2016/17 was a tough season for Divock Origi. There were ups, such as that brilliant solo goal against Bournemouth from a tight angle but there were also downs, with the striker averaging just 0.9 take-ons and a shot accuracy of 48%.
That makes for a poor comparison to 2015/16 in which Origi enjoyed a fine campaign, netting in both legs against Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League quarter-final. He proved to be a useful tool on the counter-attack, while contributing in the defensive third with some good off-the-ball work.
However, months of frustrating form last season put the brakes on his momentum, with the Belgian fulfilling a peripheral role within Klopp’s side. Losing out to Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge in the pecking order, the 22-year-old struggled to hold up the ball, losing possession too easily and providing a hindrance to Liverpool’s attack fluidity. Thus, this season is a hugely important one for Origi. He;s got all the traits to be a good player for The Reds with a return of 11 goals last year marking a decent return, but as it stands it’s going to be hard for him to break into Klopp’s plans.
Any chance of doing so won’t have been helped by Dominic Solanke’s impressive pre-season form.
The 19-year-old was highly thought of at Chelsea, both by his former-teammates and the then manager, Jose Mourinho, who tipped him to become a senior England international under his tutelage.
He went from strength to strength for the Under-18s and Under-21s, scoring 41 goals to guide his team towards the Youth Cup and UEFA Youth League. Going out on loan to Vitesse in 2015/16, Solanke enjoyed another promising campaign, registering seven goals in 26 games. An impressive goal-scoring record to say the least, Solanke came to Liverpool with an auspicious reputation. Although it’s only early days on Merseyside, the 19-year-old is beginning to show exactly why he was so highly thought of.
He may not be an Aubameyang or Lacazette type player that so many fans craved this summer, but Solanke has hit the ground running and given plenty of evidence to suggest he could be a very shrewd bit of business. He showed bright movement against Crystal Palace, recording his first goal after turning the defender well on the edge of the area before striking the ball into the bottom corner. That was followed up impressively with a pin-point header against Hertha, latching on to a lobbed ball by Adam Lallana to steer beyond the goalkeeper’s reach.
Much like his performances during England’s Under-20s World Cup triumph, it’s not just Solanke’s goals that have caught the eye. He’s held himself up well against physical defences, bringing his teammates into the game while tracking back – much to the delight of his new boss.
Dogged in his pressing, working hard both on and off the ball, Solanke’s willingness to do the ugly side of the game has seen him fit well into Liverpool’s demanding philosophy. That will spell trouble for Divock Origi, who has failed to impress in quite the same manner during pre-season. There is no doubting the Belgian has quality at his fingertips, but his current role in the pecking order will result in another season with limited chances.
Roberto Firmino is Klopp’s go-to man while Daniel Sturridge is by far the most ruthless option in front of goal, a trait that could see him feature heavily in Liverpool’s Champions League campaign. That leaves the domestic cup competitions open for Origi and Solanke to compete with one-another, along with various rotational options that a rigorous new season will require. Based on current evidence, it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise to see Solanke feature more heavily than Origi. The 22-year-old has his best years ahead of him but he’s got to take his game to the next level if he wants his fortunes to change.
There were times last season when he appeared to really struggle in holding up the ball and easing pressure on the defence, while Solanke has shown quite the opposite thus far. The Belgian would do well to keep one eye on his new teammate, who, based on recent evidence, appears to be a real gem of a signing for Liverpool.