Typically, the headlines go to Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane 0r Roberto Firmino when Liverpool triumph.
Behind the star names there are a host of other less feted players who perform an equally important part at every club’s success. The Reds, arguably, know this as well as anyone.
It might have been Steven Gerrard’s sheer force of will which kickstarted the turnaround in Istanbul or Jerzy Dudek’s spaghetti legs which clinched victory against Milan, but Djimi Traore, Stephen Warnock and Igor Biscan all played their part in an unforgettable campaign too.
Even last season, as Jurgen Kloppp’s side reached another European final, the spotlight fell rightly found its way to squad members James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum. Those two are far better players than any of the aforementioned trio ever were, but, equally, they’ll never be the stars of this side.
So if Liverpool are to go one better this term and land silverware, Klopp will have to be able to call upon every member of his squad. Our friends at Football Whispers look at three players who, while unlikely to dominate headline, could have a crucial part to play this season.
The England striker looked set for the Anfield exit at one stage this summer. Loaned to struggling West Bromwich Albion in January, he managed just six outings and 116Premier League minutes without scoring as the Baggies were relegated to the Championship.
While Klopp was always reluctant to say as much, it was evident the 28-year-old, who has not managed double figures for top-flight starts for Liverpool since 2015/16, was not part of his plans. At least not on a regular enough basis to satisfy the player’s desire for minutes.
However, after impressing in pre-season – not least by netting in the International Champions Cup win over Manchester City – Sturridge has forced his way into the German’s thinking and rewarded his manager by netting in the opening-day rout of West Ham.
He will never be first choice, not while Firmino is in such fine fettle, but he offers Klopp a different dimension and being a left-footer is a boon too. And with Divock Origi a Borussia Dortmund transfer target, Sturridge has moved up the pecking order and if he can relieve some of the pressure on Firmino as the club’s one out-and-out No.9.
By the end of last season Liverpool’s midfield was falling apart. The now departed Emre Can and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were both long-term absentees while Adam Lallana was not match fit following a lengthy lay-off, leaving the Reds light in the middle. It was for that reason Milner and Wijnaldum became pivotal figures in the run-in.
It was why Klopp moved to secure the surprise capture of Fabinho from Monaco this summer while Naby Keita’s arrival was anticipated well in advance, giving the Reds’ unrivalled strength in the centre of the park. But it was clearly an area which needed bolstering and the pursuit of Liverpool transfer target Nabil Fekir highlighted the need for someone to link the midfield and attack.
While it was never a case of Shaqiri or Fekir for Fenway Sports Group, snatching the Swiss maestro from relegated Stoke City was a shrewd move at just £12million. The maverick playmaker has not been signed to start week in week out but as an alternative for specific games and situations.
He will be tasked working between the lines against highly structured, deep defences and picking passes f0r those ahead of him in the way Liverpool have lacked since Philippe Coutinho departed for Barcelona in January. Klopp’s focus has been on fast transitions with the pace of Mane and Salah to the fore. With Shaqiri in his deck, the German can looked at more nuanced, considered ways to break teams down.
While Sturridge and Shaqiri are household names expected to play a sizeable part this season, 21-year-old centre-back Phillips has suddenly been elevated into first-team contention by the sale of Ragnar Klavan to Cagliari this week.
The Estonian’s exit leaves the Reds with three senior centre-halves in Virgil van Dijk, Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip while Joe Gomez – most frequently used at right-back by Klopp – is a central defender by trade but a Premier League rookie in his natural position. That means Phillips, who made three substitute appearances at the International Champions Cup totalling more than 90 minutes, can hope to play some part in the first team this season.
While he’s the least likely of this trio to feature in the Premier League, Klopp has shown in the past he has no objection to throwing youngsters into League and FA Cup ties and those competitions have been a good grounding for Ben Woodburn among others.
He was, however, on standby to make his professional bow in the 4-0 win over West Ham United on the opening weekend with concerns over the fitness of Matip, Gomez and and Klavan. In the end Gomez slotted in. But it is a huge show of faith from Klopp that Phillips is, effectively, fifth-in-line to start at centre-half this season.
“Nat has played an outstanding pre-season,” Klopp said of a player who only moved to Melwood from Bolton Wanderers two years ago. In that time Phillips, who is lauded for his ‘old-school’ defensive traits has shone for the Under-23s, overtaking central defensive partner Conor Masterson. Could he emulate Trent Alexander-Arnold’s rise? Time will tell.
* All odds subject to change
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by Tom Bodell