Philippe Coutinho was Liverpool’s player of the year in 2014-15, and while expectations were high, not many thought he’d be the club’s best. Others, like Emre Can and Jordon Ibe, played larger roles than most expected. Who do you think will be a surprise standout this time around? And conversely, who might struggle, either for form or playing time?
Sometimes a player is talked about as underrated so often he ends up overrated in some circles as people make a point of highlighting him. James Milner is almost the poster-child for this, but he’s also a potential player of the season in my eyes, and that would be a delightful result in his first season at the club. Meanwhile, I refuse to give up on the astoundingly talented Lazar Marković after one year and have to believe he can find a role following the departure of Raheem Sterling. Marković becoming Rodgers’ go-to supersub would be a positive development for the Serbian youngster, and when Liverpool need pace Rodgers could turn to him as the season wears on when he needs something different from the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, and Adam Lallana.
On the other side, I expect Dejan Lovren will continue to struggle. The problem for Lovren is that he’ll be playing alongside a defender who doesn’t shout instructions or lead from the back in Martin Škrtel. Škrtel can do his own job, but his leadership is in commitment and sweat rather than organising. Mamadou Sakho could help Lovren but is unlikely to play alongside him under Brendan Rodgers, and I expect that means that Lovren will further underline his unsuitability for Liverpool Football Club this season.
I think maybe we've already had our surprise package in Joe Gomez. By all accounts, he was coming in just to head straight out on loan, but he's already put the kibosh on that with an impressive pre-season. The fact that there's actually an argument for a teenage centre-half to start over Alberto Moreno on opening day is a testament to the lad, and I think he's already at such a crucial juncture in his development that he has to be handled fawlessly from here to infirmary. Take him out of the spotlight now and you risk him never regaining the confidence and composure he's shown on tour.
Conversely, I just can't see Emre Can living up to the expectations he set for himself last season. He had a tendency to go missing at times, and that will be exposed when he’s put outside of the comfort zone constructed for him last year. With Henderson and Milner ahead of him on the depth chart, he could also find his chances limited, but hopefully he will take whatever does come his way.
Predicting the future is a tricky business, but I’m going to blow on the dice, put all my money on red, mix analogies, and like Chuck tip Lazar Markovic to have a breakout season. We saw tantalizing hints of his raw talent last season. When he had that game against Sunderland, and nearly pulled off that strike, we all thought he had arrived. It may have been a false dawn, as the attacking Serbian international saw his playing time severely curtailed toward the end of the frustrating campaign, but he is still a big star on the rise. With the departure of Sterling, I could see a spot opening up for Markovic, and I think he could very well take it.
On the fip side, I also see Emre Can having a second season slump. I like Can a lot and think he’s going to be an incredible asset for us in the very near future. I just don’t think that future is this year. We saw moments of brilliance from him last year, and I’m sure we’ll see similar flashes this year. I just don’t think his positional sense is where it needs to be in order to nail down a starting role in midfield when competing against the likes of Henderson, Milner, Lucas, Wee Joe, and even Coutinho. He’s not a natural defender, and while his breakthrough in midfield seems inevitable, I just don’t think it happens this year.
Roberto Firmino has been rightfully hyped up, but I think fans who haven’t been following him in Germany are still going to be surprised by just how good he is. He’s definitely going to hit double digits in goals, and I’m fully expecting him to score a clinical game winner in at least one grudge match to earn immediate cult status. Joe Allen, though, even with that stunning pre-season face shrubbery, will struggle for minutes this year. Unless Can has that second season slump some are expecting, there’s just no way to get around that Wee Joe is fifth on the depth chart in midfield and lacks the specialised skill sets of his competitors.
I really want to say Joao Carlos Teixeira will have a breakout year. Fowler knows he deserves it, and I’ve been excited by his potential ever since he shredded Liverpool’s youth team in the NextGen Series. It’s hard to see where he fits in, though, given how many attacking midfielders Liverpool already have. Still, there’s a reason he was considered the brightest talent at the academy by coaches and fellow players a few years back, and he’s got enough positional flexibility to think he’ll get a chance somewhere sooner or later—and he's good enough to think that when he gets it he’ll take it.
On the other side, with a squad as deep as Liverpool’s now is, somebody quite simply isn’t going to get the minutes they need. Add in Brendan Rodgers’ fondness for playing as many midfielders as he can manage and there’s a good chance the person missing out is a striker. Particularly if Daniel Sturridge manages to stay half-way fit, one of them isn’t going to see the pitch much, and between Divock Origi and Danny Ings I think—unfortunately, as he’s got bundles of raw talent—Origi’s the odd striker out.
I don’t know if it’s fair to saddle boring James Milner with the title of "surprise standout" given the fact that he’s been a known quantity for a very long time, but like others I’m inclined to put him in this category. Pre-season is pre-season and thus you’re not supposed to use it to judge anything ever, but I feel like his low-key persona coupled with his fine performances thus far might position him as someone who is likely to be good for us but who many may overlook and underappreciate. I appreciate you, Hamez Thrilner!
Meanwhile, Lovren already looks like he’s going to play and struggle again this year, which I really hoped would not be the case but sadly I have no say in these matters. And up front, with Benteke’s arrival, something’s gotta give, and like Noel I imagine that will be Divock Origi; but he’s young, he’ll bounce back.
I agree with Elizabeth and Chuck—Milner may be a fairly known quantity, but he is gonna rock some socks off this year. He’s been borderline world class at City for years while not playing in his natural position, and a return to the centre of midfield should make him even more of a game changer. Despite being generally aware of him, I don’t think people realize just how good he can be.
On the flip side, I’m firmly in the other camp on Lazar Markovic and think that he will have a hard time getting regular playing time. He’s an amazing talent and deserves a chance to prove himself, but Rodgers hasn’t been his biggest fan, and with so much talent in the attacking midfield and improved depth at striker, it’s hard to envision Markovic making more than 25 appearances this year. He had 31 last season.
Adam Lallana. Year two. ‘Nuff said. As far as struggle-bus ridin’, Lovren seems too easy a pick, but I’m still gonna make it. I think we could also see Martin Skrtel struggle a little bit shifting back to a CB partnership after a full season of sitting and reading with everything in front of him in a trio. It’s a subtle shift, but CBs like consistency and habit. He might not have Lucas and Sakho around him this year, either, which could be another reason to expect some drawer-filling form from the Slovak.
I’m also throwing my weight fully behind the Lallana to light things on fire with feet and flicks and Fowler did he just do that if only everyone could stop copy-and-pasting his price tag long enough to notice. My biggest concern is the beloved and now gloriously bearded Joe Allen, who might find himself on the outside looking in. Nearly every other midfielder in the squad is ahead of him on the depth chart in their various roles, and while it’s easy to see him fitting in where needed, it’s just as easy to see him crowded out completely.
He may have been player of the season last year, but I think that Coutinho will just keep getting better and better. He’s going to be a superstar, and I think our midfield this season will be a thing of beauty thanks to him. Sadly, I am not nearly as optimistic about Daniel Sturridge reaching the same heights as two seasons ago. It’s not about talent, I’ve just been burnt too many times with his injury issues, and it’s telling that so many fans aren’t even talking about him ahead of the new season.
Unlike Noel and Elizabeth, on the other hand, I think that Divock Origi will see playing time this year—particularly in the Europa League—for just that reason. Whether he can make something of that time remains to be seen, but I believe he will get it. If Lovren starts ahead of a fit Sakho against Stoke, though, I like so many others am genuinely afraid of the consequences.
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