Liverpool’s decade began in turmoil, with Rafa Benitez’ final side stumbling towards a 7th place finish in the spring of 2010 and then his replacement Roy Hodgson taking them into the relegation zone by October while, off the pitch, the club was taken to the brink of administration by Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
A decade later we will see 2019 end with Liverpool defending Champions of Europe and top of the Premier League. This side, built by Jürgen Klopp and sporting director Michael Edwards, is the envy of football fans across the continent—and certainly would be the envy of any Liverpool fan stuck back in 2010. As such, it might not be entirely wrong to suggest this Liverpool side is the team of the decade.
That would be a little too easy, though. So we put our heads together at TLO Towers and came up with our choice for Liverpool’s Team of the Decade. Eight of the starters are from the current side—including the only unanimous starters, Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, and Sadio Mané—as are three bench players. The entire decade, though, is represented.
Without further ado, this is our collective choice for Liverpool Football Club’s best of the 2010s, which we’ll be sending out as a 4-2-3-1 just as soon as we can get our hands on a bottomless bucket of cash and a time machine.
The final piece in Liverpool’s puzzle, the man who pushed them over the top, taking a side that were contenders in the league and Europe and making them Champions League winners—and, as the final days of the decade slip past, favourites now to win the Premier League and end a 30-year drought. He hasn’t done any of that alone, of course, but it’s hard to overstate the role he’s played or what his confidence—as a shot stopper, in the air, and with the ball at his feet—does for the entire side. His place here was never in doubt.
Everyone loves a local lad, but Liverpool supporters especially love a Scouser in the team. And what a Scouser we’ve ended up with! His meteoric rise from academy prospect to makeshift cover for Nathaniel Clyne to world class playmaker—at right back!—has been a joy to watch. Having just turned 21, he’s the youngest player ever to start two Champions League finals. And he set a Premier League assist record for a defender. And he can take a free kick. And he basically covers the same ground, and does the same things, as Kevin de Bruyne. Did I mention he’s doing all of this from right back? It’s not a stretch to say he’ll likely be a shoe-in for the team of the next decade. Not bad for “a normal lad from Liverpool whose dream has just come true.”
Virgil van Dijk
When you’re the best defender in the world, the first defender since Cannavaro won it in 2006 to crack the Ballon d’Or top three, the man who walked into the club and instantly made your world record £75M transfer fee seem a bargain—or at least as much of a bargain as anything that costs £75M can be—you make Liverpool’s Team of the Decade. That’s just how it works.
You might have thought choosing Virgil van Dijk’s partner would be difficult. It wasn’t. Agger was named on every submitted team at TLO Towers—as a starter in all but two. And he deserves to be here, having played four full seasons and more than 100 games in Red in the 2010s. During that time he turned down a move to Barcelona, elbowed Fernando Torres, and played through the chronic pain issues that forced his early retirement at just 31 years of age. And that left foot. My goodness that left foot.
I made the argument last year that Andy Robertson was Klopp’s best transfer at Liverpool. I stand by it. The fact that we went from left-back being a gaping, yawning hole in the team to it being one of our strengths in two seasons is incredible. It’s owed as much to Klopp’s vision and his partner Alexander-Arnold on the other side, but Robertson’s seemingly endless energy and endeavour has deservedly made him a fan favourite. The way he facilitates the attack, providing pinpoint assists, while never sacrificing his defensive duties has made him Liverpool’s left-back of the decade and one of the Premier League’s best as well.
Jordan Henderson is the quintessential representation of Liverpool this decade. Signed in 2011 by Kenny Dalglish, played out of position to start, misunderstood by club and fans alike, and then levelled up into a steadfast, hardworking, only-man-for-the-job of taking over everything Steven Gerrard left behind. No one can be counted on more to put in a shift, as when he moved to defensive midfield when the team needed it and played there without complaint for so long Jurgen Klopp didn’t even know it wasn’t his natural position. If one needed a way to chart Liverpool through the 2010’s, look no further than Henderson’s career—arriving as a kid from Sunderland, rising to the captaincy, and leading them to their most prestigious trophy of the decade. He has seen the lowest of lows, the highest of highs, and everything in between. He’s our new talisman, and still not always fully appreciated.
For a time to start the decade, Lucas was the best defensive midfielder in the world. At his best, his awareness on the pitch meant nobody could touch him when he had the ball—or get past him when he didn’t. Even when he wasn’t at his best following a cruel ACL injury, he remained invaluable, a reliable presence in the side for years, a consummate leader on and off the pitch. Give it time and we might have Fabinho in here, but even then those of us with memories won’t soon forget Lucas Leiva’s often unheralded talents and invaluable contributions.
Can anyone remember life without Mo Salah? Does anyone care to try? He broke every record it was possible to break in his first season with the team, and he slid into that front three as if he was born to do it. The Sadio - Bobby - Mo triumvirate is the deadliest attack in world football. And that’s not even getting into what he means to Liverpool’s millions of Middle Eastern and African and Muslim fans. He’s one half of the bromance of the decade as well, though brate Dejan Lovren didn’t quite make the cut here. His professionalism and talent makes him the ideal player on the pitch, while his kind and charismatic personality makes him the ideal player off it.
There was excitement when Firmino signed from Hoffenheim in 2015. Excitement that turned to frustration as he was frequently omitted by Brendan Rodgers—or played out of position at right back. Thankfully, Jürgen Klopp’s arrival signalled the rise of Bobby Digital. Given the chance the Brazilian combined tenacious work-rate, stunning vision, a delectable flair, and wonderful goal celebrations to quickly make him a fan favourite. The fact his ever present smile can light up a room (literally), that he’s always sporting an eye-catching wardrobe (metal ties, anyone?), and his seeming indefatigable good nature/willingness to party made him a cult hero. Does Bobby have a place in TLO’s team of the decade? Si señor.
There’s something about Mané’s origin story that has always grabbed me. A young Sadio in the village of Sédhiou, Senegal, so determined to be a footballer that he played despite his family actively trying to stop him and took off on a nearly 400km journey to Dakar to get noticed. Sadio’s story probably isn’t all that unique, actually, given the number of players in far flung places around world. But the level of success he’s achieved with Liverpool and his growth under Jürgen Klopp is noteworthy. Goals, assists, vision, technique, athleticism. Mané is undoubtedly one of the best players to have played for the club. And his smile and fun-loving style doesn’t hurt, either—where would we be without his copycat goal celebrations?
Believe it or not, Suarez’s inclusion in the Starting XI was a close-run thing, and a few chose to omit him from the 18 altogether—for all the obvious reasons, I expect. And of course there are obvious reasons not to vote for him. Luis is definitely a villain. However, from a pure footballing perspective, you can’t leave him out. His work rate and desire set him apart as a footballer, and he gave everything for Liverpool while in Red. It wasn’t just the goals he scored, but the variety. And some of such stunning quality most footballers wouldn’t think of attempting them. Chip the keeper from the halfway line? Sure. Bullet header from the top of the box? No problem. Beat four defenders and hit a half volley from outside the box? Day’s work. He’s the best pure striker I’ve seen in Red, and my first choice attacker for the decade—with the question then being how to get Mo, Bobby, and Sadio into the mix.
It was a close run thing between Reina and Simon Mignolet for Liverpool’s number two of the decade, and that sums up the struggles the Reds had at times with the position this decade, but even if he was on the decline in the 2010s we couldn’t overlook Reina’s role as a steady pair of hands at a time when things at Anfield didn’t seem very steady.
Not everyone needs to be a superstar. Every great side in the history of football has players who can just come in and do a job at any time. Milner was born for this, even if his initial arrival at Anfield suggested he wanted to be something else. After a very brief period under Rodgers in which he was keen to reinvent himself as a central midfielder, Klopp used him in a variety of roles without complaint or difficulty. Tactical intelligence is an underrated skill in football. Milner can just fit into any role and figure out what he’s been asked to do as though he’s been doing it all his career. He might not be the first player on people’s teamsheets, but there was never a time when he let anyone down
I have a confession to make, I voted for big Joel over Danish Dynamite Daniel Agger. I know, I know. But it was the team of this decade, and this decade Matip is in the Champions League Final Starting XI. That gives him special status in my book. Recency bias, but that big shiny thing counts for a lot. At the very least he deserves a spot on the bench.
Even though I was a card-carrying Lucas Leiva stan from the very beginning and preached about Jordan Henderson’s virtues of solid fundamentals and a big engine to all who would listen—and some who’d rather not—I just don’t see how we could omit the club’s greatest ever player. As critical as I was of his defensive nous in the six, and while I recommended he be dropped more often in his final year, the truth is Gerrard had two very good and two exceptional seasons this decade, and if we’re getting prime Lucas next to him to help with cover, I’d personally pick even a Stevie G on the downswing over Hendo.
I went back and forth on Coutinho, but ultimately I decided he needed to be in the team of the decade. Coutinho was the first acquisition who really embodies what would become FSG’s ideal transfer: hard-working, versatile, overlooked, and cheap. Do you remember how you felt the first time he stepped onto the pitch in red? It was clear from the outset he was a talent, a player who could help to turn our bad fortune around, help usher in a new era. He had a knack for a big game goal, and those long range stunners were enough to leave your body tingling for hours after. The way he worked with Suarez and Firmino sealed it for me. I know he left on poor terms, but his time with us is worth a place here.
That butt. But sersiouly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player who’s used his backside to better effect on the pitch. Wijnaldum has become a master at retaining the ball. He uses his strength and ingenuity to keep opposition players from stealing the ball. But mostly he uses his butt. He arrived in 2016 to head scratches from supporters, unsure of the his potential given he’d just arrived from a poor Newcastle side. But his signing has proved as important as any other of Klopp’s incomings. Wijnaldum fits the mentality of the squad perfectly. He’s got that ideal combination of joy and fight that has made Klopp’s team so exciting to watch.
It’s impossible to talk about a Liverpool team of the decade without mentioning Sturridge. The man with the dance moves. The man who couldn’t stop scoring in that magic 2013-2014 run. The man who picked up the slack when Luis Suarez was suspended due to being Luis Suarez. Daniel Sturridge was, for me, an amazing avatar for the state of the club at the time.
Post-mortems years from now might well draw parallels between Sturridge’s start—where, upon signing, he and Philippe Coutinho brought the rest of the attack’s quality up a notch to match Suarez’—and his subsequent struggles with fitness as metaphor for the Rodgers Era: incredibly exciting but ultimately disappointing. What I’ll personally remember, though, is how he often kept his head down and worked his socks off, putting on his best face forward to represent the club even when things were difficult. There were lots of people to focus on when the club reached the top of the mountain last year. Me? My eyes were on Sturridge, hugging Ol’ Big Ears, a fine reward for a good and faithful steward.