Ranking the Players Who Are More and Less Important to Liverpool Than 1 Year Ago

Rob Lancaster@RobLancs79Featured ColumnistNovember 20, 2017

Alberto Moreno has turned around a Liverpool career that at one stage appeared to be over.
Alberto Moreno has turned around a Liverpool career that at one stage appeared to be over.PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

Former British prime minister Harold Wilson once famously said "a week is a long time in politics." In the Premier League, a year seems like an eternity.

After 12 games of the 2016/17 season, Manchester United were languishing in sixth place in the table, Diego Costa and Yaya Toure were scoring crucial goals for Chelsea and Manchester City, respectively, and West Bromwich Albion's fans were singing Tony Pulis' name after a 4-0 win over Burnley.

When it comes to Liverpool, however, some things remain the same. Jurgen Klopp's side still remain one of the competition's most entertaining sides, capable of exhilarating attacking football but always with the possibility of producing a defensive howler somewhere.

Yet the last year has seen players' reputations alter. Here, Bleacher Report has picked out those whose stock has risen with the Reds, as well as the individuals who've seen their standing slip (for whatever reason).

Please note: No recent signings were considered, as they held no importance to Liverpool last season while they were playing for different clubs. This isn't about picking the most and least important individuals, either. Instead, this is a ranking of the players who've seen their role change the most in the past year.

        

More Important

4. Emre Can

Joe Gomez and Emre Can: Club colleagues but international rivals.
Joe Gomez and Emre Can: Club colleagues but international rivals.James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

After 12 Premier League games last season, Can had made five starts and missed three games through injury. In the final 12 fixtures, however, he played every single minute.

The German continues to be heavily used by Klopp in the current campaign, despite his long-term future at Liverpool remaining up in the air.

As it stands, the midfielder will be a free agent next summer. Talks about a new deal have hit a stumbling block. According to Sam Cunningham of MailOnline, Can's agent, Reza Fazeli, is adamant a release clause is included.

The vultures are circling. Per Calciomercato.com, Juventus chief Beppe Marotta has confirmed the Italian club are interested. Meanwhile, according to Paul Hetherington of the Daily Star, Manchester City are keen.

While Naby Keita's arrival for next season will add extra competition in midfield, Can has grown in stature on Merseyside. He's still 23, too, so there's plenty of scope for further development.

Soon enough, we will know just how important Liverpool value a player they've nurtured in recent years but could end up losing for nothing.

         

3. Joe Gomez

Joe Gomez has bounced back from injuries early in his career.
Joe Gomez has bounced back from injuries early in his career.David Ramos/Getty Images

This time last year, Gomez was preparing to make his return from a second serious injury.

The defender suffered cruciate ligament damage in 2015 and, just as he was nearing a comeback last summer, Achilles tendon issues delayed him further.

"It was tough at times. There were phases when I felt like everything was against me,” Gomez told James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo. "But I always believed I would come back. I am thankful that I came through to it, and that it's behind me now."

The long, hard road back was worth it, though. He has not only worked his way back into Liverpool's first-team squad but also caught the eye of England boss Gareth Southgate, leading to full international honours in November.

Gomez played as one of three centre-backs in the recent international friendly fixtures with Germany and Brazil, coming off the bench early against the former before turning in a man-of-the-match display against the latter.

However, such is the player's versatility, Klopp has used him mainly as a right-back, with Gomez's only time in the middle of the back four coming after Dejan Lovren was hooked in the first half of the 4-1 loss at Tottenham Hotspur.

Liverpool paid £2.25 million to sign the 20-year-old from Charlton Athletic in 2015. The more Gomez plays, the more that fee looks a steal in today's transfer market.

    

2. Trent Alexander-Arnold

Trent Alexander-Arnold has enjoyed a rapid rise to the first team.
Trent Alexander-Arnold has enjoyed a rapid rise to the first team.PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

Alexander-Arnold is Gomez's rival for the right-back berth in the continued absence of Nathaniel Clyne. The teenager flourished in his limited first-team opportunities last season, including a first Premier League start away at Manchester United.

In coping with the challenge of playing at Old Trafford, the academy product showed he possesses not only the talent, but also the temperament to succeed.

This season, Alexander-Arnold—who often played in central midfield in his youth career—has shared minutes with Gomez.

He offers more in attack than his rival but has impressed Liverpool's manager by developing the defensive side of his game.

"When he started, he was a proper winger and sometimes a defender," Klopp said after the 2-0 win over Southampton on Saturday, according to Andy Kelly of the Liverpool Echo. "Now he's a proper defender and sometimes a winger. It makes much more sense in his position.”

Alexander-Arnold scored his first goal for the Reds with a sumptuous free-kick in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League play-off against Hoffenheim back in August.

          

1. Alberto Moreno

Alberto Moreno has gone from perennial substitute to regular starter.
Alberto Moreno has gone from perennial substitute to regular starter.Stu Forster/Getty Images

It's a good job substitutes don't actually have to sit on a wooden bench, or else Moreno would've spent his entire summer picking splinters out of his backside.

The Spanish full-back made every matchday squad in the Premier League last season, yet he started just two games as he clocked up a meagre 295 minutes of action.

No one, not even Moreno himself surely, would have been surprised to see the defender depart in the summer, sold somewhere abroad where he could rebuild his career without the added burden of preconceived opinions.

Instead, the 25-year-old stuck around, knuckled down in pre-season training and, by reeling in his desire to be on the front foot at every opportunity, has won over his manager, as he explained to Sid Lowe of the Guardian:

"Last year was useful for me: to think, to change things, to say to myself: ‘Alberto, what can you do better?' And the first thing was: defend. I'm a defender. And I've changed that. I'm more focused; I think you can see that – and thankfully I haven't made any mistakes. Maybe in my first few years at Liverpool, I was always thinking: ‘Attack, attack, attack.' Confidence is vital for a footballer but I'm [also] more settled, more focused: now I'm like: ‘First, let's defend, keep a clean sheet and, then, let's go forward."

Klopp's year-long experiment with James Milner at left-back is over; Moreno has already played 900 minutes in the Premier League this season and has started every game in the UEFA Champions League, too.

From perennial substitute to first-team regular, the former Sevilla player's stunning turnaround is a reminder of how opinions can be changed through hard work and a willingness to adapt your game.

           

Less Important

4. Sadio Mane

Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane: Liverpool's version of the flying squad.
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane: Liverpool's version of the flying squad.Stu Forster/Getty Images

Hang on a minute. Before you start questioning anyone's senility at Bleacher Report, there is no question that Mane remains a pivotal part of Liverpool's first team.

The Senegal international has missed playing time this season, his second at Anfield, with a three-match suspension for his red card against Manchester City followed by a hamstring problem.

However, Klopp had little hesitation in throwing Mane straight back into the XI against West Ham United at the start of November, despite the player taking part in just one training session following his injury layoff.

He is still important, clearly. Yet this season Liverpool don't feel quite as dependent on the speedy Mane. The reason? Mohamed Salah. 

The Egyptian has enjoyed a sensational start to his second stint in England, bagging 14 goals in 18 appearances since arriving in the summer from AS Roma.

Mane—who scored 13 in his debut season with the Reds—is playing second fiddle right now to his fellow speedster, though it is only a matter of time until he takes centre stage again.

Still, Salah's presence this season means Liverpool have a forward with pace to cause problems and stretch defences when the £37.08 million signing from Southampton is missing.

        

3. Nathaniel Clyne

Nathaniel Clyne has yet to play a minute in the Premier League this season.
Nathaniel Clyne has yet to play a minute in the Premier League this season.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Clyne missed just one Premier League fixture in 2016/17. The England international was a calming presence in an occasionally shaky defence, a right-back capable of locking down his side of the field.

Admittedly, the ex-Southampton man could have offered more in attack. He provided just two assists in the league, a low number considering the opportunities he had to make an impact in the final third.

Yet when Liverpool completed their lap of honour after beating Middlesbrough on the final day after securing a top-four finish, Clyne was rightly considered a key cog in Klopp's machine.

Instead, a back injury has kept him on the sidelines so far this season. While he recovers after an operation to correct the problem, youngsters Alexander-Arnold and Gomez have seized the opportunity to play.

Poor Clyne has hardly been missed during his absence, while the lengthy period out is hampering his hopes of making the cut for England's World Cup squad next summer.

Forgotten for the moment, the 26-year-old will hope surgery will cure his bad back and allow him to prove he is still the best man for the job.

        

2. Daniel Sturridge

Daniel Sturridge remains stuck in the queue behind Roberto Firmino.
Daniel Sturridge remains stuck in the queue behind Roberto Firmino.PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

According to Darren Lewis of the Mirror, Sturridge will push for a January departure from Anfield.

Lewis reported the former Chelsea and Manchester City frontman is keen to move on to “save his World Cup dream” after he was left out of England's squad for the recent friendly games with Germany and Brazil.

Few would blame the striker for wanting a fresh start somewhere else. Despite playing in 12 games this season—scoring in three of them—he remains stuck behind Roberto Firmino in the pecking order.

The pair are contrasting options to lead the line. While Sturridge is the sharper of the two when it comes to getting goals, Firmino's willingness to work hard, both with and without the ball, makes him Klopp's preferred choice.

Sturridge demonstrated what he offers against Huddersfield Town at the end of October, capitalising on a defensive error to break the deadlock and ease the tension building inside Anfield.

Yet the 28-year-old hasn't made it off the bench in Liverpool's two Premier League fixtures since.

With Dominic Solanke offering another option to play up top, it feels a matter of when, not if, Sturridge departs the club. 

        

1. James Milner

James Milner has reverted back to a more familiar role this season.
James Milner has reverted back to a more familiar role this season.ANTHONY DEVLIN/Getty Images

After a season spent at left-back, Milner has reverted back to a more familiar role in central midfield this season.

However, the problem for the former England international is the competition for places in Liverpool's engine room. Klopp has utilised a trusted lieutenant in 14 games, though Milner has only started in six of those (and two were Champions League fixtures against Group E whipping boys Maribor). 

Milner's versatility is a blessing for his boss but a curse for the player.

He did a solid job in defence despite appearing allergic to using his left foot. Yet while he filled a glaring hole due to the inability of others to do their jobs, others had the opportunity to impress in his preferred position.

"Last season I was asked to do a job and I did that as well as I could. I said at the time I didn't enjoy playing (left back). I didn't like it, but the team always comes first and you do what's asked of you," Milner said, per Chris Bascombe of the Telegraph.

Just as was the case for much of his career at Manchester City, Milner now appears to be a reliable squad member who has to patiently wait for playing time.

Milner is still important, though. He is the Swiss army knife in the squad, someone Klopp can utilise in a number of different roles to solve issues.

            

Rob Lancaster is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All statistics and transfer fees referenced in this article are from Transfermarkt unless otherwise stated.

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