5 unlikely players driving Liverpool's top four challenge in 2017
These 5 unlikely players are helping Jurgen Klopp's side finish in the top four of the Premier League.
Liverpool had a terrific start to the 2016/17 Premier League season and were tipped to be title contenders until late 2016. However, 2017 proved to be entirely different as Liverpool not only crashed out of the title race, but also exited the EFL Cup and FA Cup.
Suddenly, the Reds were out of all three competitions and it looked like Liverpool would not make it to the top 4. The absence of Sadio Mane due to his participation with Senegal in the Africa Cup of Nations and the failure of strikers Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge during his absence were two of the main reasons the Reds failed to win games regularly.
On the other hand, a lack of confidence for Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius, and players not stepping up led to bad losses and this drastically hurt Liverpool’s morale. Jurgen Klopp though constantly worked on the defensive aspects and spoke about how the team was learning to react mentally since those losses.
The team once again suffered setbacks with captain Jordan Henderson getting injured in February, Adam Lallana picking up a thigh injury on international duty with England at the end of March and Mane suffering a knee injury in the Merseyside Derby against Everton.
Once again there was tension at the club and in the supporters’ minds, as a top four finish was crucial in terms of playing in the Champions League, its monetary benefits and thereby the chance to buy higher quality players. However, this time the crisis call was answered, and spectacularly, by the Reds.
While Philippe Coutinho finding form or Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren forming a solid defensive pairing are natural expectations than exceptions, a few players who might not have been expected to step up and sustain Liverpool’s top four challenge, are doing exactly that.
So, here are those 5 unlikely players driving Liverpool’s Champions League dreams in 2017.
#5 Roberto Firmino
While a case can be made for how Firmino is not an unlikely player, in reality, he still remains an underrated player in the league. Coutinho is on the radar of top European clubs including Barcelona and recently became the top-scoring Brazilian in the PL. However, since the start of last season, Firmino has been involved in 34 PL goals, which is more than any other Reds player. Yet, he continues to play second-fiddle to Coutinho.
One of the reasons is the dip in his output compared to last season. In the 2015/16 league season, Firmino scored 10 goals and assisted seven more in 27 appearances which included seven substitute appearances.
This season he has played 30 games with just one appearance as a substitute till gameweek 33 and has bagged 10 goals and seven assists. Although his off-the-ball defensive work and intelligence were on display, the goals were lacking as 2017 turned up.
The injury to Sadio Mane, however, seemed to spur him on as he outshone Coutinho in the last two games, and scored his first two match-winning goals for Jurgen Klopp in the league. The winner against Stoke was a world-class goal, while against West Brom, he scored a header off a set-piece outmuscling Stoke’s bigger and stronger defenders. This output to go along with his defensive work really helped Liverpool pick up valuable points in two tough away games.