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The Liverpool Offside 2017-18 Season Preview, Part 2: Player Expectations

In part two of our preview, we look at the players. Who’s primed for a breakout year and who’s set to stumble?

Liverpool v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Last season, we saw that at their best this was a Liverpool side capable of beating anyone, and expectations heading into 2017-18 will be high because of that. But with high expectations comes the potential for disappointment. With that in mind, which players do you think are going to thrive as Liverpool head back into the Champions League, which do you think could fall short of expectations, and who do you see as being the club’s surprise, breakout star of the season—the player who could go from relative unknown to household name by next May?

Based on pre-season at least, the surprise breakout stars might just end up being a pair of teenagers, Ben Woodburn and Dominik Solanke, and anyone who hasn’t bothered to watch the warm-ups would do well to keep their names in mind. But with that said, while both have clearly earned first team roles, neither is going to start every week.

So for me, the player to watch is Roberto Firmino. He was arguably the club’s best and most important player last year, and he’s been the club’s best in pre-season, dangerous wherever Klopp plays him. He’s ready to take a massive leap forward with Liverpool returning to the game’s biggest stage, and as the false nine flanked by a pair of high scoring wingers, expecting fifteen goals and fifteen assists out of him is conservative. On the flip side, James Milner slowed down noticeably in the second half of last season, and I’m worried wherever he ends up playing we’re going to see a significant drop in his performances.

I’m really really excited to see how Roberto Firmino excels this season. He’s been one of the squad’s hardest working players on the pitch and can be absolutely lethal on his best days, so to see him fighting against some of the world’s best teams will be a challenge I think he’ll absolutely measure up to. Mo Salah also has the potential to be a real treat for Liverpool fans, his pace and his vision being the perfect compliment to our already existing attack force. Unfortunately, as he’s already starting off the season injured, I’ll be interested to see if Nathaniel Clyne can keep up with the matches we’ll be seeing this year. Like Milner he had a noticeable downturn in the second half of last season as well, and while he was a great workhorse in the beginning, I’m not sure if he’ll be able to keep up with twice as many matches as last year.

I have no scientific basis for believing this, but something tells me this is the year that Daniel Sturridge manages to avoid a prolonged spell on the sidelines and reminds the league what he can do when allowed semi-consistent minutes. Part of the reason for my optimism is precisely the fact that we are now in a world where, thanks to the “system” and his own waning star, Sturridge can no longer expect to be called upon to start every single match. Indeed, those situations are likely to be the exception rather than the rule. Without the wear and tear that he would otherwise have to face, I think Sturridge can shine again. Even if most recent act in preseason play appears calculated to undercut my prediction.

On the other side of the ledger, Nathaniel Clyne has a lot to prove going into this season, as Jordan has said. Klopp clearly thinks very highly of young Trent Alexander-Arnold, so that will be an interesting dynamic going forward. Picking up a knock before the real matches get started has not been a good omen for our more senior right back.

I’m expecting the Coutinho-Firmino-Salah-Mané attacking band to excel in the group stages of the Champions League. Beyond that is another beyond. By which time I feel we may have let some frustration creep in towards Clyne who is a solid, reliable player but has limitations in his attacking play that could hamper us as we get into the higher steps. I like Clyne in the team, I’m just predicting mixed emotions. Similarly, Lovren’s transgressions may/will be magnified in Europe if he’s the one starting every game.

As far as a breakout star, and this might be cheating but I’m a rebel Dottie, I’m putting money down on Ingsy. Rise up, Danny.

Excuse me while I knock on a forest full of wood, but I think best will come down to who can stay healthy this season. Injuries have wrecked havoc on many of the team’s best players, so I’m desperately hoping we get a bit of a reprieve this time around. Last week, I would have put money on Adam Lallana playing a huge role, and now, well, maybe not. Has Sadio Mane fully recovered from his long-term injury? Can Philippe Coutinho stay fit? Good lord—can Daniel Sturridge? Jordan Henderson? Any of these players have it in them to be game-changers.

To have all of them—or at least most of them—available for long periods, especially over the winter months, will be key. I have high hopes for Mohamed Salah. Roberto Firmino just keeps getting better with every season, and as others have pointed out, he had the best pre-season. Our first choice front six will be a force to be reckoned with, I think. In the back, I’m excited for Matip to get another season under his belt with us. And if Simon Mignolet truly has turned a corner, then I can see him making a star turn as well.

I’m feeling optimistic for no good reason, so let’s just focus on the good: I think Salah and Solanke have been excellent in pre-season and there’s no reason to think they’re not going to have a great year. I’ve also got all my fingers and toes crossed for this to be the year that Mignolet has a perfect season, too, but that’s mostly wishful thinking.

Our good players—Coutinho, Firmino, Mané, Salah—will continue to be good, but I’m going big. This is the year Jordan Henderson gets recognised on the continent as one of the premier single-pivot midfielders in the world. He was incredible last year up until the injury, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed he’s staying healthy this season.

On the other end, it sadly looks like my dear Divock Origi is set to struggle, especially with how sharp Solanke looked in pre-season—though that could be a result of the former Chelsea man having stayed active with the England squad all summer while Origi has not. At any rate, he stagnated last year, and needs to step up in the face of competition to avoid getting shipped out next summer. If Milner remains at left-back, he’ll continue to look worse and be benched by Christmas. I’m not buying the Moreno revival, and further up the pitch I remain skeptical Emre Can ever discovers what his best position really is. So that was pessimistic. But, uh, Woodburn and Solanke are looking hot and I can’t wait to see them blossom!

I think Mo Salah is going to have a heck of a season. I’ll even go so far as to say that if he isn’t the team’s leading goalscorer at the end of 2017-18 I’ll be very surprised. For potential disappointments, I think either Roberto Firmino is going to have an off-year—still decent but still a noticeable drop-off—or the other shoe is going to drop with Simon Mignolet. I’m actually really afraid both will happen. As for surprise packages, I’m going to go with Andrew Robertson, who will end up putting in really strong shifts all season. Kinda like Milner last season, except Robertson is actually, you know, a fullback.

In a system where wingers are the goal scorers around a counter pressing, creative, and hard-working nine in Roberto Firmino, expect Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah to thrive. If Firmino is indeed on penalties, we may start to see him hit numbers to match his all round contribution to the team. Youngsters such as Ben Woodburn, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Dominic Solanke may be the real, serious prospects exiting this campaign. Divock Origi may struggle for minutes and form with the competition in his spot, but he could be used out wide as a forward looking for goals.

The two real players to watch, however, will be Andrew Robertson and Loris Karius. They shouldn't fear stepping up with no real top level competition for their spots, no matter how much we respect the likes of Simon Mignolet. There is a real opportunity for them to prove that Jürgen Klopp is a manager who can develop players and work well with cheaper, talented options in the transfer market.

Is it too early to call for the Alberto Morenaissance? Yes, yes it is. So, I’m going to side with Noel and a Jordan on this one: Roberto Firmino is due to step up and in a big way this year. Firmino struggled with spells of inconsistency throughout his first two campaigns on Merseyside, but at 25, he should be entering the prime of his career. Additionally, the dual threat of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah on the wings, along with fellow Brazilian Coutinho providing both a goal-scoring threat and perfectly-weighted through balls from midfield, should allow him ample opportunity to have the time and space to score lots of goals and create lots of assists. And from the looks of it he’s even taking over penalty duty from James Milner, which should help pad those scoring numbers.

On the flip side, I’m going to go with a player that would have been one of the first names on the sheet under Klopp in recent seasons: Adam Lallana. A lot of this has to do with his unfortunate preseason injury, but even once he recovers, Lallana might have trouble finding his way back into the side. One reason might be Philippe Coutinho, who, by the looks of things will be taking up a deeper role in the central midfield. If Klopp is using both Jordan Henderson and Emre Can regularly, as we have seen in preseason, and if Gini Wijnaldum has a role to play, it could limit Lallana’s chances in the starting XI. Coming back from a three-month layoff and having to fight his way back into the picture could mean Lallana’s role in the side will be greatly diminished, even if we don’t bring in another central midfielder.

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