Liverpool had their fair share of ups and downs in 2016-17, and a lot of that was down to individual injury, inconsistency, and absence. By the end of it all, though, some clear trends had emerged, with some players proving themselves key to the club’s hopes—some of whom had started the season on the fringes or seemingly out of the picture entirely—while others saw their influence wane. Looking back, who do you feel underperformed this season and, conversely, who overachieved?
For me, Jordan Henderson was sensational in the single pivot and most exceeded my expectations up until his injury. While I’d been on the Hendo train before, I really didn’t expect the kind of production we got from him on both sides of the ball. Run-in Simon Mignolet is my runner-up, as he clearly took big steps in his ability to dominate the area, along with rescuing points with penalty saves. Adam Lallana in central midfield was a delightful surprise as well.
On the other side, while I think Nathaniel Clyne is going to get some stick for his play this season, I tend to think we have bigger issues on the other end of the backline. James Milner, for all the early talk about being a surprisingly competent fullback, was not good by the end of the year. Opposition teams realised this as well, increasingly targeting the vice-captain over the course of the season. Take away his penalty goals and hilarious lasso celebration, and Milner had a season to forget. Upgrade needed.
I really liked Adam Lallana this season. I feel like a lot of fans want him to play in a very specific way that isn’t really part of his game, and then resent him for not doing what they want him to do. I think he adds a slippery quality to Liverpool that really helps against teams that like to hunker down (like, you know, Middlesbrough). I was also pleased with Emre Can this season. And I also think Nathaniel Clyne was a lot better this season than anyone will give him credit for; he made some mistakes, sure, but I would argue a lot of that was down to broader defensive issues than him specifically.
I expected a lot more from Loris Karius this season, and I’m genuinely disappointed that he struggled as much as he did once he got his big shot. And as much as I love James Milner and want him to stick around, he’s not a left-back, and we have to stop pretending otherwise. The jig is up. Finally, while I’m seriously rooting for Dejan Lovren, I have to concede he has a lot to work on if he wants to keep his starting spot.
Recency bias and low expectations ensure that Simon Mignolet is my pick for overachiever. Since March, he's been one of the very best goalkeepers in the league. Mignolet is a big reason why Liverpool managed to hold onto a place in the top four. I expected Sadio Mané, Joël Matip, and Georginio Wijnaldum to succeed, but Mané has been even better than I thought he'd be. Jordan Henderson as the number 6 was far better than I thought, but once Emre Can found his stride, Liverpool’s captain wasn't missed as much. If both remain fit next season, Liverpool will have two fine options to operate at the base of midfield.
Divock Origi was frustrating to watch as he has the tools and scored some goals, but can he find a role in this Liverpool attack? Milner overachieved before underachieving as a makeshift left back, while Nathaniel Clyne has regressed from his remarkably consistent level last season. Clyne, however, is still a solid right back. Dejan Lovren has done okay, but he remains a weak link in Liverpool’s defence. He exists in the realms of both overachievement and underachievement with remarkable gusto--an achievement in and of itself.
Divock Origi is my underachiever for the season. There were certainly a few who underwhelmed, but I had such lofty dreams of Origi doing the business all season long. He did really well for a stretch. Scoring goals. We all had a good time. But back in August I was predicting Origi to step into some bigger boots this season, knowing Sturridge would be here and there and not, physically.
But Mané? Big Sadio Dynamite overachieved even for those of us who were buoyed by his arrival. A fantastic season. Mané did all that we wanted him to do and he did it in spades. He performed, he entertained and he made a massive difference up and down the right wing. The speed. The balance. The friendships.
“Underperform” sounds harsh, especially because Nathaniel Clyne was a perfectly serviceable fullback over the course of the season—just not one for a club with Liverpool’s ambitions. He and James Milner offered continuity in their respective roles, which is something Liverpool didn’t have in certain other key positions. The problem, of course, was that when asked to assist in breaking down opponents, both fullbacks often seemed one-dimensional. This might have been fine when the front six were firing on all cylinders, but when the inevitable injury spells started to pile up, the issues with Clyne and Milner became that much more apparent.
On the overachiever side, I believe the candidates are pretty clear, so I won’t add to the pile. I’m going to think outside the box and go with Alberto Moreno. While not actually being on the pitch much at all, Moreno has somehow managed to become the new José Enrique. Consider the fact that it took José Enrique significantly longer (and he had to accomplish a fair bit more with Liverpool during real, non-video game matches) before he actually became The José Enrique. Viewed in this context, Moreno is light years ahead of his development schedule.
For some, the overachiever is going to be Sadio Mané, and that’s fair given his transfer fee looked a bargain by Christmas. For anyone who could look past his status as another Southampton signing, though, that he would at least be very good was never in question. So. With that out of the way, there’s been one overachiever above all others, and that’s Simon Mignolet. On the flip side, I don’t think anyone I expected the world from has had a torrid time, but Nathaniel Clyne has gone from best right back in the league territory to just mostly okay, and Emre Can took too long to rediscover top form. The club will be counting on both to be better over the entirety of next season.
I’m giving my overachiever award to Gini Wijnaldum, who stepped up and put in some great performances when our midfield felt awful light in the midst of all those injuries. Runner up goes to Simon Mignolet who really stepped up when the team needed him. I’m not ready to call our goalkeeping problems completely solved, but I’m looking forward to seeing if he can keep playing at this level next season. On the other hand, I expected more from Emre Can this season after last season’s bright showing. And, though it hurts my heart, I think my underachiever has to be Jordan Henderson. He was magnificent when he was on the pitch, but that happened much too infrequently. After his similarly long injured spell last season, it has definitely made me worry. I think that next season is the big test for him. Please stay fit, captain.
I don’t think anyone thought James Milner would be a serviceable choice at leftback when the season began. And serviceable was exactly what he was. Not great, but good enough to cover for the Patron Saint of Baffling Defending, Alberto Moreno. Milner’s efforts, at the very least, allowed Klopp to wait another season or two before finding a long-term replacement. That shouldn’t be overlooked. For underachieved, it’s rather unfair, but I think we have to question the future of our captain Jordan Henderson. Hendo was great when he was healthy, and that goal against Chelsea was plucked right out of the very top bin, but the medical staff seem no closer to solving his plantar fasciitis now than they were last year. If Daniel Sturridge is viewed by the club and fanbase as perma-crocked, Henderson can’t be far behind.
I think this season was rough on everyone, with the fixtures and injuries and absences and actual problems, so to pick an under and overachiever is a struggle. I think for all the chances he’s been given and the times he’s had to prove himself, despite that goal of the decade, Emre Can has been the biggest underacheiver. For a while he looked poised to steal the captaincy from Jordan Henderson, but he struggled to match the pace of the team and find his old form and was really unable to make as much of an impact as many projected him to. He’ll be good to keep around with Champions League on the horizon and heading back to two games a week, but he’ll definitely have to fight to make it worthwhile again.
I’m with a few others in saying that Gini Wijnaldum was our overachiever of the year. While Mané had the flash and the pace, Wijnaldum had the engine and the vision and the determination we were missing while Hendo has been on the bench. He’s also been tasked with picking up the slack of Emre Can, and that’s no easy feat. The fact that Gini has the added bonus of knowing where the net is and how to get to it, we’ve been incredibly lucky to have picked up such a quality player—and one who was ready and willing to go from the outset. He’s been nothing short of impressive, and I’m looking forward to seeing the first away goal of his career, that perfect grin made all the better by being in a Red shirt.