Five key players who defined Liverpool’s title-winning season
After a convincing 4-0 routing of Crystal Palace mid-week, all Liverpool needed from Manchester City was to drop points against Chelsea in order to lift their first league title in 30 years. So when Christian Pulisic opened the scoring for Frank Lampard in the 36th minute, the Reds’ faithful were duly on the edge of their seat.
But the game was far from finished. City responded in the second period, with none other than their former man, Kevin De Bruyne, restoring the parity by scoring a banger. But when Fernandinho was dismissed late in the game, Willian made no mistake in restoring the advantage, sending the Liverpool players, who were gathered in a hotel to watch the game, into a frenzy.
The celebration broke out into the city, as the Reds were deservedly crowned the new champions of England, with a record seven games still to be played.
Liverpool, who finished only a point behind Manchester City in the 2018/19 Premier League campaign, have lost a solitary game this season, winning a whopping 28 of the 31 Premier League fixtures.
Jurgen Klopp, who is the first German manager to win the English top-flight title in its 131-year history, has carried a distinctive identity at Liverpool; an identity of having one of the deadliest attacking trios, a defence as solid as a rock, and a midfield as commendable as a knight; a team that hasn’t lost at home in the league in three years.
The 2019/20 Premier League season has rightly been a collective effort, but keep in mind that not even a single player has put a foot wrong throughout the season. And thus, picking out five players from the group has been as arduous as it can get. But we gave it a go.
The fact that Liverpool’s most creative outlay this season has been a 21-year-old right-back is exhilarating, to say the least. And when Alexander-Arnold opened the scoring for his side against Crystal Palace this week, he became the youngest Liverpool player to score from a direct free-kick at Anfield in the Premier League since Robbie Fowler in 1995.
In fact, since making his debut in August 2016, the blistering full-back has been directly involved in 30 Premier League goals (five goals & 25 assists), at least five more than any other defender in the span. This season, he has not only accumulated 12 league assists but has also scored three goals, two more than he bagged in the previous campaign.
Alexander-Arnold’s most notable performance of the season came against Leicester City on Boxing Day, when he not only assisted twice but also came on the scoresheet with a fine finish in the corner.
A sure shot contender for the PFA Player of the Year, or even the PFA Young Player of the year.
Virgil van Dijk
A dominant and a consistent presence in the heart of Liverpool’s defence, Virgil van Dijk has brought the serenity Jurgen Klopp was so devoid of. The big Dutchman has played every single minute of the league this season and played a big role his side’s stupendous defensive record, having conceded just 21 goals so far. And for a defender to get a solitary yellow card in 31 league appearances shows how exceptional his tactical awareness has been this season.
Van Dijk, despite being at the club for just two-and-a-half years, has established himself as one of their greats. A player blessed with incredible passing ability and sheer physical might that is bound to terrorise the opponents, van Dijk is amongst several Liverpool players to be in the contention for winning the PFA award this season.
Eight years back, Jordan Henderson was an unwanted commodity at Liverpool, with their then-manager Brendan Rodgers including him in a deal to bring Clint Dempsey to Anfield from Fulham. At present, he is the captain of the same side that lifted a UEFA Champions League trophy and a Premier League title in two years under Jurgen Klopp.
Henderson’s stocks have been on a rise especially in the past couple of years and he has arguably been the most underrated player of his team. His influence can be jotted down with the fact that Liverpool’s win percentage drops almost 13 percent when he is not in the team (56 compared to 68.68 when he is in the team).
The midfielder has been a perfect carrier of the ball, linking his defence to attack, and has scored three goals coupled with five assists this season. Henderson’s role in the team is beyond the playing field, to say the least. The leadership quality he brings along which has glued the team under Klopp has been simply unmatchable.
Mohamed Salah’s ridiculous return of 44 goals in his debut campaign with Liverpool set the bar so high that when he scored 27 in the 2018/19 season, the figure looked seemingly low. The fact, however, remained that no one scored more than the Egyptian that season.
This year, the 28-year-old has accumulated 21 goals and nine assists in all competitions. Although Salah has had his fair share of lows this season, he remains Liverpool’s top-scorer of the season, and no one in the league has scored more than his seven match-winners.
Such is Salah’s quality that despite scoring 21 goals, this figure seems like a moderate return. Maybe it’s time to just appreciate what he brings, rather than collating what he has done in the past.
Salah’s statistics may well and truly shadow Sadio Mane’s return, but there is no denying the fact that the Senegalese, who rejected an offer from Manchester United to join Liverpool in 2016, is as important as the Egyptian when it comes to producing a match-winning effort.
Mane, who has scored 15 goals and assisted seven in the Premier League this season, has been an absolute workhorse for Liverpool, grinding on Klopp’s trademark high-press, and equally efficient in defending at the back.
Underrated? Truly so.
In fact, the Senegalese has time and again been the hero for his team. For instance, against Aston Villa back in November, Mane struck a 94th-minute winner, and in February this year, his goal against Norwich gave his team a deserved victory away from home.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Peter Powell, Oli Scarff, Paul Ellis