Liverpool players had their share of ups and downs this season, as not many fired on all cylinders with any consistency and a fair few injuries further complicated matters. Looking back, who do you feel underperformed this season and, conversely, who over-achieved?
Our two biggest signings ended the season as I thought they would, with Roberto Firmino one of the club’s best and Christian Benteke one of the worst, but what I never expected was for Danny Ings to translate the fire and verve he showed in Burnley colours to Liverpool. The amazing thing is one gets the feeling there's much more to come for Ings, and for me at least, he was a pleasant surprise and the definition of overachiever.
The underperformers list for me is a grab bag of Simon Mignolet, Alberto Moreno, and Jordan Henderson. I think all can be better than they showed, though Mignolet may not get the chance to. Kicking, command of his area, organisation, giving other teams a chance, and making mistakes are charges fairly levelled at Mignolet after an extremely inconsistent campaign. Henderson’s injury provides some explanation for his patchy form, but next season will provide an insight into whether he can be trusted to partner Emre Can—a player who has become the club’s most important midfielder in Klopp’s brief tenure. Meanwhile, though I respect Moreno’s hustle, he has too many moments that undermine and undo lots of the good work he puts in, and the Europa League final was a bad way to end the season.
With all that in mind, it’s no surprise Liverpool seem certain to sign a goalkeeper, left back, and central midfielder this summer, moves that reflect the lack of depth in those positions and also the unconvincing performances Mignolet, Moreno, and Henderson have provided.
When discussing over- and underachievers, we need look no further than the midfield pairing of Emre Can and Jordan Henderson. Can had an immense season and looks to have locked down that central midfield spot for years to come. Before the season, I thought he might have a “sophomore slump,” but I’m happy to have been proven wrong. He looks to be playing well beyond his years, and has grown into the role physically and tactically. The best compliment I can give the young German is that Liverpool struggled mightily in his absence. If Can learns to cut down on the number of cheap fouls and bookings, he could be truly world-class.
On the flip side, Jordan Henderson really struggled this season with injuries and the added weight of the captaincy. I don’t want to be too harsh on the Honey Badger because there’s nothing the previously invulnerable midfielder could do about the injuries, but he simply never looked 100% this season. Hopefully Hendo will get some rest over the summer and can hit the ground running when the new season kicks off.
It’s hard to disagree with Emre Can, who by the time spring rolled around was showing glimpses of being a world class midfielder in the making. He’s not quite there yet, but it feels like he’s a good year ahead of schedule, and if that’s not overachieving I don’t know what is. Conversely, I think Simon Mignolet might just edge out Henderson. Liverpool’s goalkeeper started the season questionable in the air and shaky in command of his area but at least he was one of England’s best shot-stoppers. Then he ended up the league’s second-worst shot-stopper, making 1.27 saves for every goal he allowed. Only Aston Villa's Brad Guzan, at 1.24, was worse, and most of the top half teams had goalkeepers who saved two or more for every one let in.
I’m giving the overachievement award to Nathaniel Clyne. He stepped up and was far and away our most consistent player. Most of his performances weren’t exceptional—I’d rate them between 6s and 8s—but in a backline riddled with injury and form issues, he was the one stalwart to weather the storm. He wasn’t the goalscoring threat I thought he’d be from his time with Southampton, but this season that didn’t matter to me. While Moreno was off on his meandering flights of fancy, and Lovren fought his way back into some kind of professional football player form, and Sakho spent most of the season injured, suspended, or out of favor, and Skrtel was Skrteling, and Toure was saving their skins and slowly turning into the human embodiment of the Murtaugh “I’m too old for this shit” meme… while all that was going on, I was just glad to have someone to rely on back there.
Add to that the fact that Clyne inherited the right back position from Glen Johnson, a player notorious for both his precipitous drop in form over his final few seasons with the club, as well as his long spells on the injury list, and it makes it even more impressive that Liverpool finally managed to get some consistency in a position that had been such a problem for them in recent times. As for underperforming, I’ll give that collectively to our subpar goalkeeping crew, though Danny Ward gets a pass for now.
I’m going to give the title of overachiever to wee Joe Allen, who did everything he was ever asked and more under Jürgen Klopp. The poor kid can’t get a start in the important games, but he’s regularly made a huge difference from the bench and has been a game changer for Liverpool on more than one occasion. Though he has his detractors, most know he’s always been a good, solid little player, and it was nice to see him reach the level he did this spring. And as far as media appearances by Liverpool players go, I’d have to say his appearance in Chicken & Egg magazine tops anything anyone else on the team did by a country mile.
Is it fair to say Christian Benteke underperformed? He performed at the exact level that many expected him to perform, but considering how many hoped he would perform and his price tag it still feels like underachievement. Adam Bogdan, bless his ginger heart, was perhaps worse than anyone was expecting, and that was more than a bit unfortunate.
On the “pleasantly surprised” side, I’ll mention Divock Origi. While I harboured little doubt he possessed a wealth of talent, I suspected at the beginning of the season he would need time to acclimate himself to the new surroundings, and the mid-season change in managers did not make me more optimistic in this regard. To say that he stepped up would be an understatement. To be clear, he still has a long way to go, but in a short span of time he had already eclipsed his compatriot Benteke and won over a good portion of the supporters. Perhaps more importantly, he seems to have an intuitive grasp of what Klopp expects of him, and I’m looking for him to make even greater strides in 2016-17.
On the “didn’t beat the benchmark index” side, it’s Simon Mignolet for me. None of the issues that materialized at the goalkeeper position in 2015-16 were surprises, but I felt Simon took a step back this season. I had hoped that a somewhat more consistent back four, coupled with the end of the Gerrard-as-DM experiment, might have allowed Mignolet to focus on doing the things well that he supposedly does well. While it’s been a far from catastrophic year at the position, the lack of meaningful progress is disappointing.
Overachievers? Uh, Dejan Lovren, anyone? Might not be overachieving relative to his price tag, but compared to our expectations for him going into the season, hands down he was Liverpool’s overperformer of the year. Milner gets a mention, too, for his 21 goal involvements, which is a lot more than I think most people expected, and Kolo Touré was tremendous down the stretch, making a great argument for another contract extension.
On the flip side, after spending much of the summer being talked about as Liverpool’s next big thing, Jordon Ibe was woeful all year, showing no signs that he might be capable of making the right additions to his game. Alberto Moreno’s lack of defensive development was, similarly, immensely frustrating to watch, as in both cases we’re talking about players who seem to have every physical tool necessary to succeed.
Monday - Part 1: Transfer Business
Wednesday - Part 3: The End of the Brendan Rodgers Era
Thursday - Part 4: Jürgen Klopp on Merseyside
Friday - Part 5: Positioning the Club for Success in 2016-17