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Top Five Liverpool Surprises This Season

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Player and team performances have been much different than we expected heading into the season.

Our expression when Dejan Lovren started playing well.
Our expression when Dejan Lovren started playing well.
Steve Bardens/Getty Images

Instead of trying to celebrate April Fool's day with a prank, we decided to take a look at the ways that Liverpool have caught us by surprise and "fooled" us this season. Looking back, there have been at least a few shocks, and plenty of worthy candidates just missed making the list. Also of note: individual games were excluded from this list, but feel free to talk about those, as well as anything else you think we missed, in the comments.

5. Europa League Progress

As Liverpool get set to play Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League quarterfinals, it's easy to forget how unlikely the journey to this stage once seemed. The Reds hadn't progressed past the round of 16 since the 2009/10 season under Rafa Benitez, ended last season on the low point of a 6-1 drubbing to Stoke City and had a manager in Brendan Rodgers who didn't seem to take the Europa League all that seriously. Then the Reds drew their first three group matches, including two games at Anfield. Things didn't look great.

Since their 1-1 home draw to Rubin Kazan on October 22, though, the Reds have gone on a remarkable run. In seven European matches between the end of the group stage, the round of 32 and the round of 16, they are undefeated, boasting a record of four wins, three draws and no defeats. And they knocked out Manchester United.

An advancement past Dortmund would propel this even higher up the list.

4. Jordon Ibe

If there's one player who opened eyes in the pre-season more than anyone else, it's Ibe, who was at his best in the care-free environment of Liverpool's summertime world tour. The extra second he was given to make decisions in exhibition action last summer seemingly turned him from top prospect to budding star before our very eyes.

It was a mirage. That's not to say that Ibe, who is still just 20, can't turn it around and become a star, but the post-Sterling fallout and the need to fill a void led people to label him as something that he simply wasn't, at least not yet. While Jürgen Klopp seems to like him -- "Ibey!" -- he isn't playing him much and reports have come out recently that a summer loan or even sale could take place. There's still a good player in there, but it hasn't shown up as soon as many thought it would.

3. James Milner

While people thought Ibe could be a contributor this season, not many expected him to be one of Liverpool's very best players. For Milner, who joined Liverpool after a successful stint at Manchester City where he was an excellent utility player, a starring turn was the expectation. With a move back to the center midfield, it seemed, the perennial "most underrated player in the league" award winner was primed to take a step up and become properly rated.

In retrospect: yikes. In fairness, Milner has had his moments and the arrival of "Boring James Milner" at least added a little humor during some rough patches earlier in the season. But rather than the world-beating talent some believed Liverpool had stolen from City, he's mostly seemed a limited player on big wages, one who shows sufficient energy but struggles to back that up with consistent quality in the other areas of his game. We still love you Hamez Thirllner, but we can't pretend we're not a bit disappointed.

2. Managerial Changes

This one has two parts to it. The first is that Brendan Rodgers was sacked before Christmas -- in the Liverpool Offside pre-season roundtable, many of us thought that FSG would give him at least half the season to get things right after choosing to keep him at the club over the summer. Many thought he'd get the full season. But an especially horrendous start to the campaign led ownership to pull the plug fast.

That they then hired Jürgen Klopp was both a shock and a cause for celebration. After a series of post-Benitez disasters (with a near-title rather unexpectedly thrown in the middle of it all), it was important to restore order with one of the best and most eccentric managers in the world. And though Liverpool fans knew Klopp was great fun before his hiring, his coolness and week-to-week humor has exceeded even the most outlandish expectations.

1. The Lovrenaissance

It had to be this. At the beginning of the season, Dejan Lovren was one of the most universally criticized players in the club's recent history. After that play in an embarrassing defeat to West Ham, the hate got so bad that Lovren had to shut down his Instagram account, marking a low point for Liverpool fans.

But under Jürgen Klopp, Lovren has morphed into one of the team's most important and reliable players and is now a trusted member of the defense. Those words, if uttered just seven months ago, would earn quite the look. It's been an incredible turnaround story that hopefully continues into the future, and for as long as it does, all hail the Lovrenaissance.