By Lewis Rooke – @LV_Rooke
Whatever the outcome of the season come this weekends final set of fixtures, this campaign has indeed been one to remember.
Having notched an astonishing 94 points already, the Reds go into the final day of the season not knowing where the Premier League trophy will reside come the moment the whistle blows, bringing an end to the most competitive season arguably in the history of the division.
A season that has consistently lived on the edge as Liverpool and Manchester City have traded places almost on a weekly basis at the summit, most of the time with vital results hinging on last minute goals and inspired individual performances.
With the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Virgil van Dijk receiving plaudits upon plaudits and deservedly so, the spotlight has also shone on the sizeable contribution made by the players on the fringes of the first team.
Xherdan Shaqiri is one such player. Having been drafted in from a relegated Stoke side to add a fresh new option on Liverpool’s bench, the Swiss dynamo began the season in sparkling form – to such an extent he earned a starting spot in the side. His finest hour was his game-changing brace against Manchester United to give Liverpool a 3-1 win.
The case of another fringe player, Daniel Sturridge, is like chalk and cheese to that of Shaqiri. Expected to leave the club after a disappointing loan spell at a relegated West Brom, the Englishman looked to have absolutely no place in a Liverpool squad that had moved so far past his lack of mobility and work rate.
Despite this though, he has made as large a contribution as anyone this season – having scored a 25-yard thunderstrike against Chelsea to rescue a vital point.
Similarly, Divock Origi looked as out-in-the-cold as anyone ever has at the start of the season, having underwhelmed in a loan spell at Wolfsburg where he was shipped off after falling out of favour with Jurgen Klopp. Yet despite this, Origi has arguably had the most memorable impact of anyone on the fringes.
Having been embroiled in a 90 minute stalemate against Everton, Klopp threw the tactics board out of the window and rolled the dice on Origi to capitalise on any scraps – and capitalise he did. As the final minute rolled in the Belgian gambled on a Jordan Pickford fumble and nodded home for an unlikely yet vital three points.
He also got the deciding goal against Newcastle to keep Liverpool firmly in the title race, reaffirming how crucial a role he has played this season. And there are no new words I can offer about his stellar performance in leading the line as the Reds performed the unlikeliest of comebacks against Barcelona in the Champions League.
Naby Keita arrived at the club expecting to slot right into the first team and take the midfield to the next level. While that expectation didn’t come to pass and he has had to settle for bit part roles here and there, latterly this season he has come into his own – contributing with goals and good performances. Come next season I expect his confidence to soar and cement his first team place, but after a slow start – his performances on the fringe have been impactful to our season.
Another important person to mention here is Joel Matip. Having been relegated to the position of fourth choice centre back at the start of the season by Joe Gomez’s superb form, Matip found himself catapulted into the starting eleven courtesy of a serious injury crisis in defence. The Cameroonian truly seized his chance, and while he might look ungainly, he has filled in admirably for both Gomez and Lovren.
With the curtains drawing to a close this incredible season, should Manchester City somehow drop points against Chris Hughton’s Brighton, the stage is set for someone to earn legendary status for Liverpool in their final match against Wolves.
Is there a chance for yet another fringe player to make themselves a hero?