Why Lazar Markovic Was Liverpool's Most Surprising Player in 2014/15 Season

Jack Lusby@jacklusby_Featured ColumnistMay 26, 2015

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - OCTOBER 01:  Lazar Markovic of Liverpool looks on during the UEFA Champions League Group B match between FC Basel 1893 and Liverpool FC at St. Jakob Stadium on October 1, 2014 in Basel, Switzerland.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Going from second-placed positivity to sixth-placed mediocrity will have taken many hopeful Liverpool supporters by surprise in 2014/15, and following this miserable trajectory himself, Lazar Markovic was the Reds' most surprising player for the season.

On joining Liverpool last summer in a £20 million move from Portuguese champions Benfica, Markovic told the club's official website: "I went to Partizan and won the title. I went to Benfica and won the title. Now I have joined Liverpool and want to win the title, 100 per cent."

It clearly didn't go the way the 21-year-old had hoped in his maiden campaign on Merseyside, but how did it go so wrong?

The magnitude of his first-season failure has been a huge surprise. 

Paulo Duarte/Associated Press

£20 Million of Promise

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Continuing his arrival interview, Markovic exuded the sheer confidence of a champion:

I am very happy that I have joined such a great club. I hope that I will fulfil the expectations of the supporters, coaches, players and all connected to the club.

[...]

I have already played in the Champions League with Benfica. It is superb that Liverpool are in it and I hope we will go far next season.

[...]

I watched every game [of Liverpool's in 2013/14] and they played absolutely superb. It is a shame they did not win the title - but I hope we will win it this season.

Given Markovic's performances for Benfica that season, and those of the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling for the Reds in their ultimately failed title challenge, the Serbian forward's arrival looked set to bolster manager Brendan Rodgers' attacking options significantly.

Paulo Duarte/Associated Press

He had scored five goals and made five assists in 25 Primeira Liga games for SLB, spanning 1,655 minutes—at a goal contribution every 166 minutes. For a then-20-year-old, this was a great achievement.

Furthermore, as he was quick to note, he had also made five appearances in the Champions League, as well as eight in the Europa League, boasting considerable experience for a player of his age.

Benfica went all the way to the Europa League final in 2014, eventually losing out to Sevilla.

Still something of an unknown quantity to English football supporters, Markovic looked set to be one of the surprise signings of the season. But it wasn't to be.

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 04: Raphael Varane of Real Madrid CF and Lazar Markovic of Liverpool compete for the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group B match between Real Madrid CF and Liverpool FC at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on November 4, 2014 in M
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

First-Season Struggles

As was to be expected, Markovic underwent a slow bedding-in process under Rodgers, not making his full starting debut for the club until September, in the 1-0 loss at home to Aston Villa.

He started on the right-hand side of the forward line in a 4-2-3-1, supporting lone striker Mario Balotelli along with No. 10 Philippe Coutinho and left winger Adam Lallana.

Predictably, Markovic was slow to start, making more unsuccessful touches (four) than any other player.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 09:  Dejan Lovren #6 of Liverpool reacts as teammate Lazar Markovic #50 of Liverpool is shown the red card card during the UEFA Champions League group B match between Liverpool and FC Basel 1893 at Anfield on December 9, 2014
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

That performance was typical of Markovic's form in the first months of his Liverpool career, and a harsh red card in the Reds' 1-1 draw at home to FC Basel in the Champions League in December compounded his struggle—even when it looked to be going well, with Markovic impressive in his 16 minutes on the pitch, something stood in the way.

"I thought it was an awful decision," Rodgers said after the game, as relayed by the Press Association (h/t the Daily Mail). "I thought the referee was disappointing on the evening to say the least. Markovic came on and was bright, made a difference to the team, he was dynamic."

At least the manager was encouraged, and this showed as Markovic was given a regular role in his radical 3-4-2-1 formation swiftly brought about after that European loss.

Markovic took up a wing-back position, impressing with goalscoring displays on the left against AFC Bournemouth in the League Cup, and on the right against Sunderland in the Premier League.

But this initial joy may have been the youngster's undoing this season, because as the season progressed Markovic shrunk into the periphery. He was typically the first to be substituted if Liverpool needed a change and took more throw-ins than shots on goal.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17:  Lazar Markovic of Liverpool takes a throw in during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park on January 17, 2015 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

It was disappointing to see such an individual demise play out, given the player's clear potential.

Markovic may have felt that way himself, as he outlined his idea of his best position shortly after signing, saying: "The left side is preferable, but I will play wherever I am asked."

Was Markovic a victim of his own versatility?

He didn't start in his preferred left-forward role once in 2014/15, although ironically he showed encouraging early signs there in his debut as a substitute in August's 3-1 loss away to Manchester City, and scored one of his two Premier League goals cutting in from the left in February's 3-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur.

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 17:  Lazar Markovic of Liverpool celebrates scoring his team's second goal with team mates during the Capital One Cup Quarter-Final match between Bournemouth and Liverpool at Goldsands Stadium on December 17, 2014 in Bourne
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

One for the Future

As seen against Bournemouth, Sunderland, City and Spurs, Markovic is a very talented young player with potential to develop into a devastating attacking outlet in the Premier League and beyond.

So this season's surprising failure isn't one that should consign him to the scrapyard just yet.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21:  Lazar Markovic of Liverpool is closed down by Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield on December 21, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livese
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Perhaps the bigger surprise was Rodgers' failure to utilise him in his favoured left-sided attacking position—although, given that out-of-position failures became a hallmark of 2014/15 under the Ulsterman, with Emre Can, Jordon Ibe and Raheem Sterling three prime examples, to call it a surprise may be an overstatement.

After Sunday's 6-1 defeat away to Stoke City, Rodgers told reporters including David Maddock of the Mirror that: "There were a number of key elements of the performance today that didn’t surprise me.

"There are areas which will we address in the summer that will help us become much more competitive and consistent and be up there from the beginning of the season."

While Markovic didn't feature at the Britannia Stadium, having to settle for a place on the bench, his peripheral, distrusted status could have been one of the elements that Rodgers expected on the day, after his wholly surprising first-season struggles on Merseyside.

As Rodgers looks to address his issues over the summer however, Markovic should play a key role.

With Sterling looking more and more likely to depart sometime after the transfer window opens in June, this could open up a position for Markovic in Liverpool's attack.

Play him on his favoured left side, and Markovic could turn a surprising failure into a surprising success.

Statistics via LFCHistory.net and WhoScored.com.