We have now played nineteen Premier League games and have qualified from the the group stage in the Champions League, which pretty much marks the halfway point of the 2017/18 season. So it’s a good time to look at how the players, and manager, are getting on.
Simon Mignolet has reverted back to his old self after a good second half to last season. The Belgian international finally saw some genuine competition for his place in the side arrive at the start of last season after holding off the likes of Brad Jones and Adam Bogdan. It initially looked like the beginning of the end for him, but he got his place back and put in some improved performances to help us qualify for the Champions League. But this season has not gone according to plan for the former Sunderland stopper. He has been making basic mistakes again and remains the player who has made the most errors leading to goals in the league since his arrival in 2013. He has long outstayed his welcome as first-choice and enough is enough. Has to go.
Loris Karius was handed the number one role for the Champions League group stage which, despite being harsh on Mignolet for his contribution in getting us there, is a pretty decent idea. The likes of Maribor and Spartak Moscow were unlikely to bombard us and it would give him the chance to get some valuable time in the first-team. The games against Sevilla would be more testing and would allow him the opportunity to face a stiffer test too. Many fans believe he warrants another chance in the league side following his performances in Europe, but I would disagree. He conceded a free-kick in Moscow which any decent keeper should have kept out and he also let in five against Sevilla. He doesn’t look the confident and assured keeper we need right now.
Danny Ward must wonder what needs to happen for him to get another chance in the first-team. So far this season he has been given the nod in the League Cup against Leicester City, which was our one and only appearance in the competition thanks to a 2-0 defeat. He cannot be held responsible for that defeat and should be given a chance in the FA Cup. He may well be given the gloves, but it will be Everton who will arrive at Anfield in the third round and that may see a more experienced keeper get the start. Jurgen Klopp obviously sees him in training every day, which we do not, and has seen the Welsh international injured too.
Dejan Lovren is continuing to do what he does best. Quite why this liability was handed a bumper new contract by Klopp, I am not sure. Some say it was to protect his value, but I can’t get on board with that idea. There would hardly be a queue to sign the Croatian international if we decided to sell him. Klopp genuinely seems to believe that Lovren is worth keeping around, despite all the evidence to the contrary. He is capable of putting in some good performances, but the chances are every bit as likely that he will drop a clanger and cost us points. The Spurs game was one of the worst defensive performances you will ever see and he was only on the pitch for thirty odd minutes. A lot of fans accused Dominic Calvert-Lewin of diving to win the penalty a couple of weeks ago, but it was Lovren’s complete lack of savvy that allowed that foul to be engineered. The guy just isn’t good enough and should be long gone.
Joel Matip has had a decent enough season so far. He is our best centre-back, which admittedly isn’t much of an accolade, but needs to have someone more assured alongside him. I would expect Klopp’s plan was to partner him with Virgil Van Dijk, which obviously did not come to fruition. That’s not to say that the Cameroon international is not capable of putting some organisation into a defence, it’s just a very difficult task to marshal Lovren through a game. Playing alongside someone less hasty would allow Matip to exert his calm approach more effectively. Has been accused of being injury prone, but had played the most minutes until his recent issue.
Ragnar Klavan hasn’t let us down when called upon. The thirty-two is a limited defender, despite his recent liking for a stepover or turn, and very much fits the bill as a backup option. Can lack composure and concentration at times, but this hasn’t been as evident in his recent run in the starting XI. Should not be challenging for a regular spot in the side when all options are available, despite what some have claimed recently, and could only be because Lovren is such a liability. Fits the bill as a fourth choice option and ideally will be just that once we bring in a quality centre-back.
Joe Gomez has had a promising season so far as he covers the right-back slot in the absence of Nathaniel Clyne. The England under-21 captain has had a couple of lapses in concentration that have cost us goals, with Manuel Lanzini and Alexis Sanchez the beneficiaries. The one against West Ham ultimately only cost us a clean sheet, but the Arsenal error saw the beginning of their comeback. These are isolated incidents though, with Gomez looking generally assured and the calls for him to switch the centre will have to wait for Clyne to return to action. Gomez isn’t great going forward, but has contributed here and there. His future is playing as a central defender for Liverpool and possibly England too.
Alberto Moreno has shown improvement as a defender this season. For him to have only had one horror show in half a season is a huge change in fortunes and many will say there will be additional circumstances that led to his nightmare in Spain. For starters, Sevilla are his former club and it clearly has an impact on him when he plays against them (see the 2016 Europa League final) and his wife had also just given birth. So he does have some excuses lined up for the errors he made in the 3-3 draw against his old side. His attacking play was always cited as his strength, but he has so far managed to contribute zero assists in the league to add to the three he has made in Europe. Two of those were against Maribor and one in the home game against Sevilla. Was unfortunate to get injured against Spartak recently.
Andrew Robertson has finally been given a run in the side thanks to that Moreno injury. After putting in a man of the match performance in the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace earlier this season, his chances were fairly limited until recently. He wasn’t even getting on to the bench and was being made to show what he could in training alone by Klopp. He hasn’t let anyone down since returning to the side, despite often being doubled up on by Arsenal, and looks a decent player. It will be interesting to see what Klopp does when Moreno returns to fitness. Each player could tighten up defensively and offer a little more going forward. Our options at left-back are certainly better than last season.
Trent Alexander-Arnold has been given the chance to show what he can do this season and looks a good player in the making. His attacking play looks better than his defensive abilities so far, but it’s early days for the young right-back. Earlier on in the season it looked like he would rotate with Gomez, but he hasn’t provided the same level of cover and that has seen him marginalised. He contributed a fine free-kick against Hoffenheim early on and that will have done his confidence no harm. He did get exposed against Manchester City, but he’s one of many defenders in that boat this season.
Jordan Henderson is not having a good season. The captain, and that role is being questioned by many fans, does not look comfortable in the deep-lying midfield anchor position and isn’t contributing enough at either end of the pitch. He isn’t providing a shield to a defence which needs all the assistance it can get and his passing is criticised for being too safe and lacking in vision. While it isn’t his primary function and we aren’t struggling in that department, one goal and one assist is not sufficient for a midfielder in our side. His leadership qualities have also been questioned as he does not seem capable of steadying the ship when we are under pressure. He has shown in the past that he is capable of being a worthy member of the side, but not in the role he is being asked to play at present.
Emre Can may be about to enter the final six months of his Liverpool career and that is dividing supporters. There is an element of the fanbase who believe he is a top midfielder in the making, and they point to the interested clubs as evidence of this, while others think he is too slow and laboured to be in this system. The truth is probably somewhere in between. He has put in some fine performances this season and some pretty poor outings too. He is clearly a talented player and that is shown in his place in the German national side and the list of teams looking to snap him up. The fact he is available on a free transfer at the end of the season is no doubt a factor to some of these clubs, but how many of them would want Henderson or Wijnaldum if they were in the same position?
Gini Wijnaldum is another midfielder who polarises opinion. I personally feel that he goes missing too often, especially away from home, and isn’t contributing enough going forward. He does have a quiet efficiency to his game, but it’s not always enough and that was shown earlier in the season when Coutinho was absent. I felt that had we managed to sign Naby Keita in the Summer it would have been the Dutchman who was most under threat for his place in the side. Few players have had such a contrast between their home and away capabilities and a solution needs to be found for this.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a player who goes to show just how reactive and short in long-term memory much of our supporters are. He was practically written off after a few poor performances earlier on this season and has been heralded as a star following some impressive outings recently. The reality is somewhere between these two poles. He has all the energy needed to be a part of Klopp’s midfield and is showing that what he is being asked to do is sinking in. Was going nowhere fast at Arsenal under Arsene Wenger and looked like Theo Walcott 2.0 at the Emirates. Leaving the Gunners was the right thing to do and his current form is clear proof of that. Rejecting Chelsea was another correct decision as he would no doubt have been playing right wing-back there.
James Milner reportedly asked to stop being used as a makeshift left-back and that has seen him revert to being a utility man – which was why he left Manchester City. Can play in a variety of midfield roles as well as out wide and is handy to have on the bench. One of the few players we have who remotely understands how to close out a game. Question marks remain over whether his role in the squad is worth the wages he is paid, but we didn’t have to pay a transfer fee for him so it balances out. Many will feel this is his final season at the club, but he does offer experience and cover enough to suggest that may not be the case. Unless he asks to leave, in which case he can expect offers from the likes of Southampton, Stoke City and Crystal Palace.
Marko Grujic needs to go out on loan in the second half of the season. He has made very little impression since signing for the club and needs to go off in search of regular football. A switch to a club like Huddersfield Town or Brighton & Hove Albion would make absolute sense in the second half of the campaign. Doesn’t look like getting anywhere near the first-team at present and has to go out on loan to give himself a chance going forward.
Philippe Coutinho was clearly bitterly disappointed not to be allowed to realise a dream by signing for Barcelona in the Summer. But despite that he is playing some of the best football of his career this season and remains dedicated to the cause. And that can only be good news for the club as it will mean we reap the benefits from his output and his pricetag will go up ahead of what looks like an inevitable exit at the end of the season. Is chipping in with plenty of goals, got his first hat-trick for the club and is going to be incredibly difficult to replace. My view is that we enjoy him, and make the most of him, while he is here. He is now the world-class player he has looked like becoming for the past few years. That’s why Barcelona, as well as Paris Saint Germain, want him. But they will have to pay top dollar to get him.
Mohamed Salah has been a revelation. With each game, and goal, he looks more a bargain signing. Roma must be kicking themselves for letting us have him for the price we paid them to bring him back to the Premier League. Chelsea too must feel that, like with several other players, they let him go too soon. He is currently the top scorer in the league and has provided several key goals. Five of his goals would have been winners had our defence not cost us goals at the other end. He has been one of the best players in Europe since joining us and it’s no surprise the likes of Real Madrid are being linked with him. There’s no way Klopp will be considering letting him go, so they can look elsewhere.
Sadio Mane has had a curiously indifferent campaign. The Senegal international has scored ten goals and provided five assists so far and that is a pretty good haul by most standards. But he hasn’t looked his usual self of late and it’s becoming concerning. Some have suggested that his output is suffering because Salah is now in the side and scoring more goals. But that seems unlikely as having someone else pacey and direct can only open doors for Mane. There could be legs in the idea that being switched to the left is an issue, so it may make sense to allow them to switch flanks more often. But while Salah is doing so well from the right, it could be folly to do so. If Mane does go on to score twenty goals with ten assists, few can complain.
Roberto Firmino started the season a little slowly in terms of goals. But he has stepped up his input in that respect and is now looking more of a number nine than a false one. Fourteen goals and nine assists is a big contribution and we look a much less dangerous side in his absence. He offers so much energy and effort to us and the assertion that he is the “engine” of the team is a fair assessment. He is a player we need to avoid burning out, but we have nobody who can cover his role in his absence. He will be glad that his best mate Coutinho is still around.
Daniel Sturridge should have been sold in the Summer. He is a shadow of the player he once was and his value is only decreasing this season. Does not look at home in our system and has lost the pace that helped to make him such a dangerous striker before. There has been talk of a loan move away next month and that would help him in his bid to claim a World Cup place. But his personal ambitions at international level are not our priority. I would rather try and bring in some cash for him while we still can and get his relatively high wages off the bill.
Dominic Solanke has been praised by plenty of supporters since making his full debut against Stoke City recently. It seems a little premature to me for him to be labelled “a bargain” and such, because he has so far failed to score a single goal. He has held the ball up well and clearly looked a dangerous striker in the under-20 World Cup, so there is likely to be more to come from the former Chelsea youngster.
Danny Ings is another player could do with a loan move. Has been limited in his use since Klopp arrived thanks to serious injury and competition. Has looked useful in the under-23 side, but could do with regular games to sharpen up. There will be plenty of clubs lining up to loan him next month and giving him that opportunity would be sensible. We could only afford to let go of one striker, however, so it would be him or Sturridge to move.