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Five Liverpool improvers who are beginning to impress

The Boot Room

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Liverpool‘s revival since Christmas week has seen the Reds’ season turn from a non-event into one where they are suddenly right in the chase for a top four finish, very well placed to win the FA Cup and possibly in with a shout for the Europa League. It’s a far cry from the mid-December misery which engulfed Anfield, when an early Champions League exit and a 3-0 hammering by Manchester United added salt to Liverpool fans’ gaping wounds from a season that, up to then, had delivered so little.

The upturn of form for Brendan Rodgers’ team since then has been helped in part by the return from injury of Daniel Sturridge, who despite being out for almost five months has looked as sharp as ever, although several players whose pre-Christmas performances drew no shortage of criticism are now showing signs that perhaps they do merit their place in the home dressing room at Anfield. Looking at five men who have improved considerably along with Liverpool’s fortunes, maybe it is no surprise that things are beginning to click for Rodgers and co.

 

Simon Mignolet

After a decent first season at Anfield, the opening months of Mignolet’s second year on Merseyside saw the Belgian called into question on quite a few occasions. While at times he was not helped by the feebleness of the defenders in front of him, some of Liverpool’s concessions were certainly down to goalkeeping errors. Any team pushing for success must have a dominant, authoritative man between the sticks, and unfortunately Mignolet did not fit those categories in autumn 2014. He flapped at crosses and set pieces, his positioning was off and far too many of his goal kicks and clearances were aimlessly booted into touch in a manner that a rugby out-half would love to achieve.

When he was dropped in favour of Brad Jones for the visit to Old Trafford in December, Mignolet could have been forgiven for thinking that his time in Liverpool may have been coming to an end. However, Jones’ misfortune in picking up an injury at Burnley on Boxing Day was to be his fellow netminder’s huge opportunity and the Belgian has not looked back since. He recently said in an interview that, during his displacement before Christmas, his fiancee advised him not to think too much about in-game decisions and, since returning to the team, Mignolet has looked much more commanding and assertive. The doubt-ridden number one of earlier this season is now an assured beacon of confidence and, in the vital wins over Tottenham and Crystal Palace last week, he was arguably the main reason why Liverpool collected three points instead of one at Anfield and don’t have an FA Cup fifth round replay on the horizon.

 

Mamadou Sakho

When you spend £15million on a central defender, you can rightfully expect him to be a commanding rock of comfort at the back. For a prolonged spell at the start of this season, Sakho was providing as much comfort to Liverpool fans as a knife-wielding maniac who had broken into your house. The supposed tower of physicality who had played so impressively for Paris Saint-Germain and France was instead a clumsy, oafish player who far too often failed to execute the basics of defending. Careless in possession and clueless when facing set pieces, he then committed a dismal error at West Ham in September when, with the ideal opportunity to clear his lines, he casually played the ball towards the middle of the field, where the Hammers gladly seized possession to put the seal on a 3-1 victory. After bailing from Anfield when dropped for the Merseyside derby a week later, surely the end was nigh for Sakho in a Liverpool shirt?

He came back into the side for the 2-2 draw with Arsenal three months later, with Martin Skrtel’s 97th-minute equaliser proving to be the turning point in Liverpool’s season. The Reds have kept five clean sheets in their eight Premier League matches since then and, to his credit, Sakho has been central to that new-found and overdue solidity. He can still be sloppy with the ball at his feet within 30 yards of his own goal, but how many times has the Frenchman put in a firm yet immaculately-timed challenge to halt an opposition attack? Remarkably, Liverpool have a higher win percentage this season with him in the team than with any other player, so perhaps the cries to dispense with his services have been premature. Unlikely as it seemed five months ago, he represents a far more assuring option in central defence than Dejan Lovren, who is stuck in the type of rut in which Sakho previously found himself.

 

Lazar Markovic

When analysing Liverpool’s nine purchases last summer, at the time it did not seem a very shrewd piece of business to lash out £20million on a 20-year-old Serbian winger who had a few impressive cameos for Benfica in the Europa League. Markovic’s early weeks at Anfield were not easy, with the youngster looking like a flashy bits-and-pieces player rather than a footballer of substance. He certainly didn’t seem to have the physicality to make it in the English game and, even for his tender years, he had a habit of taking the wrong option on the ball. The frightful moniker of Milan Jovanovic was beginning to be bandied about, a reference to another Serbian attacking midfielder who came to Liverpool in 2010 with a glowing reputation but soon left as one of the club’s biggest duds of modern times.

Since the turn of the year, Markovic has proven that he does have the talent and work ethic to succeed at Liverpool. His man of the match performance at Sunderland was capped by an early, decisive goal and he has been a fixture in the first team ever since. He has improved his spacial awareness considerably and looks confident rather than hesitant when in possession. Opposition defenders are finding him a tough nut to crack and another cool finish against Tottenham last week showed that Markovic may ultimately prove worthy of the sizeable fee he commanded over the summer. Also, seeing as he won’t be 21 until the week after next, there is still plenty of time for him to get even better.

 

Jordan Henderson

With Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge taking most of the acclaim for Liverpool’s title charge in 2013/14, the contribution of Henderson in midfield was often overlooked. Like Markovic, he came to Anfield as a 20-year-old with a lofty reputation and transfer fee, only to struggle initially before growing into a key player. Henderson has a different skill set from his Serbian team-mate, one which isn’t as noticeable to the naked eye, but the decision to award him the vice-captaincy proved that he was an invaluable figure at Anfield. In truth, he wasn’t fully appreciated until he served a three-match ban towards the end of last season and his absence was glaring in the games against Chelsea and Crystal Palace where Liverpool let glory slip.

In the early weeks of this season, without the brilliance of Suarez and Sturridge ahead of him, Henderson seemed to have taken a step back. It was as if the quality of the much-feted SAS helped the England midfielder to raise his game, and without those two strikers he regressed. Then, when Steven Gerrard announced just after the New Year that he was leaving at the end of this season, it became known that Henderson would be his successor as captain. In the weeks since, the ex-Sunderland man has again embraced the responsibility thrust upon him and, at 24, is at the same stage of his career as Gerrard was when he was the heartbeat of Liverpool’s European Cup triumph a decade ago. Henderson looks a man reborn and Rodgers may not have to go looking too far at all for a successor to the iconic Gerrard.

 

Mario Balotelli

Let’s face it – from the moment that Liverpool announced the signing of Balotelli, we all knew that the Italian striker wouldn’t be far from the headlines. While the fireworks, darts and funny hats antics of his Manchester City days have thankfully passed, instead Mario was providing comic relief of a different kind, this time in front of the Sky and BT cameras at packed stadia. With his only pre-Christmas goals coming against Ludogorets (Champions League) and Swansea (Capital One Cup), it was beginning to look as if a goalkeeper could score in this season’s Premier League before Balotelli did. Whatever chances he did get, he wasted, and he often looked as if he quite simply could not be bothered. Speculation grew as to whether Rodgers would cut his losses altogether in January, just as Rafael Benitez did six years ago in ruthless fashion with Robbie Keane.

Fast forward to 10 February – Liverpool are drawing 2-2 at home to Tottenham in a vital game that the Reds, for all of their first half chances, should have put to bed in the opening 20 minutes. As Balotelli is sprung from the bench, Liverpool fans everywhere groan. In the 82nd minute, Adam Lallana delivers an inviting low cross into the Spurs penalty area and the moody Italian turns it into the net. That elusive Premier League goal had finally arrived and what a time to score it. Also, in stoppage time with Spurs chasing a third equaliser, Balotelli closed down opponents at every opportunity, something that seemed unthinkable only a few weeks ago. His impact off the bench against Crystal Palace on Saturday, where he returned the favour to set up Lallana for the winning goal, again showed that maybe this much-criticised character does have a future at Liverpool. Two decisive substitute appearances do not suddenly make Balotelli a miracle worker, but there are signs that, like his team, he is on the right track.

The Boot Room is a football analysis website, bringing original and creative content to the fans of the English Football League.

Liverpool

Liverpool target Besiktas’ Anderson Talisca would add superb attacking depth

The Brazilian has recorded 28 goal contributions in Turkey this season.

Max Cohen

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Anderson Talisca
Photo: Getty Images

After Besiktas’ 5-1 home win over Sivasspor on Saturday, manager Senol Gunes strongly hinted that star attacker Anderson Talisca would be joining Liverpool this summer.

The possible signing of the Brazilian midfielder would be a superb acquisition for Liverpool, adding depth and quality to the club’s star-studded attack.

According to FourFourTwo, the Besiktas manager confirmed Talisca would be leaving the Turkish club for the Premier League after two years on loan from Benfica.

And Gunes dropped a massive hint that put Liverpool as the possible frontrunners in attaining his signature ahead of Manchester United.

“He might be rivals with Cenk Tosun,” Gunes replied when asked about Talisca’s English destination.

Of course, former Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun plays for Everton– leading many to jump to the conclusion that Talisca is headed to Anfield instead of Old Trafford.

(Photo by Ozan Kose/Getty Images)

The signing would represent a strong statement of intent from the Reds, as Talisca has enjoyed a stunning two seasons at Besiktas and is a burgeoning attacking talent.

In 47 appearances this season, the 24-year-old was involved in an impressive 28 goals, scoring 20 and assisting eight.

And the Brazilian’s past form shows this fantastic season is not a one-off. In 2016/17, Talisca bagged 17 goals and six assists, despite only featuring 33 times in all competitions.

While some might argue that the Turkish Super Lig has a poorer defensive standard than the Premier League, Talisca has proven his worth in European competition as well. In his time at Besiktas, he has notched five Champions League goals, as well as two goals and four assists in the Europa League.

The Brazilian youth international would add impressive offensive depth for Liverpool, as the Reds look to seriously challenge for the Premier League next season.

The purchase of the prolific attacking midfielder would be an ideal first step in assembling a squad that could bring Anfield its first league trophy in over two decades.

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Champions League

Gareth Bale’s red-hot Real Madrid form should scare Liverpool

The Welshman has scored 11 goals in his last 15 appearances.

Max Cohen

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Gareth Bale
Photo: Getty Images

In Real Madrid’s final league match of this season on Saturday, Gareth Bale swept home a lovely right-footed finish to open the scoring against Villarreal.

That goal marked the Welshman’s 11th goal in his last 15 appearances for club and country; a remarkably prolific run of form that should scare Liverpool ahead of next weekend’s Champions League final.

Injury problems have marred much of Bale’s time at the Bernabeu, and he suffered a lengthy two-month absence from the first team this fall.

Yet, after returning from his injury lay-off, the former world-record signing has hit full form in the last two months.

In that time period, the winger has scored a hat-trick for Wales, braces against Las Palmas and Celta Vigo, and a crucial goal versus Barcelona.

This spring resurgence presents a worrying prospect for Liverpool’s defence, who already will have their hands full trying to keep Cristiano Ronaldo in check in Kiev.

(Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Add in Gareth Bale hitting full form, and suddenly the task at hand for Jurgen Klopp’s men appears far more difficult.

The 28-year-old also has quite the decorated history for los Blancos in cup finals. In his debut season for Real, Bale scored sensational winning goals in both the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals.

The following season in the European Cup final, the Welshman assisted Real Madrid’s sole goal and scored his penalty in the ensuing shoot-out; his cup final record is simply superb.

Combined with Bale’s recent tremendous goalscoring form, the prospect of facing up against the powerful winger might strike fear in the Liverpool backline.

But the Reds have proven adept in stifling some of the best attacks in Europe this season.

Liverpool famously restricted high-scoring Manchester City to just one goal over 180 minutes in the quarterfinals and the Reds will have to conjure up that heroic rearguard performance in order to stop the on-form Gareth Bale next weekend.

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Liverpool

Liverpool should turn to Steven Gerrard and Rangers to solve their Rhian Brewster problem

Liverpool are struggling to keep the teenager, but a move to Ibrox would see him work with new Rangers boss and Kop legend in Glasgow.

Mathew Coull

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Liverpool are facing something of a battle to keep hold of their star young striker Rhian Brewster. The young England talent, who was sensational for England’s under-17s in their World Cup triumph last summer, has been heavily linked with a move to German side Borussia Monchengladbach. In fact, the approach from the Bundesliga outfit has been anything but amicable.

Liverpool know they have a top talent in their hands in the form of Brewster, but he obviously fears for his first-team opportunities at Anfield.

What Liverpool need to do is present the young striker with a clear vision for his future and it should involve club legend, Steven Gerrard.

(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

The former Liverpool captain has recently taken his first steps into management with Scottish giants Rangers. Now he will be looking to improve his options at Ibrox, as they look to catch Old Firm rivals Celtic.

Brewster has in fact been linked with a move to Gerrard’s Glasgow rivals, but it would be a better move for the teenager to head to Ibrox.

Under the guidance of former Liverpool under-18 boss Gerrard the striker would be more likely to play first-team football.

The deal would offer the talented striker what he wants, regular first-team football. Rangers would be happy with any deal. His arrival would be welcomed and would add some fresh firepower to the attacking ranks at Rangers.

(during the International Friendly match between Sydney FC and Liverpool FC at ANZ Stadium on May 24, 2017 in Sydney, Australia.

Meanwhile, Liverpool will know he is in the trusted hands of a club legend who will do all he can to ensure Brewster continues to mature, all whilst hopefully improving Rangers’ frontline.

Presenting a full plan for his development would give Brewster the desire he needs to remain at Liverpool. Heading to Ibrox would then be a perfect opportunity for him to start finding the net and adapting to the men’s game.

A Rangers loan switch makes perfect sense for all parties.

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