Liverpool had its ups and downs this season, with few players firing on all cylinders for lengthy stretches of time. Who underperformed this season and, conversely, who overachieved (if anyone)?
Dejan Lovren is such an easy answer to this I almost feel guilty, and admittedly most of my issue is that if your presence is going to result in Daniel Agger moving back to Denmark, you better damn well earn your place in the line-up each week and then some. Lovren most definitely did not do that by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s left an incredibly sour taste in my mouth all season. I don’t think anyone necessarily overachieved this season, but I’ll give a shout out to Simon Mignolet for going on a fantastic run of form in the second half that belied the chronic calls for an upgrade in his position. He wasn’t out-of-his-skin brilliant, but given where expectations were for the player at Christmas, I think he (and his fiance) deserve some credit here.
Since you didn’t specify ‘player’, I’m gonna go ahead and nominate Brenny Rodge as the underperformer of the year. One thing is final table position, which is slightly below par and disappointing after last year any way you look at it, but he made so many decisions that put the players in positions to fail, and seemed to completely lose sight of his vision for the team's style of play. It was just very disappointing. Overperformer is probably Emre Can, because of his age and all the positions he was asked to play in. He was super exciting to watch at RCB and was one of our dominant players during the resurgent spell. The wheels fell off for him at RB, but I can forgive that, because come on, Brenny, he’s not an RB.
I mean, Lovren, obviously, but even then the only time we really saw him excel was the Dortmund friendly when it looked like he was going to be incredible. He didn't live up to his price tag, but I'm not sure you can say he underperformed based on what we saw over the course of the season, so it’s either Gerrard or Johnson for me as the duo who underperformed most compared to expectations. Only a few candidates for the overperformer, and everyone had a dip in form at one point or another, but I think it’s between Mignolet and Coutinho. Both carried the squad at different times, and both worked through early season struggles to end the season at their best.
Have you ever gone to a restaurant, ordered a meal that looked delightful on the menu, and look aghast as it arrives? What’s worse is that you see other meals arrive at other tables that look sumptuous with that dog’s dinner of a meal in front of you. That’s Dejan Lovren. This may seem harsh, but Liverpool’s most expensive defender in the club’s history has been an absolute, utter, and unmitigated disaster. Rickie Lambert was cheap backup but has underwhelmed. Mario Balotelli’s situation is more complex, but there can be no escaping that he’s been an enormous disappointment despite the manager not doing the best with managing him on and off the field. But back to Lovren. His positioning, tactical understanding, distribution, and defensive sense have all been woeful. One of Liverpool’s worst signings of the past two decades. Simon Mignolet has done better than expected, especially from his start to the season.
If we’re including injuries it’s Daniel Sturridge, hands down. We’re a year removed from one of the great goal scoring seasons we’ve seen since Fernando’s pomp, and I’m having a hard time considering Studge a thing at all anymore. My overachiever: Dejan Lovren. That’s right. See, I’d become so accustomed to watching Dejan sink to never-before-seen lows of form, really dig deep into that shitey-muck level that when he popped up in a few substitute appearances near the end that didn’t literally hand the game to the opposition I was impressed. He even had one or two starts there where, like, he didn’t redefine the concept of atrociousness. I didn’t realize he was capable of that. Overachievement.
Underperformer of the Year goes to Dejan Lovren. Just terribad. Overachiever is tougher for me, but I'll go with Coutinho. I mean, we all knew that more time in the middle would be great for him, but to see him take that role and play with such consistency was amazing. Of course, the double-edged sword to that would be watching Phil work some magic, look up for a runner, see no one, and die a little bit inside each time. It’s ok Phil, I died a little bit, too. We all did.
Steven Gerrard. Look, I’m sorry. I know we’re supposed to be waxing all poetical about him now that he's heading to Los Angeles. But after doing a passable job the year before at DM in a side that scored all the goals plus all the other guys’ goals, he was a liability for the first four months this season. Play a proper DM, not a DM whose best qualities are in attack, and Liverpool are in the top four. Which isn’t Gerrard’s fault, really—it’s Rodgers who is to blame here—but still, a misfiring Gerrard is the player who broke Liverpool’s midfield for four months. An honourable mention has to go to Lovren, though again it’s on the manager for not making him earn his place and then continuing to start ahead of Mamadou Sakho even after it was clear he was misfiring on all cylinders.
Dejan Lovren was the biggest underachiever for the reasons mentioned above. However, Mario Balotelli has to be mentioned in this category, even if his failings were not completely of his own making. He often played in systems that did not suit his style (namely formations that asked him to serve as an isolated striker) and was inexplicably blocked from the team for months at a time. I was hopeful that he could notch double digit goals, but instead it seems as if Liverpool will serve as yet another place that the player failed to turn talent into production. As for overachiever, Simon Mignolet proved that he belongs at Anfield with his superb performances throughout the second half of the season. Things could have been much worse for Liverpool without his shot stopping ability.
I’ll be different and say Glen Johnson was my underachiever for the year. I can’t help it, I remember when he was one of the best right backs in the Premier League. He’s injury prone and he’s gotten older, but that doesn’t explain how he’s suddenly forgotten how to play football. What on earth has happened to his brain? And the fact that Brendan Rodgers persisted with playing him week after week for far too long made it even worse. So there. You get a break, Dejan. Overachiever of the year goes to Emre Can, who shocked and delighted me with his strength, intelligence and flexibility. It wasn’t the question, but I’d give Simon Mignolet the most improved award for the way he pulled himself together and really performed for us in the second half of the season.
I’ll have to agree with Steph in terms of Emre Can being the overachiever of the season. Who expected him to do so well? He had a pretty solid preseason but I wasn’t convinced that would translate with competitive fixtures and he’s (mostly) proved me wrong. He can still be a little bit infuriating with his tracking back and he dives in a little bit too easily for my liking, but I think he’ll really start to shine in midfield next year.
Part 1 (Monday): Transfer Business
Part 3 (Wednesday): Brendan Rodgers in His Third Season
Part 4 (Thursday): Steven Gerrard's Swan Song
Part 5 (Friday): Positioning the Club for Success in 2015/16