Van den Berg’s Journey: From Liverpool Fringe to Bundesliga Standout

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Sepp van den Berg: A Forgotten Talent Rediscovered?

Sepp van den Berg’s journey with Liverpool has been anything but straightforward. Since joining the Reds from PEC Zwolle for an initial £1.3 million in June 2019, the young Dutchman has had a challenging road. His appearances for Liverpool’s first team have been limited, with his last outing coming in a 1-0 victory over Shrewsbury Town in an FA Cup replay in February 2020, a match managed by Neil Critchley rather than Jürgen Klopp.

Limited Opportunities at Liverpool

Van den Berg’s tenure at Liverpool has seen him playing in just four official matches, two of which were part of an academy side rather than the first team. His debut as a last-minute substitute against MK Dons and his only start in a 5-5 draw with Arsenal in October 2019 highlight the limited opportunities he has had under Klopp. Despite being an unused substitute on several occasions, including the first four matches of the 2022/23 season, Van den Berg has spent the majority of his time out on loan.

Photo: IMAGO

Loan Spells and Development

His loan spells have been a mixed bag. While he received rave reviews during his 18 months at Preston North End, where he was often used as a right wing-back, his performance was seen with a pinch of salt given Preston’s mid-table Championship status. Notably, even when Liverpool faced a defensive crisis in the 2020/21 season, Klopp did not call upon Van den Berg, opting instead for other players and bringing in new signings.

A move to Schalke followed, but a serious ankle injury limited him to just nine appearances as the German side was relegated. However, a subsequent loan to Mainz 05 has seen Van den Berg rewrite his narrative. Making 34 appearances and missing only one game due to suspension, he has helped keep Mainz out of the Bundesliga relegation zone and has been a standout defender despite the team’s struggles.

Statistical Standout

Van den Berg’s performances this season have not gone unnoticed. He has been integral to Mainz’s recent eight-game unbeaten run and has been statistically ranked among Europe’s top centre-backs. According to Comparisonator, he has been bettered only by notable defenders such as William Saliba, Nico Schlotterbeck, Kim Min-Jae, and Virgil van Dijk. Furthermore, he has clocked a top speed of 34.78 km/h, faster than any Liverpool centre-back, showcasing a surprising pace that bodes well for Liverpool’s high defensive line.

Future at Liverpool

The possibility of Van den Berg breaking into Liverpool’s first team has grown since Klopp announced his departure. With Joel Matip leaving and Virgil van Dijk turning 33 soon, Liverpool will be in the market for new centre-backs. The arrival of Arne Slot as Liverpool’s new manager could be pivotal for Van den Berg, given their shared Dutch background and Slot’s previous connection with PEC Zwolle, where Van den Berg began his youth career.

Despite this, Van den Berg remains realistic about his prospects. In interviews, he has expressed a desire to continue playing abroad if Liverpool cannot offer him sufficient game time. His determination to play regularly is evident, as he stated, “If I go back to Liverpool, they might want me to stay. If I see that I won’t get much game time, then I might choose to leave. It’s really important to me that I play.”

Van den Berg’s story mirrors that of many young talents at big clubs, where breaking into the first team can be as much about timing and opportunity as it is about talent. As Liverpool looks to rebuild under a new manager, Van den Berg’s performances in Germany could finally earn him a proper chance at Anfield. With the right backing and a bit of luck, he could follow in the footsteps of players like William Saliba, who transformed from a loaned-out prospect to a key player for Arsenal. Whether Van den Berg’s future lies at Liverpool or elsewhere, his journey is a testament to perseverance and the importance of seizing every opportunity.

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