Ranking Every Liverpool Midfielder This Season
Liverpool have had an up-and-down season on the pitch, with some excellent results and performances being tempered by some well below-par displays and some less-than-impressive defeats, both in league and cup play.
Central to some of this inconsistency has been the playing squad getting used to a new way of working with manager Brendan Rodgers, who has particularly changed the shape of the middle of the team as well as the amount of ball retention they are expected to contribute to.
Having said that, of late there has been a marked improvement in both style and tangible results, giving hope that the Reds can end the season in good form as they look to build for next season.
The midfield has seen 15 different players take to the field wearing the Liverbird crest this season, comprising central and wide players, offensive and defensive, experienced pros and impressionable youngsters, veteran Reds and incoming debutants.
Of course, such a change in the central area of any team is bound to throw up some problems as well as tantalising insights into how the shape of the team will progress, but by and large Rodgers will be fairly happy with how his midfield has grown during the course of the season.
Here is every Liverpool midfielder for this season, ranked by how they have performed over the course of the Reds' 44 competitive matches so far.
Honourable Mention: The Irregulars
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Firstly, a quick mention for the four midfielders who have played just a handful of games between them for Liverpool this season.
Made two appearances for the Reds at the start of this season before being sold on a permanent deal to Stoke City.
Also moved on early in the campaign, on loan for the season to Bolton Wanderers, but played three games before making his switch.
Made his senior Liverpool debut in the Europa League away to Anzhi Makhachkala in November—his only game of the season so far.
Signed from Inter Milan in January and has so far made three appearances for the Reds, scoring once and claiming two assists on Saturday as the Reds dismantled Wigan. If he had shown this kind of form since the beginning of the season for Liverpool he'd be in the running for a high finish in this list, but it will be hard for him to maintain that kind of consistency in the remaining 10 matches of the season.
He's one to watch for next season, for sure.
11. Joe Cole
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Joe Cole: 10 games, two goals. Attacking midfield right/left.
No particular surprise to see Joe Cole propping up the list.
The former Chelsea attacking midfielder returned from a loan spell in France to battle for a place in Rodgers' squad, but he was never likely to get a chance ahead of some promising youngsters. Cole played a role in the European squad this season and made fleeting sub appearances in the league, but by and large he was merely a squad filler.
And an expensive one.
He scored an important goal against West Ham in the league shortly before departing the club in January, heading back to the Hammers on a free transfer.
Out of form, out of fitness and out of luck. It sounds like his story of this season at Liverpool, but it could just as easily apply to his entire Reds career.
10. Nuri Sahin
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Nuri Sahin: 12 games, three goals. Deep central midfield; attacking central midfield.
Things started well for the playmaker, as he was involved in the team regularly and scored goals against West Brom and Norwich, but more often he found himself unable to control matches playing in a more advanced role than he was used to.
Perhaps a victim of circumstance with Steven Gerrard playing in Sahin's usual role, he was unable to recapture his best form and lost his place in the side when Lucas returned from injury.
Sahin ended his loan spell early to return to Real, then immediately signed a loan deal with former club Borussia Dortmund.
9. Oussama Assaidi
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Oussama Assaidi: 11 games, no goals. Wide forward, left.
Moroccan winger Oussama Assaidi lit up Anfield with some scintillating early Europa League displays, but he has been unable to transfer that form to the domestic league—largely because he's only been picked to feature three times in the Premier League.
Tricky, with good acceleration and the ability to pick out his man in the penalty box from wide areas, Assaidi looks to have a great potential as an impact player, but he is simply unable to force his way into the team.
There is every chance he could leave Liverpool after only one season this summer if he continues to be marginalised.
8. Jonjo Shelvey
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Jonjo Shelvey: 29 games, five goals. Central midfield; attacking central midfield.
Shelvey started off the season as one of the youngsters benefiting most from Brendan Rodgers' approach to giving the new generation of Anfield stars a chance and impressed early on.
His goals in the Europa League were initially of particular importance, though he also provided a real competitive edge and aggression in midfield, which Liverpool badly lacked at times.
Unfortunately he lost his place after a straight red card against Manchester United, never really recapturing his form or confidence thereafter.
He has only featured sporadically in the Liverpool team since the turn of the year and, though he still has time on his side to make his mark, must surely see that other players are well ahead of him on current form and what they offer the team.
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Suso: 18 games, no goals. Attacking midfielder, centre/right.
Teenage playmaker Suso got his break in the Europa League at the start of the season and forced his way into the Premier League first team, but returns to form and fitness for various senior players have seen him edged out again more recently.
Suso has shown excellent technique and vision at times, though an understandable lack of experience has also reared its head.
Though he has shown flashes of real ability playing through the centre, it is probably from the wide-right role, cutting infield, where he was able to get more time and space on the ball to showcase his quality.
Suso might not feature too much more for the remainder of the campaign, but with almost 20 games under his belt in his debut season, he can regard it as a success to be built on.
6. Joe Allen
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Joe Allen: 35 games, two goals. Defensive midfield; central midfield; attacking central midfield.
Joe Allen was arguably Brendan Rodgers' flagship signing of the summer; the man who knew how the manager wanted to play and had the quality to step up from Swansea to Liverpool.
At first it seemed a perfect transfer. Allen was Liverpool's best performer in the early days of the season and carried the team over some troubled early displays. His passing was exemplary, and the manager indicated that Allen would be even better later in the season.
With Lucas injured for the start of the season, Allen's first—and best—months at the club were spent in the holding role, the deepest of the midfielders. Since Lucas' return he has moved forward alongside Gerrard in a two, at first, and most recently to the point of attacking midfielder ahead of Lucas and Gerrard behind him.
Allen lost his place for a spell after his dip in form, which he has yet to recover from, but Allen himself along with the team are on a path of gradual improvement, and he has played his part in the season already.
5. Lucas Leiva
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Lucas Leiva: 21 games, no goals. Defensive midfield.
Having worked his way back from a long-term injury to be a part of the Liverpool team again at the start of the season, Lucas was devastated to injure himself again in August against Manchester City. This time he spent almost three months on the sidelines, before finally making his way back on a more regular basis.
Understandably, Lucas took some time to find a good level of form after missing a year of football, but it is also noticeable that he has not been able to find the same mobility and aggression in his game that he had before his initial injury.
Lucas plays an important role in this Liverpool team that is so intent on maintaining pressure and possession high up the field, and despite being a very good player, he has not been able to prevent the Reds getting hurt on the break this season.
Whether he is still just finding his way back to top physical condition or whether the alteration in Liverpool's tactical deployment is the underlying reason, the fact remains that Liverpool need considerably better from the defence's protector if they are to significantly progress.
4. Raheem Sterling
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Raheem Sterling: 35 games, two goals. Inside forward, right/left.
Having barely had the merest taste of senior football before this season, Raheem Sterling quickly established himself as the player in the squad with the most appearances to his name around the turn of the year.
His direct play on the ball made him an exciting addition to the Liverpool side that was lacking in creativity, pace and an ability to run at defenders in the final third.
From September to November, Sterling was as important and impressive as anybody else in the Liverpool team, but there is no doubt that his form dipped from December onwards. This was a natural and expected state of affairs, given that the 18-year-old had not before experienced the pressures of needing to perform game in, game out at the top level of the game.
Sterling needed the break, and clearly he still needs one, but fans can rest assured that he will have laid down a great foundation for his career this season. He might get a few more cameos before the end of the campaign, and next season he might be used more sparingly altogether, but his pace, ability on the ball and effectiveness in the penalty area will all be important assets to the team next term.
3. Stewart Downing
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Stewart Downing: 35 games, four goals. Wide forward, right/left.
Save for a three-game spell at left-back earlier in the season, Stewart Downing has played most of his time this season on the right of Liverpool's attack. Occasionally, depending on the rest of the attack, he has played on the left side, but certainly his better performances have been on the opposite side.
As Downing lined up in defence in the Europa League in October, amid rumours of him being available for transfer in January, few would have thought the former Aston Villa man would win a regular spot back in his preferred role.
Fast-forward to March, though, and Downing is as guaranteed a starting role as anybody else in the squad not named Gerrard or Suarez.
His consistency has improved immeasurably, he contributes greatly not just to Liverpool's on-the-ball activity but also their tactical alignment, and he provides width at the right times, while also allowing Glen Johnson space to operate in effectively.
An increase in his end product is the most impressive improvement, though, with goals and assists flowing far more freely over the past few months.
2. Jordan Henderson
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Jordan Henderson: 34 games, three goals. Central midfield; attacking midfield left/centre.
Another who has had spells out of the team, Jordan Henderson has, over the last five months, really shown why he should be regarded as an important part of the Liverpool team.
He doesn't always make the starting XI for five or six games in a row, but Henderson brings a mixture of aggression, pressure off the ball, stamina and technical ability that make him a valuable commodity either off the bench or picked to start specific games.
Henderson will rarely disappoint this season, having found his confidence and form, and he contributes significantly to the attacking phases of play.
He has also operated in five different positions this season, including right-back and left forward. His attitude and mental strength to work his way back into the team should be applauded, and fans should realise that all teams need a player like Henderson.
Maybe not the flashiest, not always going to score 10 goals or dribble past five players, but certainly able to put in a shift, do the job the manager requires of him and let others play their game for the betterment of the team.
1. Steven Gerrard
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Steven Gerrard: 38 games, eight goals. Central midfield.
So it has ever been.
Liverpool's captain and leader, inspiration and saviour: Steven Gerrard has been the Reds' best midfielder this season.
It wasn't always clear-cut at the beginning of the season; individual errors dogged his game as he became accustomed to a shorter passing routine and operating from a deeper role, but from October onwards Gerrard has returned to his magnificent self.
A creative fulcrum from deep, an attacking presence with his retro-style late bursts into the box and even a humdinger or two from distance, this was Gerrard as he was originally fashioned: playing central to everything the team does and doing it with quality.
Gerrard has also improved as the season has gone on with his pressing, his tracking of opponents and his ability to make important interceptions in his own defensive third, while losing none of his skill in making defence-splitting passes from deeper areas.
Having played every minute of every league game this season so far, Gerrard's importance and effect on the team cannot be questioned—and the fact he is Liverpool's second-highest scorer this season in all competitions indicates that he still has so much to offer, despite playing a far more withdrawn role.
Future success will be determined by Liverpool's ability to manipulate the transfer market effectively, but everything they achieve will go through Gerrard first.