Premier League tough for goalkeepers - ex-Liverpool coach Xavi Valero
LIVERPOOL -- Former Liverpool goalkeeping coach Xavi Valero will be back at Anfield on Sunday for the first time since leaving eight years ago.
Now goalkeeping coach at West Ham United, Valero was part of Rafael Benitez's coaching set up between 2007 to 2010, working with Pepe Reina at the height of his Liverpool career.
The Spaniard then followed Benitez to Inter Milan, Chelsea, Napoli and Real Madrid before joining up with Manuel Pellegrini at Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortune in August 2016 and now again in London. ESPN FC caught up with Valero ahead of his Anfield return.
Q. How much are you looking forward to being back at Anfield and how are you finding life at West Ham?
A. It's going to be my first time back. It was a happy time of my life in Liverpool on a personal level and on a professional level. I'm looking forward to going back to Liverpool and Anfield.
It's been a really nice welcome and I obviously liked to come back to England and a club with a huge history, like West Ham. I think the project looks really good for us and we are doing things in the right way. I'm looking forward to this season, to improve things, be competitive and to challenge for the right targets.
Q. You'll be facing Alisson, the world's second-most expensive goalkeeper, on Sunday in your Premier League opener. What do you think of Liverpool's new Brazilian?
A. I think Liverpool always have a good tradition of goalkeepers, very strong goalkeepers. I think Alisson is one of them. Apart from the market prices, it's getting a bit crazy, I think Alisson since he came to Europe back in Italy has been performing at a very high level. I expect him to do the same in England.
Q. Have the demands of a goalkeeper in the Premier League changed since you were last here?
A. English football has always been tough for goalkeepers, so it's always tough for new goalkeepers coming into the Premier League to perform. They need some time to adapt. Comparing the Premier League to other leagues in Europe -- Spain, Germany -- I think it's a much tougher league for goalkeepers.
Obviously the game has progressed and now most of the teams demand very complete goalkeepers that can be good in all aspects of the game -- from distribution to covering when playing with a high defensive line.
Q. Looking back on your time at Liverpool, you were there when Pepe Reina was one of the world's best. What was it like working with him?
A. I worked with Pepe at Liverpool and then in Naples. Pepe, in my opinion, has been one of the most complete goalkeepers for a long, long time. I think Pepe is the kind of goalkeeper where you could ask anything from him on the pitch. He will do that for you. He was outstanding on and off the pitch -- very positive for the team, for the club. For me, it's been a real pleasure to have been working with him for such a long time.
Q. Reina was really good with the ball at his feet. Someone I've spoken to said you judged him on every single one of his movements in a game and wanted him to control the pitch, not just his penalty area...
A. As I said before, the game is getting very complex. Goalkeepers resolve any kind of problem that happens during the game.
Focusing a lot on controlling the game and making the goalkeeper aware of what happens before he gets in touch with the ball -- which is the last part of a game situation -- is key to improve the performance of a goalkeeper. Sometimes we just focus too much on what happens at the end and when the goalkeeper gets in touch with the ball.
But because the game is so fast, the players are so competitive and the game is more complex, you really need goalkeepers to be able to read the game and be in the right position at the right time in every single moment of the game.
To go through every game, and through most training sessions, with the goalkeeper is key to be able to give their best during the game. Pepe was the kind of goalkeeper that could tick all the boxes during the game and he was always willing to improve.
Q. Your work wasn't just strictly limited to goalkeepers though, was it? Fernando Torres has said you often spoke to him about the goalkeepers he would be facing.
A. Because we're training with goalkeepers and we always know how goalkeepers are going to react, I like to let the goalkeepers know how the other team is going to attack them, how they're going to attack our goalkeepers.
Sometimes there's some relevant information for the strikers to know about the goalkeeper. With Fernando, and other players at different teams, I always tried to give him some tips. If there's any weak point we can exploit, we tried it. It's good and sometimes helps the striker to have that information when it comes to the very last moment of the game or finishing in one-versus-one [situations].
We will try to do it [now], but not all the 'keepers have weak points. If you find one then you have to exploit it.
Q. Jurgen Klopp recently said that "Liverpool is a difficult goalkeeper place." Is that something you would agree with?
A. Being a goalkeeper of a top team is always hard. I think Liverpool is one of the strongest teams in Europe and you need players that can perform in every position at that level. Obviously you're under big pressure and you're not allowed to make too many mistakes -- but that happens at every top club in Europe that wants to fight for top targets domestically and in Europe.
One thing that I would say about in favour of the players is that Liverpool is a demanding place -- as all the top teams are. But you've also got the right support and Liverpool fans are very supportive, very understanding and very positive with the club and its players.
It's a demanding place, of course, but it's also a special place to play because you always have the support behind you. What makes Liverpool special, without a doubt, is the big fan base.