The Villarreal star talks about the Champions League, working for Unai Emery and facing Liverpool

On Sunday afternoon, Arnaut Danjuma sat on his sofa to watch the Merseyside derby. Villarreal did not have a match at the weekend for the Copa del Rey final, so the Dutch winger had the perfect opportunity to see Liverpool, the team he will face on Wednesday in the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals.

To be clear, there was nothing Danjuma didn’t know about Jurgen Klopp’s team: he is one of those players who is also a football fan in his spare time. He loves the game, he loves playing it, watching it and talking about it, but the main reason he watches is to learn. He learns about his opponents, he learns about what other forwards do, he learns about how to improve and emulate other forwards. And, in doing so, how to improve yourself.

“I watch everything,” he tells ESPN. “To start with, I am a fan and because I want to become one of the best in the world, watching a lot of football will improve my skills. Watching a lot of football can teach you a lot. I also analyze my own games a lot.” “An hour every day, I watch videos of myself at games or training. I have a personal forward trainer, Antonio Rodriguez, who works with me. We look at everything together.”

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

So on Sunday his entire focus was on Liverpool: how they played, how they prepared, their patterns of play, their movement. There is much to be impressed with when it comes to Liverpool this season. However, it is not the approach that Danjuma or Villarreal are taking.

“The best way to approach this game is to approach it the same way we have 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 ability. We should continue to do what we have been doing and believe in our own strategy.”

The ‘Yellow Submarine’ will have the same mentality that he had against Juventus and Bayern Munich in the two previous days. In both heats they surprised everyone, not only by passing but by the way they did it. His run so far in this competition has been exceptional. They finished second in a group with Manchester United, Young Boys and Atalanta, and made their way to the semi-finals with big wins in Atalanta to qualify for the round of 16, in Turin against Juventus to book their place in the quarter-finals, and at home. against Bayern to defy all odds in both games, eliminating the Bundesliga champions 2-1 on aggregate.

“Maybe the rest of the world didn’t expect us to go this far, but we’ve always been confident,” Danjuma said. “Our road to the semi-finals was not easy, which makes it even better, but you don’t beat teams that we have beaten by chance, which is a good sign for us before we face 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 defensive teams in the world, while Bayern have some of the best strikers in the world and they play very attacking football. For us to beat them showed our quality and strategy. With Liverpool, we know what we’re up against.”

Throughout the weekend, Emery and his players worked on their tactical plan for the first leg at Anfield on Wednesday. Once again, they have been thorough in their preparation: through video analysis and replays on the training ground, they have been preparing what to do with and without the ball, as well as how to try to spot Liverpool’s weaknesses. defending.

“Emery is special: he is one of the main reasons I came to Villarreal,” said Danjuma. “It is a great privilege to work with him as a coach. He is very open with the players and I am learning a lot from him. It is really nice to work with him. He is one of the best. He is different.”

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

“One of our main strengths is being able to execute what the coach wants in an almost perfect way and play differently depending on the opponent,” Danjuma said. “[Emery] he is an elite tactical trainer to have. If you execute their game plan, you have a great chance of winning no matter who the opponent is. We have a lot in our locker. We can sit and play on the counter. We can play with the ball and create. We can do everything.”

His next challenge is arguably his toughest yet in this competition. Liverpool boasts not only Klopp on the touchline, but also a talent-rich line-up like 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 one of the four clubs to win the European Cup. top club competition more than five times.

“The two things that amaze me [about Liverpool] they are the intense high pressure (they do it very 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 up 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 Virg will be special for me because he’s my captain in the national team. Defensively, I don’t.” I think I’m better than him, but I want to qualify against the best. I think I’ve shown so far in my career that I can do some damage. I have to keep doing it and be consistent, so I’m looking forward to a match 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 battle between striker and defender is like a game of chess. You have to be 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 feels like a homecoming,” he said. “I had an amazing two years there. It made me more mature, I developed a lot and it got me to where I am now.

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

At 25 years old, this is arguably the biggest game of his career. There will also be many more to come, whether as a Villarreal player or elsewhere. After just one season at the Ceramics, he is attracting interest from Europe’s biggest clubs. Paris Saint-Germain are huge fans; Danjuma also impressed Manchester United when he played against them this season and he was outstanding. He is still highly valued in England, of course, and in Italy. If he stands out against Liverpool, expect a lot more clubs to sit up and take notice.

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