Sepp van den Berg: Shining In The Shadows

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Sepp van den Berg – Going Under The Radar?

Even though Sepp van den Berg has been at Liverpool for almost five years, his name has gone under the radar over the past few years. It’s probably because he hasn’t actually played for Liverpool in almost three years.

Since 2021, he’s spent his time going out on loan from the Championship to the Bundesliga. Slowly, but surely in that time he has grown as a player. Still only 22-years-old, he’s now starting to hit the kind of levels where his performances should be noteworthy to even those at Liverpool.

Currently, on loan at Mainz, Van den Berg is embroiled in a relegation battle in the Bundesliga. This means he is constantly tested and challenged defensively, and so far he has stood his ground.

Photo: IMAGO

Sepp van den Berg ‘on par’ with Virgil van Dijk

The Liverpool loanee has been especially noteworthy statistically. If we take a look at Bundesliga centre-backs who have averaged at least 7 defensive duels per 90 and played at least 800 minutes, Van den Berg ranks in seventh place for successful defensive duel percentage. He wins 67.61% of his defensive duels as per Wyscout, which is just below Mats Hummels (70.11%), who is ahead of him in sixth place.

Van den Berg also averages the most possession-adjusted interceptions in his team (7.07 per 90). And regularly dominated in defence. Just take a look at his last performance against Union Berlin. In that game Van den Berg won all six of his duels, won three out of his three attempted tackles, two out two aerial duels. He also made 10 clearances – which was the most in the game for Mainz and 10 recoveries, which was again the most in the game for Mainz.

But the stat which really marks him out among the rest of Europe’s defenders is his aerial ability. As per FBref, there are only two centre-backs in Europe’s top five leagues who have won more than 90 aerial duels this season.

The first one is not difficult to guess. It’s of course, Virgil van Dijk who has won 94 aerial duels so far this season. Van den Berg however is surprisingly the other centre-back, and he has actually won more than Van Dijk with 97 successful aerial duels.

Of course, this will come with the caveat being that Mainz are predominantly forced to defend. Naturally, this means Van den Berg will compete in a lot more aerial duels, and therefore have more opportunities to win aerial duels. However, even when we are looking at his success rate – 70.8% as per FBref, is still a really solid percentage. Out of defenders in the Bundesliga who have contested at least 100 aerial duels Van den Berg ranks top for successful percentage rate.

Photo: IMAGO

Future at Liverpool?

Given Jurgen Klopp’s departure from Liverpool at the end of the season, to be quite frank it’s impossible to predict whether someone like Van den Berg does have a long-term future at the club. It simply all depends on who the new manager will be.

But certainly based on his form, he shouldn’t be discarded. The club have always regarded him as a top talent. When he was first recruited by Liverpool, many saw him as the ‘next Van Dijk’ for his athletic and physical ability.

That’s backed-up by the fact that Van den Berg is also quite fast. Something that often goes under the radar. However, this season in the Bundesliga among centre-backs the 22-year-old has actually clocked the fourth highest top-speed in the league at 34.78km/h.

He’s got all the traits needed for a Liverpool centre-back. Van den Berg is fast, therefore probably capable of playing in a high-line. He’s strong in the air, and also reads the game well.

On top of that, he is also very versatile, and covers a lot of ground. We haven’t quite seen that at Mainz, but he definitely showed it at Preston. Just take a look at his heatmap from the 2021/22 Championship season – he was simply everywhere.

In that campaign, Van den Berg actually played a lot of his minutes as a full-back and as a wing-back.

Potential Heir to Joel Matip?

Van den Berg is still under contract at Liverpool until 2026. Being a right-sided and right-footed centre-back, it’s only natural to consider him as a potential successor to Joel Matip, who is likely to leave the club upon the expiry of his contract.

Others have been linked as potential candidates to succeed the the veteran centre-back, but considering Van den Berg is someone Liverpool have invested time and effort to develop – it would make sense on paper to give him a chance.

Taiwo Awoniyi is a great example of someone who was on the books at Liverpool, and who could have ended-up being given a chance at Anfield. But instead went onto excel elsewhere, and is now in great form in the Premier League.

Van den Berg’s got the potential to go on a similar trajectory. So it makes sense to give him a chance first, before looking to sell him on. He won’t be a like for like replacement for Matip. He simply doesn’t have Matip’s nimble feet, nor the ability to make those mazy runs forward from the back – but then again who does have that ability in world football? There are very few – and they would probably cost Liverpool a lot of money. Whereas, on Van den Berg Liverpool wouldn’t need to spend any extra dime on – he’s already theirs.

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