By Tom Hulme – @ScoreFootball6
It hasn’t gone unnoticed that, with and without injuries, Liverpool have recently been lacking the fire power that last season shines so brightly for them throughout the season (with Firmino just having one Premier League goal so far).
In this piece I’m going to be looking at a ‘2 good 2 bad’ scenario, two players that have played top quality football so far this season, and two players that have been way below par.
With Red Star being a rare ‘easy’ game for Liverpool, assuming we can play the strongest line up we have (injury permitting for some) then really it should be a walk in the park, however if we don’t perform like we did against Maribor at this stage last season then we should be looking at who should be brought in off the bench and who may need to be sidelined for a couple of weeks.
First off, one of the two players that has been outstanding this season and would be harshly treated if he was given an ounce of criticism. Fairly obvious, Virgil van Dijk. The man mountain has somehow managed to improve on his performances that saw the Reds make it to the Champions League final last season by being even more consistent, composed, and confident than ever.
Having been experimented with almost every defender we have in the first team so far this season, van Dijk has looked unbelievably calm next to all of them.
The more recent suggestions that Virgil van Dijk is one of the top three centre backs in world football has become less of an opinion and is swaying more towards a fact as the weeks go by now. With many people putting him alongside the Anfield ‘favourite’ Sergio Ramos as the best defender in the world.
While he may be on current form one of the worlds best, he is yet a year into his Liverpool contract and I would have to wait until at least Christmas to give my full verdict on where Virgil stands amongst top defenders at this moment in time. But yes he is definitely amongst some huge names up there.
Now, taking us away from the positive and over to the negative, a player that doesn’t necessarily get the stick that others do when he doesn’t perform as well as we saw last season.
After a World Cup that let’s be honest, didn’t really see him break a sweat in the England shirt. Trent Alexander-Arnold was untouchable last season, the then teenager keeping Nathaniel Clyne out of the right back spot all season.
This season however, he has looked uncomfortable in possession, and is seemingly having a World Cup hangover from a tournament he barley featured in. For me personally, his crossing which was a skill that he particularly excelled with last season, appears to have disappeared.
Defensively he hasn’t looked anywhere near what he was last season and going forward he’s been almost none existent. I know he’s only young, and I know he’s been away over summer, but you have to wonder what is going on and why his style of play appears to have changed dramatically.
Moving onto our second of the two positives. The new boy that a fair few fans doubted before his arrival. Xherdan Shaqiri. The Swiss wizard has three assists in 120 minutes for Liverpool, which is more than any of our front three (or our full backs) have managed in more than double the game time.
If you looked at the games he’s played from an entertainment point of view, as well as a performance point of view, there’s no argument against it, he has been much more exciting to watch than both Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah so far.
I think that no matter what Klopp wants as his first choice team, there has to be a point where (assuming all players are fit) the manager has to look at his squad, hold his hands up and admit that one of his two wingers might need just a game or two on the sidelines for Shaqiri.
It might even give them the motivation that they need to kick on from their lacklustre performances of late and really start firing them in like were used to seeing – granted neither of them are out and out strikers but they were still the main source of our goals last season.
Finally, the last player who I think needs to improve is Roberto Firmino. This was a difficult decision as he is one of my personal favourites, but Bobby is the shadow of what he was last season. Now he’s not necessarily playing badly, but as a striker he’s having no where near enough chances or even anywhere near the involvement that a player like him should have.
Arguably our most important player last season, probably one of the most underrated in the world, and add to that his energy and work rate that he gives every game, this season he just doesn’t seem to be having the luck of the draw.
It’s almost like he’s focusing more on constantly running and keeping himself going than he is actually playing football and trying to attack. We all understand that he’s adapted and become less of a finisher and is quite suited to the attacking midfield role, however, when he’s lacking the ‘attacking’ aspect of that position we’re left with two wingers that aren’t playing overly well as our only real options for scoring.