In light of FSG’s u-turn in the ticket price saga, apologising to the fans and reversing their decision to increase ticket prices, the Liverpool fanbase is once again united in support of the owners who have shown that they really do care about the football club and its supporters. In this sense, the fans are content once more. However, the erratic and largely disappointing results on the field have caused splits in opinion to emerge among Liverpool fans regarding certain players. As Jurgen Klopp assesses his squad throughout the remainder of the season, he will be identifying those who are well-suited to fit his philosophy, and who have the quality to have a longer-term future as Liverpool players. However, some of the players who have come under intense scrutiny and criticism from the fans do not deserve to be immediately written off after a string of poor performances. There is a fickle tendency for fans to see football in binary terms- that players are either good enough, or need to be sold. That’s not how football works.
No doubt, there are some members of this current Liverpool squad who clearly are not good enough to be a part of Klopp’s plans beyond this season. Adam Bogdan is not even a capable backup option in goal- he will be sold in the summer. Simon Mignolet is also a liability, his inconsistency and capacity for avoidable errors continues to cost Liverpool on a regular basis, whilst also failing to instil any confidence in those around him. Liverpool need a better first choice keeper in the summer. Martin Skrtel should also be shipped out the exit door in the summer, as Lovren and Sakho have emerged above him in the pecking order. On his day, he is capable of man-of-the-match performances but like Mignolet, he is far too unreliable. Liverpool need to upgrade their centre-backs in the summer anyway, and Skrtel should not be a part of future plans. Jose Enrique, who somehow still remains at the club despite being more renowned for Mario Kart than playing football, will definitely leave in the summer. Other players likely to move on in the summer include Wisdom, Kolo Toure, Sinclair, Balotelli (if anyone will take him), Luis Alberto (a great shame), and possibly Joao Teixeira who is approaching the end of his contract. These are players who are not good enough to have a long-term future at Liverpool.
However, fans have recently begun to question the credentials of four first team players in particular; Alberto Moreno, Mamadou Sakho, Emre Can and Jordan Henderson. Up until a few weeks ago, all of these players were considered by most to be a core group with a major role to play in the future under Klopp. Now, fans are questioning whether they are even good enough for Liverpool, with some deciding they must also join the list of players who must be shipped out in the summer. It is a common habit among football fans to overexaggerate when results aren’t going well- there is a tendency to focus on the negatives and forget the positives. These particular players have fallen victim to this tendency of late, with many fans seemingly casting aside their impressive performances before this rough patch of form.
In the first few month’s of Klopp’s tenure, Alberto Moreno was one of Liverpool’s best and most consistent performers on a weekly basis. He is statistically the most creative fullback in the Premier League, whilst he looked far more reliable and assured at the back. Mamadou Sakho looked like a genuine top class centre back as well as a proper leader in Liverpool’s defence, as well as displaying his superb range of passing from the back, finally answering the critics over his unorthodox style and supposed lack of composure on the ball. Emre Can was revelling in his box-to-box role, imposing himself against high calibre opponents with his energy and aggression in midfield. Henderson missed virtually the entire first half of the season through injury, but he has long been considered a fan favorite among Liverpool fans and the choice to hand him the captaincy in the summer was mostly met with a wave of approval- just reward for his vast improvement and exemplary attitude shown during his time at the club.
Yet all of a sudden, Liverpool’s current run of poor form has led fans to point the finger at these individuals as players who aren’t of the required quality for a top 4 club, which is where Liverpool want to be next season. Moreno is now regularly referred to as a ‘complete liability’, ‘brainless’ and ‘positionally clueless’, with suggestions that either Jon Flanagan or Brad Smith should be picked ahead of the Spaniard. Mamadou Sakho has received similar criticism, especially for his suspect passing from the back. Fans have become frustrated with Emre Can’s poor decision-making at times and his wasteful use of the ball, whilst Henderson has been labeled ‘completely average’ and ‘simply not good enough’, with claims that he is also not captain material for a club of Liverpool’s stature.
Admittedly, Moreno’s form has dropped off of late. The same can be said for Emre Can. However, at the ages of 23 and 22 respectively, we cannot simply write these players off as ‘not good enough’. They have both played an extraordinary amount of minutes this season, shouldered with a huge amount of responsibility so early in their careers. It is easy to forget that Kevin Stewart, who has received so much deserved praise of late, it older than Can- a senior German international. Fatigue is likely to have played a part in both players’ drop in performance level recently. Clearly Moreno and Can are far from the finished products, and can improve in several areas of their games, but both have shown the natural ability that they should have a role to play for Liverpool in the future. Most certainly, they need stronger competition for their places so that they aren’t automatic starters next season, but we cannot discard such promising young talents.
Sakho is a more complicated case. He was imperious throughout most of the first half of the season, but has badly struggled since his return from injury in mid-December. His risky passing has put Liverpool in trouble on many occasions, and he has been guilty of getting beaten in the air and caught of position far too regularly in recent weeks. This is a player who shows real heart and passion for his team- a true fan favorite. However, it is questionable as to whether he warrants such admiration. Pundits have long been critical of the French defender, and Jamie Carragher recently said in a podcast with The Anfield Wrap that he would feel more confident alongside Lovren than Sakho in Liverpool’s current defence. This is a valid argument perhaps- that Sakho’s awkward playing style, even if well-executed, can make his defensive partner feel less secure. He has shown his ability when playing for the national team, but has struggled to replicate this form consistently for Liverpool. I agree, we should be looking to sign at least one first team centre back in the summer, to either compete with or replace Sakho. Maybe he should only be a squad player for Liverpool. Should he be totally discarded though? I don’t think that’s fair.
As for Henderson, he’s a player I have immense personal admiration for. Over recent years his transition into one of the most well-rounded box-to-box midfielders in the country has been a joy to watch. His all-round contribution is invaluable- every side needs a player like him. Last season, in a Liverpool side severely lacking in attacking quality, Henderson produced 14 assists and 7 goals from central midfield. He combines work rate with creativity and a superb range of passing, as well as chipping in with a fair share of goals. His recent poor form is most likely down to his ongoing heel problem which hampers his mobility- a key aspect of his game. The lack of movement in Liverpool’s attack also forces Henderson to do more with the ball than he ideally should. Such is his importance to the side that Klopp wants him to play whenever possible, and Henderson pushes through the pain barrier for his team. Whether he is a natural captain is another debate, but Henderson has proved his worth time and time again- he is surely a key figure for Klopp next season and beyond.
I am not trying to argue that Moreno, Can, Sakho and Henderson are all top class players- my point is, they should not be ruled out as important players for Liverpool beyond this season. All four are going through a period of poor form at the moment- but then the whole team is suffering. Only really Roberto Firmino is consistently delivering at a high level. These players are all still young enough to develop and have proven they have qualities worth pursuing. This is not to say they should all be first choice options next season- they need competition in the form of new signings in the summer. It is not a case of simply saying they need to be sold. At the very least, they will be important squad players next season and are valuable assets which are worth keeping hold of for the time being.