Liverpool Offside readers picked Nathaniel Clyne and Roberto Firmino as the top performers in 2015-16, and explications will remain high for them as well as for Philippe Coutinho. Others, like Emre Can, will be expected to take another big step forward. Who do you think will be the standouts this season, either expectedly or surprisingly so? Conversely, who do you see struggling to live up to expectations?
I’m gonna take a jump into the deep end here and say that I think we’ll see even more improvement from Dejan Lovren under Jürgen Klopp’s tutelage. It might be sentimentality—I love a good comeback story—but he looked much improved at the end of last season, and I think a summer spent training with Klopp will only make him look even better.
Sticking with the positivity, I’m hoping that this is the season where Emre Can becomes the midfield maestro that we all hope he’ll be, too. Plus I have high expectations for Sadio Mane, who I think it going to mesh really well with our attack. And while I’m sure there will be a few who disappoint, I’m going to leave it to others to read those tea leaves.
Roberto Firmino produced a season on par with Dimitri Payet in 2015-16, just while five years younger and getting none of the respect. I expect even more from him this year, and it’s only really a question of whether the rest of the league—and even a disappointing number of Liverpool fans—cotton on. But the quality is there, and a 15/15 season is on the cards. That’s the sort of return he can deliver; that’s how good a player he is.
On the flip side, I’m more than a touch worried about Nathaniel Clyne. Not about his quality as a player, mind. There’s just something about the fact he played 52 games last season and racked up more minutes than any other outfield player in England’s top flight and that he’s already had some niggling pre-season knocks and there looks a decent chance the club enter the season with James Milner as his primary backup that’s terrifying. Of the destined to blow out his ACL on September 1st and be out for the year flavour of terrifying.
Sadio Mané is going to set the league aflame in Liverpool red this season. Preseason is preseason, of course, but he’s already looked like the best player on the pitch in almost every single outing. He appears to already have a very good understanding with his fellow attacking mids and strikers, and his ability to stretch defenses is going to make Liverpool a much greater threat on counters. Also, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention Divock Origi as a darkhorse for breakout player of the year. We already saw how impressive he could be in big, big games down the stretch in the Europa League run, and his pressing, hold-up play, and ability to run the channels bode well for an even better year under Klopp’s tutelage.
On the other end of the spectrum, I think it might be a year too early for Marko Grujic and he’s going to fail to measure up to the pre-season hype. The young Serbian has impressed so far, but he’ll likely struggle to claim a midfield spot in the Premier League this year. Though, I’m definitely looking forward to getting to watch him in the cups.
A bit of a bummer, but I’m expecting stagnancy from Coutinho, if not out and out regression. We’ve come to expect some absolute top shelf stuff from the little Brazilian, and I have little doubt that there will be occasions this season with much of the same. However, it is my personal opinion (emphasis on the ‘personal’ part. And the ‘opinion’ part as well) that O Mágico is at his best when he is tasked with the string-pulling playmaker responsibilities of the no.10 in the middle of the park.
We forget that part of what made a player like Luis Suarez so dangerous was not just his incredible goal scoring ability, but his excellent final ball and his flawless decision making (with a football at his feet, if not generally). You could argue he led the league in assists in 2013/14 to go along with his record 31 goals since all of his came from open play while Gerrard, the actual league assist leader with 15 that year, got a lot of his from dead ball situations.
I’m seeing a trait in Coutinho in which he is moving away from that dual threat mindset and becoming more of a pure shooter. We’ve all come to expect an assault on the opposition’s right side goal post whenever the crafty Brazilian cuts in from the wing; however, I’m afraid that it’s starting to become all that we can expect. I hope I’m wrong and that Klopp experiments with switching Firmino and Coutinho around from their current starting positions on the pitch, but as it stands, that’s how things appear.
One the positive end, I’m expecting Origi to pull out some magic tricks of his own. In the short period from when he managed to wrest the starting lone striker spot away from Sturridge up until an untimely ankle injury ended his season, the young Belgian looked a force to be reckoned with. He scored every type of goal and brought the sort of hold up play and energetic pressing so perfect for a Jurgen Klopp side that you almost suspected Brendan Rodgers might have colluded with the German in sanctioning the youngster’s transfer from Lille way back in 2014. I’m looking for 12+ goals this year and some exciting play.
I’m expecting Divock Origi to take the starting striker role from Daniel Sturridge this season. Origi may begin the season in the role by default if Sturridge is injured, but it will be the Belgian’s spot to lose before too many months pass. Yes, I want to witness a revitalization of Daniel Sturridge, but right now Origi is my sensei at the mojo dojo. Of course, if they’re both doing the scoring goals business and strutting with collective swagger, Hiya!
We should also see Can take his game up a level or maybe even two. Three? Stop it. Sadio Mané will excel in this team. And, with all the attacking talent and action stars around him now, I expect Coutinho to be playing Harlem-Globetrotters football.
Anything less than the best is a felony. My season stumblers are Alberto Moreno and the aforementioned Sturridge. I don’t want to be buried somewhere in the Moreno pile-on, but my guts are my guts. And my guts are saying we’ll be seeing James Milner doing the good work up and down the left side before too long.
Like Tito and Matt, I’m expecting Origi to make further strides forward this season, in no small part because he’s simply going to get the opportunities to do so. At least thus far, he’s proven himself to be a quick study, and a willing acolyte of Klopp’s methods. Sadly, I expect part of the reason he’ll see significant playing time is that Sturridge seems destined for more intermittent frustration in his quest for sustained fitness. I hope I’m wrong.
Continuing my prognosis, I’m also expecting Joël Matip to need a little more time to get used to the Premier League. He’s got all the tools to be a solid defender, but through no fault of his own, is clearly just a slight touch behind Lovren and Klavan on the preparedness front. Playing in what has been a problem position for this club, it’s going to be difficult to play catch-up once the season starts: recall how Lallana struggled after missing a few weeks in the run-up to his debut season, and he was (ahem) “Premier League proven” at the time.
For many, my player expectations are going to be pretty easy to guess. I’m expecting Hendo to reclaim his spot in midfield, to get back to full fitness and the place he was in before injuries and the Steven Gerrard Farewell Tour derailed him. Big asks, I know, but my hopes and expectation are high. He’s only gotten better since coming back to the team after the Euros, so you know, my (maybe) unrealistic expectation for him would be to add some finishing skills to his tool shed and get a couple more goals this season.
I’m expecting Milner to make the leftback position just as comfortable to him as midfield was. He’s looked right at home being able to tackle and dispossess, so watching him maraud up and down the left side should be an enjoyable sight this season. And if that doesn’t happen, I still think there’s a chance Alberto Moreno shows the doubters what’s what. Klopp is the perfect kind of manager to be able to mold a young player like him and with a full preseason behind him, I’m expecting little Albie to really start kicking some ass. The question is if it’s enough to keep him starting.
At this point, I don’t really know what to think of our attacking force. We’re so stacked, so ready, that all I can imagine is a bloodbath in fighting for a spot to play, and somebody’s likely to lose out. We have so much talent that I have no idea where to even start to play guys there. Mané is all but a certainty right now, as well as Origi. I’d really like to see Sturridge and Origi up top together, but I’d like to see Danny Ings get the chance he was robbed of last season too. It’s going to be an all out battle, that’s for sure. Whatever happens, this whole “trust in the manager” thing is really wild, isn’t it? For all our hopes and expectations, I just trust Klopp to get the best out of these players. It’s crazy.
My selections intersect; I think Georginio Wijnaldum is going to establish himself as a first choice central midfielder for us this year, next to fan and manager darling Emre Can. On top of his dynamism and the cohesiveness of his game, Wijnaldum is an extremely durable dude who very rarely needs to miss time due to knocks. This means that once he’s entrenched in the side, he’s going to be very hard to oust. This doesn’t bode well for Jordan Henderson (Sorry, Jordan! Both Jordans!). The captain—who I doubt will retain that title—needs to start the season well and stay healthy, or risk losing his spot to the Dutchman. I tend to think the latter is more likely.
Emre Can is the goddamn truth and the future leader of this club. The mantle has not yet passed but lo, it will. Roberto Firmino will kick on and be the player Klopp said was, at least for a time, the best attacking midfielder in the Bundesliga. On the other side of things, there is no player in whom I have no confidence, excluding perhaps Lazar Markovic. The Serbian has the prototypical make or break season ahead of him if he even manages to stick around, and at this point, after being one of his biggest proponents when he first signed, I’m looking for a way to jump off the bandwagon without hurting myself.
The Divock Origi bandwagon is overflowing with good reason. Still just 21, he has the experience of a player four years older, has remained humble and driven, and is in a team that can help him develop further. It’s hard to believe Liverpool nabbed him for just £10 million a couple of summers ago. In a Liverpool system built for his pace, energy and burgeoning finishing ability, there is no limit to what he can do. So while the expectations are high for him this season, he’ll be able to live up to the hype.
Meanwhile, Danny Ings might not make the kind of impact in Jürgen Klopp’s high-pressing team that many once thought he would. He has the tools to be successful in the right role, but with so many great attacking options in the squad, he’ll likely have to play behind the striker much of the time. That shouldn’t be a problem in terms of workrate and willingness to take on an unfamiliar role, but his overall production might suffer. Add in the fact that he’s coming off an ACL tear, and it’s easy to see this being a lost season for the former Burnley man.
Monday - Part 1: Transfer Business
Tuesday - Part 2: Jürgen Klopp in His First Full Season
Thursday - Part 4: League vs. Cups
Friday - Part 5: What Would Make 2016-17 a Success?