reds narrowly fell short of winning the quadruple.
“Sometimes you need to get a knock to realize, ‘Ah, there is a problem,’” Klopp said. “And I would really say we got a proper knock last year. I got one for sure, so I’m on fire. The players understand as well and so far I like the response, a lot.
“Yes, I want to put things right. And that gives me the extra edge as well, if I’m 100% honest. The fever, the power, the excitement is bigger when last year was not great.”
Even last season, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola maintained Liverpool were his team's biggest rival, fueled by his memories of their seismic title battles in 2018-19 and 2021-22 when the two clubs raised the level of the Premier League to previously unforeseen heights.
City have remained at that level, while Liverpool have wavered — first when squeezing to a third-place finish in the league in 2020-21 and then again last season when finishing outside the top four for the first time since 2015-16.
Liverpool's season will be disrupted somewhat by having to play in the Europa League, necessitating many Thursday-Sunday turnarounds.
Anfield also is set to be operating at a reduced capacity, down to 51,000 from its previous 54,000, early this season because work hasn't been completed on the construction of a new stand that will eventually take the number of seats in the stadium to 61,000.
Nothing, though, is dampening Klopp's enthusiasm heading into the season and he said he could see from the first day of preseason that his “boys mean business.”
“I'd really love to be that team,” Klopp said, “where everybody thinks, ‘Oh God, Liverpool.'”


SAFF launches formal FIFA World Cup 2034 host campaign

SAFF launches formal FIFA World Cup 2034 host campaign
Updated 01 March 2024
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SAFF launches formal FIFA World Cup 2034 host campaign

SAFF launches formal FIFA World Cup 2034 host campaign
  • Logo, website and short film released under slogan ‘Growing Together’
  • Federation chief Yasser Al-Misehal: ‘Our bid is an open invitation to the world to join us on this exciting journey’

JEDDAH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation on Friday launched its formal bid to host the FIFA World Cup 2034 under the slogan “Growing Together.”
In October last year, the Kingdom said it intended to bid to host the tournament, before the SAFF submitted an official letter of intent and declaration to FIFA.
The campaign proved a formality when the Kingdom became the only country to enter the contest to host the tournament.
The federation, as part of its formal bid, has unveiled a bid logo, website, as well as a short film that celebrates the passion, spirit and diversity of football in the Kingdom.
SAFF President Yasser Al-Misehal said: “Telling our football story to the world is of massive importance. And we believe ‘Growing Together’ is the perfect, yet simple description of our approach to hopefully hosting the tournament in 10 years’ time.”
Bidding to host a FIFA World Cup has been made possible by the rapid transformation taking place in the Kingdom, the SAFF chief said.
“We’ve made unprecedented progress in both the men’s and women’s game and our bid is an open invitation to the world to join us on this exciting journey. As we proved when we welcomed over 100 nationalities to the FIFA Club World Cup Saudi Arabia 2023 in Jeddah, the future is bright when we grow together,” Al-Misehal added.
As one of the fastest and most exciting growth stories in world football, Saudi Arabia, through its bid, seeks to capture the parallel between the Kingdom’s rapid transformation and the positive impacts of hosting FIFA’s flagship event.
Aspiring to become the first single host nation of a 48-team FIFA World Cup, the three pillars underpinning the bid are “Growing People Together,” “Growing Football Together” and “Growing Connections Together.”
Over the last six years, Saudi Arabia has hosted more than 100 international events across almost 40 sports, and is in active football partnerships with more than 100 countries.
The campaign slogan aims to capture the spirit of bonds between the Kingdom and football communities in countries around the world.
The bid logo — made up of intertwined rows of multi-colored ribbons displaying iconic football and cultural symbols — aims to promote Saudi Arabia’s status as a young nation with rich heritage.
It also features five colors reflecting natural diversity across the Kingdom: Desert amber, oasis green, radiance red, rich lavender and sunrise yellow.
The short film released for the bid was filmed across the country, exploring the passion for football in all sections of Saudi society.
It features players from the Saudi under-17 women’s national team and 22-year-old Saudi women’s national team midfielder Layan Jouhari. Background music was composed by powerhouse Saudi platform MDLBEAST.
SAFF recently launched a dedicated bid unit, in line with FIFA regulations, to lead the charge for the Saudi 2034 bid, which will last up until the end of the year.
The unit’s chief, Hammad Al-Balawi, said: “This campaign is powered by the hopes and dreams of 32 million people in Saudi Arabia. Our responsibility is to submit the best possible bid to FIFA, make our country proud and fulfill the trust placed upon us by more than 130 member associations across the world who supported our bid.”
The bid’s website is Saudi2034bid.com. Fans can celebrate the launch of the campaign using the hashtags #Saudi2034bid and #GrowingTogether.


Spain prosecutors to demand longer rape sentence for Brazil star Alves

Spain prosecutors to demand longer rape sentence for Brazil star Alves
Updated 01 March 2024
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Spain prosecutors to demand longer rape sentence for Brazil star Alves

Spain prosecutors to demand longer rape sentence for Brazil star Alves
  • Alves was sentenced on February 22 after being convicted of raping a young woman at a Barcelona nightclub in December 2022
  • Prosecutors had called for him to be jailed for nine years followed by 10 years of probation

MADRID: Spanish prosecutors will appeal against the four-and-a-half year sentence handed to former Brazil international footballer Dani Alves for rape and seek a longer jail term, judicial sources said Friday.
Alves was sentenced on February 22 after being convicted of raping a young woman at a Barcelona nightclub in December 2022.
The 40-year-old footballer was also handed five years’ probation after serving his jail sentence and ordered to pay the victim 150,000 euros ($162,000) in compensation.
Prosecutors had called for him to be jailed for nine years followed by 10 years of probation.
One of the world’s most decorated footballers, who played for Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, Alves insisted the sex was consensual.
Immediately after the sentence, his lawyers said they would appeal.
The victim, who testified behind a screen to protect her identity, said Alves had violently forced her to have sex in a private bathroom of the nightclub despite her begging him to release her, causing her “anguish and terror,” prosecutors said.
Police officers who later came to the nightclub told the court about the woman’s state of agitation and “shock” as well as her anxiety that “nobody would believe her” if she filed a complaint.
In sentencing him, the Barcelona court said: “The victim did not consent and there is evidence that, beyond the complainant’s testimony, permits the rape to be considered proven.
“The court considers as proven the fact that the defendant abruptly grabbed the complainant, threw her to the ground and penetrated her vaginally, preventing her from moving, while the complainant said no and wanted to leave,” it said.
Alves’ lawyers had argued that the victim had been “glued” to the player while dancing at the nightclub, saying there was “sexual tension” between them.
But in its 61-page decision, the court said that did not mean “that she consented to anything that might have subsequently happened.”
In October 2022, Spain’s parliament passed the “only yes means yes” law which tightened the criminal code on sexual violence by requiring explicit consent for sexual acts.
The move — which had long been demanded by assault survivors and women’s rights groups — removed the requirement for rape victims to prove they were subjected to violence or intimidation.
It sought to shift the focus away from the victims’ resistance to a woman’s free and clearly expressed consent. It was amended six months later to close a loophole.


SAFF: 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship ‘will be the first of many’ tournaments held in Kingdom

SAFF: 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship ‘will be the first of many’ tournaments held in Kingdom
Updated 01 March 2024
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SAFF: 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship ‘will be the first of many’ tournaments held in Kingdom

SAFF: 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship ‘will be the first of many’ tournaments held in Kingdom
  • Jordan defeat Nepal in penalty shoot-out to claim victory in 1st official 11-a-side women’s tournament held in Kingdom
  • Saudi officials hail ‘exciting new era for professional women’s football’ after milestone event draws nationwide interest

RIYADH: The latest chapter in Saudi Arabia’s football evolution came to a close last weekend as the 2024 West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship — the first official 11-a-side women’s tournament held in the Kingdom — reached its conclusion. 

A milestone occasion that attracted nationwide interest and engagement, the eighth edition of the championship was staged in Jeddah throughout its 11-day duration from Feb. 19 to Feb. 29 as seven countries competed alongside the host nation.

Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Nepal, Palestine, Syria and Guam joined Saudi Arabia with fixtures played at the King Abdullah Sports City and Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Sport City stadiums. A total of 15 matches were played across the group and knock-out stages.

The final was played in front of over 4,000 fans at the Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Sport City Stadium and ended 2-2 after full time, with Jordan winning the tournament via a penalty shoot-out against Nepal in Thursday’s final.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s message following the 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship was clear — this debut official 11-a-side women’s tournament on home soil “will be the first of many.”

“We promise that the 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship is the start of an exciting new era for professional women’s football in Saudi Arabia,” Lamia Bahaian, vice president of the federation, said in a statement.

“Besides showcasing our hosting credentials to the region and wider world, it has paved the way for more competitions to make their way to our shores in the years ahead. For sure, this will be the first of many.”

Bahaian said that the women’s game is inspiring audiences as a driving force for positive change, with the Saudi Arabia women’s national team “instrumental” to the direction of travel.

“Reaction to the tournament and the way it was received by fans and the wider community was incredible — witnessing fans embrace the competition, get behind our women’s national team, and attend matches was a genuine joy,” she said.

“Our national team has been instrumental here. The players are pursuing their dreams and representing their country for everyone to see. This has helped introduce women’s football to audiences new and old, laying new foundations for sustained growth and development while contributing to a positive shift in wider society.”

Underpinned by a strategy to help elevate Saudi Arabia to elite status in world football by 2034, huge strides have been taken in the last few years, with growth witnessed across a series of key metrics. 

Since 2021, the number of female clubs nationwide has increased by 112 percent, with the number of local players up 150 percent and national teams up 300 percent.


Brothers Iñaki and Nico Williams lead Athletic Bilbao to Copa final with rout of Atletico Madrid

Brothers Iñaki and Nico Williams lead Athletic Bilbao to Copa final with rout of Atletico Madrid
Updated 01 March 2024
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Brothers Iñaki and Nico Williams lead Athletic Bilbao to Copa final with rout of Atletico Madrid

Brothers Iñaki and Nico Williams lead Athletic Bilbao to Copa final with rout of Atletico Madrid
  • Gorka Guruzeta also scored for Athletic as they advanced 4-0 on aggregate after having won the first leg 1-0 in Madrid three weeks ago
  • The Basque Country club will play the April 6 final in Seville against Mallorca, which eliminated Athletic rival Real Sociedad on penalties on Tuesday

MADRID: Brothers Iñaki and Nico Williams teamed up with goals and assists to each other as Athletic Bilbao defeated Atletico Madrid 3-0 to reach their third Copa del Rey final in five seasons on Thursday.

Gorka Guruzeta also scored for Athletic as they advanced 4-0 on aggregate after having won the first leg 1-0 in Madrid three weeks ago. The Basque Country club will play the April 6 final in Seville against Mallorca, which eliminated Athletic rival Real Sociedad on penalties on Tuesday.

“Iñaki and I have been getting along very well,” Nico said. “This victory goes to my parents who are in Ghana. Ghana will be a party.”

Nico and Iñaki Williams are sons of Ghanaian parents who migrated to Spain before they were born. They are among the few Black athletes to ever play at the club that historically fields only players from Spain’s northern Basque Country region or adjoining areas.

“Nico and I have fought hard to be able to enjoy things like this,” Iñaki said. “It’s a night to enjoy and to be proud.”

There was fan trouble ahead of Thursday’s match at San Mames Stadium, with Atletico saying one of theire supporters was hospitalized with serious injuries after an altercation with Athletic fans at a nearby bar.

Also, the start of the second half was delayed for more than 15 minutes as medics attended to an Athletic supporter in the stands. The fan reportedly had a cardiac arrest and was taken out on a stretcher. Initial reports by Spanish media said his condition was not serious.

Athletic are the second most successful club in the Copa with 23 titles, eight less than Barcelona. It last won the competition in 1984, but was runner-up in 2019-20 and in 2021-21, losing to Sociedad and then Barcelona.

The team coached by Ernesto Valverde eliminated Barcelona in the quarterfinals this season to reach the last four for the fifth straight time.

Atletico, a 10-time Copa winner, were in the semifinals for the first time in seven seasons and was seeking its first title since 2013.

Diego Simeone’s team was without forward Antoine Griezmann because of an ankle injury.

“We couldn’t capitalize on our chances in the first leg, and today they played a very good match and we have to congratulate them,” Simeone said.

Iñaki opened the scoring 13 minutes into the match with a volley from inside the area after a well-placed cross by his younger brother Nico, who added to the lead from close range in the 42nd after a low cross by his sibling.

It was redemption for Nico a year after he had to shut down his social media accounts after a wave of insults from fans following his misses in the team’s elimination against Osasuna in last season’s semifinals.

“It’s a dream to make it here, especially after what happened last season,” he said.

Guruzeta netted the third in the 61st to seal Athletic’s victory in front of more than 52,000 fans at San Mames.

Athletic’s 1-0 win at the Metropolitano in the first leg ended Atletico’s 28-match unbeaten streak at home across all competitions.


Al-Shabab crowned inaugural Saudi Women’s U-17 football champs after defeating Al-Hilal in final

Al-Shabab crowned inaugural Saudi Women’s U-17 football champs after defeating Al-Hilal in final
Updated 29 February 2024
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Al-Shabab crowned inaugural Saudi Women’s U-17 football champs after defeating Al-Hilal in final

Al-Shabab crowned inaugural Saudi Women’s U-17 football champs after defeating Al-Hilal in final
  • Their success in the knockout phase follows a group stage in which they were unbeaten, racking up 9 wins and a draw while scoring 116 goals and conceding just 2
  • Event serves as showcase for talent and potential of young female players and the rapid development of women’s football in the Kingdom, officials say

JEDDAH: Deem Saud scored the decisive goal as Al-Shabab defeated Al-Hilal 1-0 in the final of the inaugural Saudi Arabian Football Federation Women’s U-17 tournament.
The road to the final, which was played on Wednesday at Noon Academy in Jeddah, began in November with the group stages of the tournament, in which 18 teams from the Women’s Premier League, the First Division and SAFF regional training centers were split into four groups.
Al-Shabab were unbeaten in Group 1, topping the table with 28 points from nine wins and a draw, scoring 116 goals along the way and conceding just two.
In the knockout phase, they defeated Jeddah 2-1 in the quarter-finals, and Eastern Flames 2-0 in the semis.
Adwa Al-Arifi, the assistant minister for sport affairs at the Ministry of Sport, Lamia Bahian, the vice president of SAFF, and Aalia Al-Rasheed, the head of the women’s football department at SAFF, watched the final.
Officials said the competition offered a showcase for the talent and potential of young female players in the Kingdom, illustrating the rapid recent development of women’s football across the country. The players and clubs were praised for their skill, team spirit and passion for the sport.
SAFF congratulated Al-Shabab for their success, commended all of the clubs that took part, and thanked the players, coaches and fans for their enthusiastic support, which they said had helped make the championship a great success.