Preston North End Press View: Liverpool loan ace is Sepp-sational!

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For a lad chucked into a transfer deal as a makeweight, Sepp van den Berg has taken great strides during his year at Preston North End.

His half-century of PNE appearances came up in last Saturday’s 1-0 win at Hull City, with game No.51 being against Huddersfield Town on Wednesday night.

He has the potential to have 66 matches under his belt by the time the regular season halts in May.

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When Premier League teams loan out young players like Liverpool have done with Van den Berg, such a return of games is just what they want.

North End’s Sepp van den Berg battles with Hull City’s Tom EavesNorth End’s Sepp van den Berg battles with Hull City’s Tom Eaves
North End’s Sepp van den Berg battles with Hull City’s Tom Eaves

The Dutch defender was offered to PNE as the Reds put a deal in place to buy Ben Davies 12 months ago.

Davies went to Anfield for a fee and to soften the blow of losing a talented defender, Liverpool offered to send Van den Berg the other way.

He wasn’t seen as a major piece of business of that busy winter 2021 window but has turned out to be. You’d argue between him and Daniel Iversen as being the stellar signing of that window, with not much separating them.

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Early impressions of Van den Berg didn’t exactly want to make you write home about him.

His debut was as a 72nd-minute substitute against Rotherham and then he had 18 days to wait for his first start, a goalless draw with Queens Park Rangers.

That seems a lifetime ago, let alone a year. Stadiums were empty, North End had started to slide and Alex Neil didn’t have long left in the Deepdale hotseat.

Steadily Van den Berg started to get used to what the Championship was all about, what Preston North End were all about.

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Most of his appearances last season came either at right-back or wing-back. He played the first couple of months of this campaign on the right.

He added goals to his game, scoring in successive matches against Morecambe and Swansea in August.

The big step forward in Van den Berg’s loan was when Liverpool allowed him to play against them in the Carabao Cup in October.

It was just a few days after the derby defeat at the other end of the M55, the mood low in the PNE camp.

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Van den Berg was moved into the back three that night and has stayed there since.

Former PNE head coach Frankie McAvoy was the man who moved him and Ryan Lowe has continued to help the defender’s development.

He’s comfortable on the ball which helps with how Lowe wants to play from the back and his reading of the play has improved.

As we push on through the second half of the season, the question of whether the Lilywhites can keep hold of their Dutch star, will inevitably come up.

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I’m certain they would welcome him back with open arms, that’s the simple part of the question to answer.

What might Liverpool want to do with him?

They can’t help but be impressed by how North End have looked after Van den Berg this last year.

PNE haven’t always got it right with loan players but this one they have.

Liverpool recalled two loan players in January, one of them Preston-born Rhys Williams from Swansea, because they had struggled for game time.

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Van den Berg is at the other end of the scale on that front, starting every game and picking up experience by the week.

Come the summer, will Liverpool be prepared to allow another loan, thus extending his stay potentially to the two-and-a-year mark?

Or would they want him to experience a new environment?

With him only 20, I can’t see Liverpool yet having made their minds up on whether he has a future at Anfield or not.

It’s all a guessing game at the moment but to get him back next season would be a big boost.

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When you look back, there’s been some loan talent through the door at Deepdale.

Cameron Archer looks a real player, potentially as astute as Van den Berg and Iversen’s loans.

While his loan in the second half of last season went flat, Anthony Gordon is now showing his true self in Everton’s first-team squad

Going slightly further back, Lukas Nmecha is scoring in Germany’s Bundesliga with Wolfsburg.

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Jordan Pickford and Sam Johnstone in nets – they’ve done all right for themselves haven’t they?

Callum Robinson had three loan spells with PNE before making the move a permanent one – and later earning them £7m when he moved on.

Aiden McGeady was a loanee, Paul Gallagher was for the best part of two seasons before joining up.

Others haven’t worked out, Jayson Molumby last season, Andre Green two or three years ago, Tyias Browning.

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Loans are certainly worth pursuing and can help bring success or at least solidity.

The only trouble is they are not yours and you are in the hands of the parent club.

Just casting an eye over North End’s current form and a home/away pattern has emerged recently.

Wins have been coming on their travels, with draws the order of the day at Deepdale.

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Ideally you want strong home form but when the business is being done on the road, it takes the pressure off results at Deepdale.

Hull last week was a great away day, the travelling PNE supporters in strong voice all the way through.

They got a great view of Archer sweeping the winner into the net, the celebration a knee slide followed by the bow-and-arrow pose.

It was only a second PNE win at Hull’s current ground, the other being a 2-1 success in September 2017.

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The trip home along the M62 proved something of a white-knuckle ride, the steering wheel gripped tight to negotiate a howling wind, strong rain and an extremely wet motorway.

Hopefully three points can come back from the visit to Peterborough, a ground PNE haven’t been to since 2016. Let’s just hope the weather is better!