A Big Season Ahead For Some Liverpool Players

A new documentary entitled Jordan Henderson is Never Done was released this weekend, lifting the lid on what people inside Liverpool Football Club think of the captain. I am not afraid to admit that I love the man, considering him one of the best captains that we’ve ever had. Note that I’m not referring to him as one of the best players, but being a captain is about so much more than what happens on the pitch. That isn’t to say that I don’t rate him as a player, of course, yet there’s no doubt that the likes of Graham Souness and Steven Gerrard will go down as all-time greats from a playing perspective. What the former Sunderland man offers both on and off the pitch is leadership that can’t be faked. Whether it be his work supporting LGBTQ+ causes or his work to combat cyber-bullying, he does the job of representing Liverpool supporters in a way that should be applauded by all. It never will be, though, because some people are idiots.

Too many don’t seem to appreciate that Henderson does the work that the manager wants him to, instead thinking that the midfielder should be doing what they want. As if people have refused to learn from what Gini Wijnaldum did at Anfield or what has happened to Naby Keïta since being signed by the club, they criticise the captain for not doing something he isn’t supposed to be doing. People seemed to be genuinely amazed that Wijnaldum played one way for Holland and another for the Reds, as though he was just ignoring Jürgen Klopp’s demands and doing what he fancied. Equally, there is a confusion over why Keïta was one player when he was at RB Leipzig but appears to be a totally different one for us, rather than accepting that midfielders are cogs in a Klopp system, asked to do jobs that allow the team to play better as a whole. This season represents a chance for players to prove themselves to the manager, but which ones?

The Kids Can Be Alright

Harvey Elliott had most people sitting a little closer the edge of their seats at the start of last season, such is the promise that the youngster showed during the opening matches of the campaign. Who knows what his season might have gone on to look like if he hadn’t picked up the injury that he did against Leeds United. The teenager has clearly got bags of talent and I think that part of the reason why Jürgen Klopp doesn’t seem as keen to find a midfielder in this transfer window as most supporters are is that he thinks that Elliott can step up. For me, the only criticism that I have of him is that he’s sometimes a little too willing to defer to those around him, constantly looking to shift the ball off to the likes of Mo Salah instead of taking defenders on himself. My hope is that he starts to grow in confidence as the season progresses and we begin to see him fulfilling the promise that we can all see. It will be interesting to see whether Fabio Carvalho suffers from a similar need to defer.

Curtis Jones is another player that I really want to see come on a level during the campaign. There can be no questioning Jones’ self-confidence, but I do think that he needs to find a balance between the player that took on matches with verve and excitement in the youth teams and the one that is being far more sensible in the first-team. It feels as if the coaching staff have been asking him to make better choices, yet that doesn’t seem to have clicked yet. He often seems to shoot when he should pass and pass when he should shoot, so I’m really hoping that some pre-season work will help him to find the balance. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain almost certainly moving on this summer, there is a place in the squad for a player that is able to drive at the opposition and ask questions of them, which I believe is in Jones’ wheelhouse. Given the question marks over the fitness of Keïta, Henderson, Thiago and even Fabinho, to say nothing of Milner’s age, he’s likely to see a lot of playing time so needs to make it count.

The Defence Has Room To Improve

On the one hand, it seems odd to talk about a defence that conceded just 26 goals, the same number as Manchester City, having room to improve, but it’s also true. As much as I totally disagree with the idea of pointing to one or two matches as the reason that we didn’t win the title, the reality is that scoring three goals against a newly promoted side should be enough to see us take all three points, yet we dropped two. Similarly, Brighton & Hove Albion scored just 42 goals all season, but two of them came at Anfield when we were 2-0 up. There were some dropped points, such as those against Manchester City and Chelsea, that you take on the chin. There were others, like the 1-0 loss to Leicester City and the 3-2 defeat to West Ham, that are harder to stomach. Whether we like it or not, Virgil van Dijk is getting older and sooner rather than later we won’t be able to depend on the Dutchman in the same way as we have in the past.

It is with this in mind that I think it could be a big season for Ibrahima Konaté. The Frenchman said in the post-season that he knows he can learn from his central defensive partner, questioning why it is that he runs so little and realising that it is all to do with his positioning. Someone will need to step into van Dijk’s shoes when he’s missing games, so I’m hopeful that that could be Konaté’s job. Meanwhile, Trent Alexander-Arnold is already considered to be one of the best right-backs on the planet, but he has a big season ahead of him proving that he’s able to constantly be improving. He won’t want to rest on his laurels, so don’t be surprised if he starts the campaign like a steam train. The relationship that he has with Salah on the righthand side is top-notch, but if he can take things up another level then it will be scary. As for the Egyptian King, he has his eyes on the Balon D’Or, but will need to get back to his consistent delivery if he wants to win it next time out.

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