Ranking Liverpool's Top 3 Players over the Busy Christmas Period

Scott BurnsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2014

Ranking Liverpool's Top 3 Players over the Busy Christmas Period

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    Despite narrow defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea over the festive period, Liverpool can enter 2014 with their heads held high, knowing they more than matched their big-spending rivals.

    Following impressive victories over Tottenham Hotspur and Cardiff City, Brendan Rodgers' men went on to taste defeat twice in the space of three days.

    They did, however, bounce back in style, defeating Hull City 2-0 at Anfield in a performance described by Rodgers to Sky Sports as "Liverpool's best of the season."

    After taking early leads in both encounters, the Reds left both the Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge with nothing and were left to rue a number of questionable refereeing decisions that went against them.

    Impressive team performances led to a number of standout individual displays.

    A number of players displayed a level of maturity that they perhaps previously lacked and in turn went toe-to-toe with some of the most gifted players in the country.

    While the likes of Simon Mignolet and Mamadou Sakho—despite settling well into life on Merseyside—arguably did not cover themselves in glory, others proved that they had the stomach and the fight to perform well in big games.

    The likes of Jon Flanagan, Philippe Coutinho and Joe Allen did their reputations no harm during their side's recent outings but fail to make the definitive list.

    Read on to see who—in this writer's opinion—were Liverpool's three standout performers of the Christmas and New Year period.

     

No. 3: Jordan Henderson

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    December 2013 was the month that Jordan Henderson went from boy to man, the month in which he well and truly cemented his place as a key member of Liverpool's side.

    He has previously had his critics, but in the absence of influential captain Steven Gerrard, Henderson seized his opportunity to be the driving force in Liverpool's midfield.

    The former Sunderland man repaid the faith shown in him by Rodgers with one goal and two assists from mid-December onward, according to ESPN, and a man of the match performance in the 5-0 drubbing of Spurs at White Hart Lane.

    At the moment—after Luis SuarezHenderson is arguably the first name on the Liverpool teamsheet, something that would have been unthinkable just 12 months ago.

    It is testament to how far he has come under Rodgers and at the moment looks a different player to the one who lumbered from one position to another under Kenny Dalglish.

    Henderson deserves credit not only for his performances but for his work rate, commitment and attitude.

    Despite at times being somewhat of a laughing stock to those outside of Anfield, he has never complained, always given 100 percent and even played through the pain barrier to dominate the midfield at White Hart Lane.

    He has not looked out of place battling the likes of Yaya Toure, David Silva and Eden Hazard in recent weeks and was arguably the standout midfielder on the pitch during the defeat at the Etihad Stadium.

    His understanding with Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Coutinho is really blossoming and will only get better as the Reds look to cement their place at the top of the table in 2014.

    2014 could be the year that Henderson really kicks on, and don't be surprised to see him make the plane to Brazil as part of England's World Cup squad.

    A future Liverpool captain? In this writer's opinion, yes.

     

No. 2: Luis Suarez

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    He was always going to make the list somewhere. In fact, many may argue that he should be No. 1.

    Never mind the busy festive season, Luis Suarez has been absolutely breathtaking throughout the whole of 2013.

    As you always get with Suarez, he has again been involved in his fair share of controversy, but boy has he put that behind him!

    According to ESPN, he has managed five goals and three assists from mid-December onward, which further enhanced his claims to be named PFA Player of the Year for the 2013/14 season. 

    What is so special about Suarez is that he is a rare breed of striker that can score any type of goal. Headers, tap-ins, volleys, long-range strikes and free-kicks are all part of his repertoire.

    His goal record this season has been phenomenal, 20 goals in just 15 appearances has seen Suarez storm to the top of the Premier League scoring charts, seven clear of nearest rival Sergio Aguero.

    Despite failing to find the net against both Manchester City and Chelsea, he played a huge part in Coutinho's goal at the Etihad and tormented Vincent Kompany and Co. throughout.

    The feisty Uruguayan was unlucky not to have earned his side a late penalty in both encounters as both Joleon Lescott and Samuel Eto'o appeared to illegally impede the striker in the penalty area.

    David Maddock of the Mirror reports how Suarez's form has led to Brendan Rodgers tipping the striker to break the record for most goals (34) in a Premier League season, a record jointly held by Andy Cole and Alan Shearer.

    With the Uruguayan tied down to a new and improved contract and showing a newfound maturity on the field (Suarez has captained the Reds three times in December), everything seems to be in place for him to break the record and fire the Reds into next season's Champions League.

No. 1: Raheem Sterling

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    In recent weeks Liverpool fans have seen the Raheem Sterling that burst onto the scene in the opening weeks of the 2012/13 season.

    The England under-21 international has been sensational in recent weeks, striking fear into many of the country's top defenders.

    The likes of Michael Dawson, Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta and John Terry have looked unable to cope with a man who, in this writer's opinion, could go on to be a true Liverpool great.

    In the opening two or three months of the 2013/14 season, Sterling appeared to be a shadow of the player that fans saw last season.

    He lacked confidence, he couldn't beat a man and his final ball was terrible. In fact he was highlighted by this writer in a previous article as a player who needed to improve if Liverpool were to challenge at the top of the table.

    December couldn't have been any more different. He was at times unstoppable, gliding past defenders like they weren't there in a way that—dare I say it—John Barnes used to.

    Two goals and one assist from mid-December onward doesn't tell the whole story.

    In the absence of Daniel Sturridge, Sterling has forged an almost telepathic understanding with Luis Suarez and has made it impossible for Brendan Rodgers to leave him out. 

    Sterling has something in his armoury that scares the life out of any defender: raw pace, and bags of it.

    He is far from the finished article but does appear to have added goals to his game, and with working on his finishing in training, it is likely Reds fans will see him gobbling up the kind of chance he squandered late on against Manchester City.

    Despite that miss, if Jordan Henderson was arguably the standout midfielder on the pitch then Sterling was arguably the standout player.

    If the Reds had won the match he would most likely have been named man of the matchhe was at the forefront of everything Liverpool did going forward. His link-up play with both Suarez and Coutinho brought back memories of the John Barnes-Peter Beardsley-John Aldridge combination.

    As is the case with Henderson, do not be surprised if Sterling forces his way into Roy Hodgson's England squad for this summer's World Cup.

    If he carries on in the form he has shown in recent weeks, he will be impossible to ignore.

     

    Don't agree? Comment below on who you think should of made the list and why.