Former Liverpool and Finnish international defender Sami Hyypia was back in Liverpool at the weekend and we caught up with him for an exclusive chat about the summer transfer window and the 2017-18 season.
The Anfield side have reportedly escaped punishment for their alleged efforts, so far, to sign Virgil van Dijk from Southampton and Liverpool fans will be hoping that this particular saga isn’t over, but does Sami – a boyhood Red – feel the same as his fellow fans? Is a new centre-back essential and should Liverpool be doing all they can to bag van Dijk?
“I think it’s important to strengthen the team every year,” Sami said. “You need to think carefully how you do it, that the chemistry is right and everything.
“I think nowadays the centre-backs are a bit different than before, that maybe the modern centre back, he is very good on the ball, he can play the ball, and maybe sometimes he has difficulties to defend. And of course you need to defend in the game, you don’t have the ball all the time.
“Van Dijk is a very good player, I like him a lot, I think he has very good qualities in every area of the game, but I don’t know if it’s essential to sign him or to sign a centre back.”
Praising the players Liverpool already have at centre-back – Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan – Hyypia says responsibility for defending falls on more than just their shoulders.
“I think Lovren and Matip are good players, and Klavan, it was his first year in England and he will adapt to the game for sure – and they are not bad players.
“The only thing with Lovren and Matip is that they play 60 games in a season, but they stay fit.
“I’m not sure if we need a centre-back, but definitely in some games I saw last year, that maybe the balance of the team could be a little bit different, or could be a little bit better, so that when we lose the ball, or when we sometimes are a little bit tired so that we can’t press it to take it back, that then we have a better balance in the game.
“Defending is for the whole team it is not only the back four, it is not only the centre backs and the goalkeeper, it’s the whole team and I think in some games last season that maybe the balance wasn’t right and we conceded a few goals in a quick counter attack,” he said.
Sami also suggested that it’s harder to defend now than it was when he was still playing: “It’s a different style of play, I think when you have a bigger area to defend, that you have plenty of space in behind your back, that it’s always more difficult to defend and there will be quick guys who will try to exploit that space behind you – and I can tell you it’s not easy to defend.”
Liverpool’s big business so far this window of course saw Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah signed from Roma for a club record fee of just under £37m – with £7m more in add-ons to follow should he be the success the Reds expect him to be.
Sami’s first thought, as you might expect, was for the opposition defence and the threat they’ll be facing from both Salah and Sadio Mane!
“The signing of Salah, it’s an offensive move and his strengths are on the offensive side of the game and he will give some pace in the front as well – and when I think that he and Mane are in the same side,” he laughs, “The back four of the opposition can be a little bit worried about their pace and everything, so it’s an offensive move.
“I think Salah has developed from the Chelsea days, that Chelsea maybe couldn’t get his level right and he was on loan at a few other clubs to get experience.
“I think he’s a better player than a few years ago at Chelsea so definitely strengthens the team.”
With Champions League football to look forward to again, Hyypia feels that the Reds should also be looking at numbers this transfer window.
“I think we would need to make the squad a little bit bigger as well. Mr Klopp wants us to play with very high tempo and it’s very demanding for the players to play the whole season long, two games a week – nobody can do it in that kind of tempo.
“So maybe when the squad is a little bit bigger he can rotate even more and, I think, earlier as well.
“But, he’s the manager and he’s making the decisions and the rest of us, we only hope that he makes good decisions and we will be at least in the top three next year, because every year you want to improve and, hopefully, we will improve for next year and be in a better position.”