Article by Paul Hemming – Follow @pdjhem
Welcome to the second edition of Top of the Kops. Here’s how things stood last time:
1. Naby Keita – most talented player, great start, great energy
2. Mo Salah – main goalscorer and ****-scarer of defences
3. Virgil Van Dijk – stalwart, leader and distributor
4. Roberto Firmino – fulcrum of the attack, tireless, irreplacable
5. Sadio Mane – best player for last 2 months of the season (and so nice he even plays keep-ups with mascots)
6. Alisson – the need for a gk doesn’t need elaborating on
7. Andy Robertson – his back-up is Alberto Moreno
8. Fabinho – showed more positional discipline in meaningless friendlies than other mids in top-table clashes
9. Dejan Lovren – form for Croatia, strong end to the club season, Matip’s continued injuries
10. Trent – still learning, very promising start for Eng, Nate Clyne’s passing
11. Jordan Henderson – England’s best player at the World Cup, is he still a starter for Liverpool?
11. Jordan Henderson – This was really close between the skipper and Georginio Wijnaldum. The latter has certainly improved lately but is just so poor technically. He killed a few promising moves against West Ham simply because his first touch was so excruciatingly bad.
Meanwhile Henderson led Liverpool in interceptions despite being on the pitch all of twenty minutes. While displaying none of the rust you’d expect in a player who returned so late from the World Cup. It’s really tough because of how well all are playing but expect the midfield, when everyone’s fit, to be Keita, Henderson, Fabinho. So the captain stays in, just.
10. Trent Alexander-Arnold – Overall, Sunday wasn’t his best day at the office. Liverpool as a whole seemed a bit too keen in the early stages and Trent’s crossing was symbolic of this. Overhit pretty much everything and gave the ball away with a few sloppy passes.
However, he did lead the side in tackles won and provided a consistent outlet on the right wing. He’s never afraid to receive the ball and always looks to do something positive with it. Part of the reason he does give the ball away is because he attempts so many long balls. Of which he usually completes a good amount.
9. Joe Gomez – You might argue that he could be higher given Liverpool’s issues at centre-back. Gomez has tons of potential. He’s much quicker than any of the club’s other non-Van Dijk options (tbf a traffic cone is quicker than Matip). And a better passer.
JG’s size will come under scrutiny but honestly how often does a Liverpool centre-half need to be aerially dominant? It’s not as if they play Burnley every week.
Frankly with the high line and attempt to dominate possession – pace, technique and anticipation are much more important. Gomez has all three. Dejan Lovren would do well to remember what happened when Alberto Moreno limped off last December, never to regain his place in the starting XI.
8. Alisson – Will surely place higher when the games in which he’s truly needed start to occur. Yet even with his limited involvement thus far the Brazilian has had an impact. A huge part of being a goalkeeper is transmitting confidence to your defenders. If defenders think that their ‘keeper has a good chance of bailing them out, it makes a massive difference.
Something to watch for: there was a point on Sunday when Alisson plucked the ball out the air and immediately launched it upfield, over the top of the defenders, for Salah to chase. Reminiscent of those ‘Reina to Torres’ passes which were so effective a decade ago. It didn’t come off on this occasion but it’s yet another weapon at Liverpool’s disposal.
7. Andy Robertson – As last time it’s worth noting that he’s the only thing protecting Liverpool and their goal from Alberto Moreno. On top of which the Scot got off to a flying start (no pun intended) on Sunday. His tireless overlapping and crossing were a critical part of the first two Liverpool goals of the season. Another plus, his duet with Naby Keita looked incredibly promising and allowed Mane to play as something like a raumdeuter.
6. James Milner (NEW ENTRY) – It really hurt to leave ‘Milly’ out last time. To do the same on this occasion would have been a travesty. That’s how good this guy’s been. Here are the categories in which Milner led the Reds on Sunday:
Touches (by a whopping 22)
Through balls attempted
Number of stitches
Adam Lallana is often referred to as the ‘teacher’s pet’ but Milner really is perfect for this system and style of play. Tactically smart and athletically beyond reproach, there are no real weaknesses to anything he does. He’s absolutely ideal in that box-to-box role.
When Henderson is fully fit expect him to jump straight back into the side. But Klopp has some extremely tough choices coming given the number of midfield options he has.
5. Roberto Firmino – Being totally honest this is at least partly a nod to where he will be when he’s fully sharp. Yet because of the role he plays its difficult to place the Brazilian any lower. Despite being yet to hit top form, Firmino displayed his wonderful composure and intelligence to slither through a pass for Mane’s second.
Yes the goal was laughably offside. But it’s those body feints and a general awareness which set Firmino apart. Not to mention the still-better-than-most workrate.
4. Mo Salah – The One-season Wonder began this campaign as he left off the last. Grabbed the all -important opener with a perfectly timed run and should have had another. Even more importantly he occupies entire defences. Opposition players panic, overreact and leave space for others. Even if the Egyptian has a bad game he’s more than worthwhile simply as a decoy.
3. Virgil Van Dijk – Most will have seen the stats about clean sheets knocking around. But for those who haven’t, the opposition haven’t found the net at Anfield since February (in the league it must be noted). It’s inarguable that the Colossus and his ‘stop the ******* cross’ mentality must take the lion’s share of the credit. Though those bonuses probably help right?
2. Sadio Mane – Can’t keep ignoring these performances. Liverpool’s best attacking player now going back to about March. Hit the ground running and took 50 minutes to match 1/5 of his league goals for last season. Him on this sort of form all season could take the club to another level. Playing with a ‘you can’t stop me’ swagger. Those worrying about Salah continuing his ludicrous scoring rate aren’t factoring in Mane only grabbing ten last year. Is there anyone who doesn’t see him getting at least fifteen?
1. Naby Keita – Liverpool’s most talented all-around player and best midfielder by a distance. Keita performs a role no-one else at the club can, drawing defenders and opening up space for others. His wonderful versatility saw him operate on the left-wing late on Sunday. Allowed Mane freedom to roam. A stellar debut which will have surprised the complete morons who labelled very much an attacking player as a ‘destroyer’. He’ll destroy your midfield alright.
Fabinho (8) – Hasn’t completely hit the ground running and his injury/illness issues saw him miss out on Sunday. Nonetheless this lad’ll soon be back in. He’s too good. Does all the things you don’t really notice like filling in for players when they move out of position.
Dejan Lovren (9) – By the sound of it he’s going to miss out for a while. May rue his decision not to get his injury dealt with sooner.
Love to hear your thoughts.