It’s been a long wait, thirty years to be precise, but Liverpool can finally call themselves champions of England.
No one, including the previous incumbent Premier League winners Manchester City, has ever before performed at the kind of level that gets you 28 wins from 31 games in this competition. Until Jurgen Klopp’s team got to work this season, that is.
With seven matches remaining of this season, which came to a temporary halt in March following the coronavirus outbreak, the Reds are 23 points clear, have tasted just one defeat and have drawn twice.
Liverpool have broken and reset Premier League records aplenty, but within their group are notable star performers or others deserving of special mention, and we are going to honour them with our own custom ‘awards’.
(The season is, of course, ongoing, and so we’ll update you as to the final standings after 26 July.)
The Every-minute Man: Virgil van Dijk
Klopp has used a settled team during Liverpool’s championship-winning campaign. No fewer than 13 players have appeared on 20 or more occasions for him, and only three of those have featured in every game to date.
In that small pool is Roberto Firmino and Trent Alexander-Arnold, but it is colossus Dutch centre-back Virgil van Dijk alone who hasn’t missed a single minute of Premier League football.
It’s nothing short of a testament to his incredible fitness. His signing in January 2018, a then-world record fee paid for a defender, has ultimately paid dividends. Liverpool were on the up, but Van Dijk’s signature was the missing piece. Very few marshal a rearguard like him and prove a threat going forward. His four goals in the league this season is more than a welcome return. It’s more than any defender in the competition.
Assist King: Trent Alexander-Arnold
Months into the season, a discussion regarding Alexander-Arnold’s future was being held. It had nothing to do with leaving his boyhood club but rather whether he’d remain playing at right-back. Jamie Carragher, a fellow Liverpool academy graduate, put forward his belief that he could develop into a ‘Kevin De Bruyne-type player’ for the Reds.
“What makes him special is that it’s like having Kevin De Bruyne at right-back,” said Carragher while working for Sky. “He’s like a midfield player.”
Which is not exactly an outlandish statement to make, considering ‘TAA’ used to call midfield home at youth level. And most importantly, Alexander-Arnold is registering similar numbers to the Belgian playmaker in that so far this season he’s created no fewer than 78 chances in the Premier League. Twelve of those have been converted by a Liverpool teammate, meaning is he one away from breaking his own competition record for assists by a defender.
The John Barnes award: Mohamed Salah
Despite their superiority, Liverpool are not the league’s top-scorers. Presently, they are just seven goals behind City, who have scored 77 times across 31 games. But they have two players with 15 or more goals, which cannot be said for any other club. Both are firmly in the race for this season’s Golden Boot. Sitting two strikes away from race-leader Jamie Vardy (19 goals) is Mohamed Salah, who could end the season having more goalscoring history yet again.
Since the Premier League’s inception, only Alan Shearer (1994-95 to 1996-97) and Thierry Henry (2003-04 to 2005-06) have secured a Golden Boot three-peat. It would be asking too much for Salah to match the record 32 goals he mustered two seasons ago, but his total from last time out (22) should be doable. That will require the Egyptian forward to net at least five more in the remaining seven games. Interestingly, it will be one more than John Barnes, Liverpool’s top-scorer in their last title-winning season.
Most Underrated: Joe Gomez
There is only so much praise to go around. And so in every successful team, no matter the sport, there are those whose integral contributions go a little overlooked. We see a number in this Liverpool side, but one stands above the rest, even though he should be considered top quality in his own right.
Having largely begun the campaign on the sidelines, playing just 107 minutes across the Reds opening 15 games, Klopp would turn to Joe Gomez, who looked so promising in the past alongside Van Dijk, following Joel Matip’s injury and he never looked back.
From matchday 17 to their most recent win over Crystal Palace, he would play 14 times and the team would concede four goals. The one game he missed happened to be their only defeat of the season, against Watford. This period yielded six consecutive clean sheets in the league. But because it coincided with Jordan Henderson’s surge into the spotlight while Fabinho was on the shelf, Gomez’s influence went under the radar. Now injury free, he’s realising his immense potential.
Most Entertaining: Sadio Mane
Flair and Liverpool have long gone together and this current incarnation is full of entertainers. But few, if any, bring the joie de vivre like Sadio Mané, who alongside Salah is also in the hunt for this season’s aforementioned Golden Boot. Both are cast in the same mould as wide forwards but retain just enough individuality to make them different.
The always affable Mané’s style is service with a smile, and the service he provides is destroying opposing defences, using his speed and guile to directly attack opposition full-backs. Accordingly, the Senegalese forward is Liverpool’s take-on king, having completed 55 dribbles (which is currently 10 more than Salah). He has also won 39 fouls for Liverpool in the league this season, more than double the respective figures posted by Roberto Firmino and Salah.
The Overachiever: Jordan Henderson
The loss of talismanic captain Steven Gerrard in 2015 left a huge inspirational void in Liverpool’s midfield. Henderson, who studied the former England captain as his teammate, was tasked with filling his shoes. Much like how Michael Carrick followed Roy Keane at Manchester United, the Sunderland native instead carved out his own path, and led the Reds differently.
He’s shone tremendously this season, going from a trusted figure to potentially the Player of the Year. As things stand, it’s very much between him and De Bruyne, who’s been equally influential. By getting his dues (a long time coming in some quarters), Henderson is receiving the kind of praise his manager Klopp regularly bestowed on him following his arrival to English football in October 2015.
The Golden Ratio award: Alisson
Defence wins championships, and Liverpool have a pretty mean one. If Van Dijk was the missing piece, then by signing Brazilian shot-stopper Alisson, again for a then world-record fee positive-wise, the Reds changed the game. His first season was spectacular and this one has been equally ridiculous. The numbers are mind-boggling.
An injury on the opening weekend against newly-promoted Norwich forced him to sit out seven consecutive games due to a calf injury. Since returning, he’s missed two outings but incredibly kept 12 clean sheets while conceding 11 goals, a remarkable statistic that just proves what level Klopp’s team are operating at.
Away Day Hero: Roberto Firmino
Anfield has been a fortress this season. The 16 home wins in as many games are a testament to this. But home form alone doesn’t win you the league. Liverpool have needed to be imperious on the road, with 12 wins and one defeat from 15 played but in terms of goalscoring, three other clubs are more prolific. A peculiar stat related to this is 31% of their away-day strikes were provided by Roberto Firmino.
The Brazilian ‘false nine’ scored eight goals so far this season. All of those were registered on the road, meaning just three Premier League players (Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Vardy and Raheem Sterling) have scored more away goals this season.
You have to go back to March 2019, a 2-1 win over Tottenham, for his last home goal. There’s three more chances of him amending that with Aston Villa, Burnley and Chelsea still to visit Anfield.
Special Recognition award: Gini Wijnaldum
If the manager, in this case Klopp, loves you, then you’re doing something right. As touched upon earlier, Liverpool have more or less a settled first eleven and, when everyone is fit, it’s quite easy to name. Where it becomes interesting, however, is the composition of his midfield given the plethora of players at hand.
It’s fair to say Georgino Wijnaldum is a shoo-in, especially on the back of another stellar campaign. At the start of the season, the versatile Dutch midfielder was dubbed “perfect” by his boss, who feels “he has all the things you need [to be the perfect midfielder].”
Wijnaldum, much like Henderson, is finally getting those mainstream props, again long overdue from some. But at least it’s there now out in the open.
The Steve Nicol award: James Milner
If there’s one thing Klopp appreciates in a football, it’s selflessness. There’s a reason Kevin Großkreutz was the fourth most-used player under him at Borussia Dortmund. The former German international right-back was dependable as they come, able to slot into various roles without causing a fuss. Having a utility man is advantageous, especially when you are looking to change a game.
That man for Liverpool is undoubtedly James Milner, who has so far played in no fewer than four positions this season. He’s been effectively performing this role since joining from City, and there was that 2016/17 campaign when he was their defacto left-back. After signing a new deal, expect more of the same from Milner going forward.
Team player: Divock Origi
It’s hard being left out but football is a collective enterprise. To be a professional is to understand this. Everyone wants to start but there’s something uplifting about the manager turning to you in his hour of need. Of course, no game is the same. On most occasions Liverpool had been cruising to all three points, so when Klopp does make a change it’s not always reactive.
That being said, Divock Origi symbolises what it means to be a team player. No one has come off the Liverpool bench more times this season (18). This also fits his newfound cult ‘super-sub’ status, which he cemented last term. He’s seldom created a fuss, publicly at least, knowing full well no matter the role, there’s a bigger picture.
Rookie of the Year: Curtis Jones
Bringing players through has always been the Liverpool way and Klopp, long before taking up the reins at Anfield, was partial to giving the next generation an opportunity. He’s been true to himself in this sense and because of that we may have seen a future star in the making this season. Though his biggest moment didn’t contribute to the Reds’ league success, it nevertheless deserves a mention.
— Liverpool FC (Premier League Champions 🏆) (@LFC) January 5, 2020
Curtis Jones grabbed that chance by the horns in their FA Cup third-round meeting with Merseyside rivals Everton, scoring a belter to knock Carlo Ancelotti’s team out. The 19-year-old central midfielder made his Premier League debut in December and may now get more minutes after the championship was secured with seven games to play.