Part 4: Underachievers and Overachievers
When you come within two games of a historic quadruple, you would expect most players to have had a good year. Rather than trying to figure out who was good Where great Where better, then, we sat down to try to determine who had exceeded expectations. And on the other hand, we wanted to find out which players we had high expectations for at the start of the year weren’t quite up to scratch.
I can’t start without repeating that this whole season was all about outperformance. Sixty-three appearances for the men, a few trophies, over 90 Premier League points. Additionally, on the women’s side, the team was promoted to the Women’s Super League. It’s hard to pick a singular gifted when the whole fucking club is purely I went.
Was it Klopp, perhaps, pushing our club to such heights. Was he the most successful? Was it the B team, players like Caoimhin Kelleher, Kostas Tsimikas and Taki Minamino, who almost single-handedly brought us those two domestic trophies that eluded us under Klopp? Or new recruits like Ibrahima Konaté and Luis Diaz who immediately made an impression? How about Joël Matip, who has had his best season with us since signing, mainly by staying in shape?
As for the underachievers, for me it has to be Naby Keita, and it all comes down to fitness and consistency. It’s tough when you’re in and out of the lineup and Jordan Henderson, Thiago and Fabinho to compete with, but it’s been three seasons and considering his transfer fee, we’re well past any grace period to settle in and I felt like last season was his last chance to prove he could be the player we thought we would sign regularly.
I’m going to disagree a bit and say Top 4 in midfield has been the best for me, and that includes Keïta. The biggest concern last offseason was who would replace Gini Wijnaldum’s minutes given the injury histories of Thiago, Henderson and Keïta. Thiago and Keïta missed a bit of time, but they still managed 39 and 40 appearances respectively, which is more than really expected of them.
Meanwhile, Henderson only missed two matches, and they were due to illness, not injury. He made 57 appearances which led the team, although at times he might have looked a little tired because of it. Add 48 appearances for Fabinho and the Reds’ four most important midfielders have consumed far more minutes than anyone could have realistically expected.
Which in turn brings me to my underachiever. I was incredibly excited when Harvey Elliott started looking like he was going to be a real contributor. After his first few appearances, it looked like we had a star. Then the injury happened. The injury was out of his control, and I’m obviously not holding time for him, but given how good he looked in the first few weeks, I was still hopeful that he could be a great replacement to his return. Instead, he got stuck in the pecking order and often didn’t make the bench, which was disappointing after how bad he looked in those first three appearances.
In a season where so many collective overtakes have been achieved, it’s rather odd to single someone out for underperformance, but the slow road to exile for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has certainly been the most depressing thing. to see for me. He didn’t play once for Liverpool after the cup game with Nottingham Forest which is quite amazing considering the backlog of fixtures Liverpool have faced. He still has his moments but these are becoming increasingly rare, and when he is on the pitch, the team has seemed poorer. It will be a sad end to a career at Liverpool that started with so much promise, but this seems to be the end we have reached.
For the overachievers, there are plenty of names we could go with, but I’ll have to go with Kostas Tsimikas. On and off the pitch he brought energy and became a vital and beloved member of the team, and his FA Cup-winning penalty will play over and over again as a highlight for years to come. .
This team was so good from top to bottom that picking an underperformer seems unfair. Since I have to choose someone, I’ll go with Curtis Jones. I’m a big fan of Jones and I think he has the chance to become a legitimate world-class midfielder in this team. After some very good performances last season and the departure of Gini Wijnaldum, I thought he might have a chance to step in and play a more regular role. While he often didn’t play badly, it’s probably fair to say he didn’t take that risk, and his penchant for shooting from range when there are better options can be frustrating.
As for the overachievers, there are more than a few options. I think Joel Matip best fits the bill, though. The lanky defender has remained fit for most of the season and has played the most minutes for Liverpool since joining the club. He’s been quietly stellar all season on the defensive front and added three goals and three assists on top of that. He also led the team in progressive carries (275) and progressive distance carried by 90 (244 yards).
I feel bad to single him out due to his age and talent, but like Gabe, I expected Jones to take a step forward this year and instead he seemed to take a step back. The main problem – and what often led to the frustration of watching – seemed to be the desire to do too much. To aim for individual glory rather than firing a better-placed teammate. The good news is that while he understands he doesn’t always have to do everything himself, all the talent to be a key contributor for Liverpool for a long time is there. But he must understand this.
As for the other youngsters, I agree that Elliott doesn’t have much of a role in the second half. Injuries like the one he suffered can take a long time to recover – and recovery can mean more than just being able to run and train. Speaking of injured players, I also thought Keïta generally wasn’t bad this season and was even exceptional at times, but at this point I’m not sure I’ll stop waiting for the other shoe to drop every time he’s starting to play well.
To focus a bit on the overachievers, for me it’s a close race between Matip and Tsimikas, and as we always knew he was a top CB and the main thing that Matip overachieved was his record of injuries, I will go with the Greek of Liverpool Scouser. Tsimikas came forward and pleaded to be one of the top ten left-backs in the game. It’s just bad luck for him that Liverpool also have the best left-back in the game in the squad. Still, as long as it’s durable, it’s a good problem to have. Honorable mention also to Taki Minamino. His role has never gone beyond the margins, but without him we don’t win the two national cups.
Everyone outdid themselves. Everyone has done so much. They just kept running. All I did in the season was watch and feel exhausted from watching, then take a lot of naps.
On a more serious note, I think I agree with everyone who has ever pointed to both Jones and Oxlade-Chamberlain as people who may not be living up to their potential. I also struggle to say if a few other players may have underperformed towards the end of the season or were just burnt out.
As for the outperformers, it’s Kostas Tsimikas. This sleep-deprived perfect human had an incredible start to his career at Liverpool. What an addition to the team. Special thanks to Divock Origi, too, for going over The narrator before getting the expulsion he deserved from the club.
A world-class team like Liverpool usually doesn’t outperform as much as expected quality. Alisson taking it to another level, the stark difference day and night highlighted by Virgil Van Dijk’s presence in the side compared to his absence last year, Thiago’s offhand brilliance in the middle of the park. All remarkable but all, at least to some extent, probably expected.
Joel Matip demonstrating new uptime capability is probably as close to an over-performer as you can get in a team so good they almost won the quad. The Cameroonian has thrived alongside Van Dijk this season, locking up a starting spot and relegating new signing Ibrahima Konate to the bench for much of the campaign. Playing foil against Van Dijk, Matip’s world-class progression from the back was at times the key route to goal against low blocks. The lanky defender even finished one of his slalom runs with a cleverly chipped finish against Leeds to cap off a brilliant individual season. Konaté is certainly the future, but if he can stay fit, Matip will remain the present.
It seems hard to label players barely considered adults as underachievers, but for the most disappointing campaign it was arguably between Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott. Elliott’s case is more understandable, and coming back as quickly as he did from a horrific ankle injury takes a lot of character. However, the excitement surrounding the youngster entering the campaign – a hype train led by Jurgen Klopp himself – may have set the bar for expectations a bit too high. Still, he’s only 19 and it’s true that he still masters the professional side of the game. We may not have had the promised season these opening weeks, but I have a lot of patience.
Jones, on the other hand, was expected to take another step this season. Since bursting into the consciousness of Reds supporters two seasons ago after that stunning Merseyside derby winner, he was widely expected to follow Trent Alexander-Arnold’s path in the first team and brings that attacking threat from midfield that Keita has never been able to provide consistently. Nine games missed with a freak eye injury robbed him of pace, but even Klopp admitted Jones ‘needed a bit of a push sometimes’, and the local boy’s inability to winning playing time as his talent suggests should be counted as a disappointment.