Why Liverpool's best players are taken for granted
Who is Liverpool’s best player?
Who is Liverpool’s player of the season?
Who is Liverpool’s most under-appreciated player?
These are all questions that are probably impossible to answer in truth, to varying degrees. Everyone has their own opinions of course, as people are wont to do, but that doesn’t mean there’s a definitive or even consensus answer.
I bring up these questions not to try to answer them, but because I want to highlight how some players can get more credence, and more praise than others.
Specifically based around three players: Mo Salah, Alisson Becker and Virgil Van Dijk.
Compare the praise that Salah, Van Dijk and Alisson have received this season to the praise that, for example, Henderson, Mané and Trent have received.
None of this is to degrade the excellent seasons those three players are having, all three have been brilliant.
Mané’s goal return has been solid again, and he’s added to the creative side of his game which has been extremely important to the team.
Since December, Henderson has stepped up massively to fill the void left by Fabinho and turned his season around to put together as strong a three months as he has in a Liverpool shirt.
And Trent is just an incredible kid, managing to be the second most creative player in the league and a key source of ball progression, as well as holding his own defensively.
But none of them play as consistently well or as consistently as important as Alisson, VVD or Mo.
Van Dijk is the easiest case to make, simply because he’s the one that most people recognise as being unbelievable.
Van Dijk deservedly won the Player of the Year trophy last time out, and came 2nd in Ballon D’Or voting.
Since then he has played every minute of Liverpool’s Premier League and Champions League campaigns, presiding over a Liverpool defence that has shipped just 15 goals in 25 games, and less than one expected goal a game.
Van Dijk was the second best player in the world last season and this year his levels haven’t dropped one iota. He remains the best centre-back in the world by a mile, probably the best player in the Premier League and unquestionably the one single player that Liverpool cannot survive without.
Liverpool’s defence is absolutely a team performance, but the calmness, control, leadership and skill that Van Dijk bring to the table are the lynchpin that holds the team together.
You can’t really do individual stats with defenders, so I won’t try, but there’s a reason Liverpool probably have the best defence in Europe, despite the fact that none of Van Dijk’s central defensive partners have made it to 1000 PL minutes yet.
Moving on slightly to Alisson, who has quietly become the best keeper in the world by a comfortable margin.
Liverpool have conceded seven goals in Alisson’s 16 full games, compared to eight in nine when Adrian has played.
Just digest those numbers. Adrian has been pretty solid when coming in for Alisson and less than a goal a game is nothing to be sniffed at but seven in 16 is bonkers.
With Van Dijk, Gomez and Alisson together for a run of 10 games, Liverpool have conceded one Premier League goal. One.
That’s the difference between a top four defence and a supreme, title-winning defence. Alisson has made one mistake this season, and was punished for it against Brighton. But other than that, how many times has he put a foot wrong, or let in a shot he should have saved?
It’s absolutely fantastic to have a goalkeeper that week in week out you can trust to do everything that is asked of him and more.
And yet when the conversation rolls around to Liverpool’s players of the campaign, Alisson’s name is not mentioned. Granted, he’s only been able to feature in 17 games, but that will translate to 30 more than likely before the season is over, which will be nearly as many as Henderson and Mané depending on how many of the remaining games they play, and both are being named as POTY candidates.
Then there’s Mo Salah, who has been the best forward in the Premier League for three seasons now and still constantly gets overlooked.
Across the Premier League and Champions League, Salah has 26 goals contributions in 2430 minutes, which is 93 minutes per goal or assist.
Comparatively, only Sergio Aguero’s 21 goal contributions in 1369 minutes across PL and Champions League (at a gobsmacking 65 mins per goal or assist) and Gabriel Jesus’ 19 in 1524 at 80 mins per goal or assist stack up. Mané has played 180 minutes less with six less contributions.
On top of that, Salah is Liverpool’s most creative player from open play this season, just as he was last season and the season before that.
For each of the three seasons he has been at Liverpool, Salah has been the lynchpin that the attack has been based around, simultaneously their top scorer, most creative player and the player who the entire attack runs through.
It’s rightly been pointed out that Salah wasn’t at his best in the calendar year of 2019, partly due to injury and fatigue, but even that notwithstanding, comparing almost any other footballer in the Premier League’s best year to Salah’s off-year and the Egyptian comes up trumps in just about every category.
So there we have it folks, three players who are, simply put, a cut above the rest of their teammates and probably three of the top four or five players in world football.
And yet for some reason, they don’t necessarily get as hyped or as loved as some others in this Liverpool team and they certainly haven’t this season.
And to get to the crux of the article, a big part of why that is, is that we’re used to their genius. Van Dijk and Salah have both won POTY trophies, Alisson was named goalkeeper of the year last year, Salah hit 32 goals in his first league season, VVD was named runner up in the Ballon D’Or nominations. The fact that all three have all but kept those same standards (albeit in Salah’s case with output down from Messi levels to merely best in the Premier League levels) doesn’t seem to have mattered because they’ve already been praised to death.
What more is there to say about these three players other than to reiterate the praise they’ve already received?
But don’t let them be slept on, they’re still the best three players in the Premier League.