Although this season is still in its early stages, some players have stood out for their respective clubs. For Liverpool, as a fan, I’ve found it refreshing that rather than just one or two players standing out, it’s been a handful and much more of a team effort, than outstanding individual displays. Here though, is a look at some of those who have helped Liverpool’s impressive team effort thus far.
Adam Lallana is a player that can divide opinion and most certainly frustrate. There can be no question of his technical ability, but his end product has always been in question. As a part of the attacking midfield trio it was his over indulgence on the ball, be that too many turns or touches, that would slow attacks and bring groans. He was the ‘nearly’ player – nearly scored, nearly created a chance, nearly, nearly, nearly. Jürgen Klopp moving him deeper into a more attack minded box-to-box midfield role has capitalised on his incessant work rate and alleviated the destabilising effect he could have on counter attacks. This, coupled with a seeming encouragement to be more direct in possession and being allowed to break the lines with late attacking runs has resulted in him playing an important role in Liverpool’s good early season form. Whilst his performances have not been spectacular, they have been good and fitted in ideally with the midfield system Liverpool are employing. If Lallana is able to maintain this level of performance, it could not only redefine his career, but also see him cement his place in Klopp’s plans for Liverpool going forward.
Another player who had struggled to find his way at Anfield was James Milner. The former England winger looked lost in central midfield and despite his doubtless endeavour, was going to be up against forcing his way into one of the wide attacking roles. With concerns over Alberto Moreno’s positioning and decision making, Klopp turned to Milner as a surprise alternative for the left-back slot and handed Milner an opportunity to become a regular starter. After a difficult first couple of appearances, Milner has begun to adapt well to his new position in a system that allows him to consistently attack. His attitude and willingness to learn, despite being a veteran, has seen him make the left-back spot his own.
Roberto Firmino impressed many last year in his debut season with some fantastic displays and a good haul of goals and assists to his name. At previous club Hoffenheim he was primarily used behind the striker or as a wide forward, but last season Klopp often utilised him as a striker against the better teams away from home. This season has seen him used more in that role, but with a slightly different system, he has been able to switch and interchange positions much more fluidly. Along with his work rate and skill, this ability to create space fits seamlessly with his awareness of team mates and has seen become an integral part of the attack, with goals to boot.
Much was made of Sadio Mane’s £34m arrival from Southampton in the summer. He showed at St. Marys that he could be devastating on his day, but there were a lot of inconsistencies in his game. At Anfield he has quickly established himself with pace, power, directness and output. He has added another dimension to the Liverpool attack and is always available as an outlet, whilst so far performing at a consistent level. If he can continue as he’s started, Liverpool’s only concern with him will be who can cover him when he is away on ACON duty in January.
Another summer signing was defender Joel Matip on a free transfer from Schalke. Whilst his height helps on set pieces, his calmness and ability on the ball are his stand out qualities so far. Liverpool are very much a possession side, so his ability on the ball is important, especially when he is required to carry the ball into midfield or to drive into that area to break an opposition press. Matip may not be an all action defender who catches the eye by throwing his body into blocks and making last-ditch tackles, but his smart play and positioning has allowed him to quietly settle in and be an important member of this Liverpool defence.
I have only mentioned five of Liverpool’s leading performers so far this season; I could also have spoken how well Jordan Henderson has now adapted to his deeper role in the team. I could also have elaborated on how efficient and disciplined Georginio Wijnaldum has been in his midfield role that essentially facilitates others to shine or how Nathaniel Clyne has dutifully struck that fine balance between attacking and defending. So, rather than one or two stand outs, Liverpool truly have been a team stronger than the sum of its parts – a quality that Klopp will likely take particular pleasure from.