THERE are always players that divide opinion. At Liverpool right now, it’s no different. There are a couple that some would believe show all the signs of becoming good players for the club that others of a Red persuasion won’t be keen on. And vice-versa.
One of those players, particularly in recent times, is Divock Origi.
The Belgian first made his name on the big stage during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Then the 19-year-old forward came off the bench in Belgium’s first group game, scored after coming off the bench in a 1-0 win in the second game and then conjured an assist which earned another 1-0 victory in their final group game. Those substitute performances earned him a start in the last 16 and quarter-final stages as well as admirers across the globe, but it was Liverpool who got there first, snapping up the youngster for around £10million from Lille.
Origi was loaned back to Lille until the end of the 2014-15 season but things didn’t go how the striker or his new club would have hoped. After three goals and an assist in his first six Ligue 1 games he would suffer a 17-game goal drought — eventually broken by a hat-trick against Stade Rennais in March. That run of poor form contributed to Origi being named in L’Equipe’s worst team of the season — at the age of 20 shouldering the responsibility of leading the line for one of France’s bigger clubs and having to take on that level of criticism.
— FFW (@FrenchFtWeekly) May 25, 2015
The following summer Origi would join up with his new Liverpool team-mates — though once again it wasn’t plain sailing after his French nightmare. Brendan Rodgers would hand him just four appearances before the Northern Irishman was relieved of his duties, and it wasn’t until December that Origi would open his goal scoring account — though he did it again in emphatic fashion with a hat-trick in the 6-1 thrashing of Southampton.
The striker would finally start to hit form towards the back end of the 2015-16 season and established himself as a regular alongside Roberto Firmino, with Daniel Sturridge consigned to the bench. That was before Ramiro Funes Mori stamped on his ankle in an act of martyrdom to the Blues that had made the trip across Stanley Park to see their lads hardly touch the ball. Nevertheless, those performances gave supporters high hopes about the striker’s potential, with the belief he could help Jürgen Klopp’s Reds challenge for silverware in the new campaign after twice falling at the final hurdle in the 2016 League Cup and Europa League finals.
While those ambitions never quite materialised for Liverpool this campaign Origi has still managed to make his mark. Towards the back end of November and the start of December, Origi’s goals went some way to papering over the cracks of a Liverpool side on the decline. Although, apart from chipping in with said strikes, his overall contribution to the team wasn’t at the level it should be, and not at the levels that had supporters so excited at the back end of last season.
Over the international break comments emerged that suggested Origi may have been considering his future at the club having struggled to break into Klopp’s first choice 11. Those comments were closely followed up by a goal that sealed Liverpool’s dominance over neighbours Everton for another year at least, and a what should have been the winning goal in the 2-2 draw at home to Bournemouth.
If you read The Anfield Wrap’s match ratings from the Bournemouth draw, you’d have noticed that Origi was somewhat controversially given a rating of 6/10 for his performance, which many believed to be one of his better displays this season. The reasons behind that particular score were born out of frustration at spells of poor decision-making, but also possibly as a result of high expectation and a want to see Origi excel as a different option to Firmino in the number nine position.
Those paying closer attention may have noticed how Origi’s display against Burnley divided opinion among Anfield Wrap contributors in the post-match Final Whistle feature. As a caveat to this, the Belgian’s performance against the Clarets wasn’t the type that would get bums off seats. What it did do is provide food for thought about his role in this team. More specifically whether there is a case to play him as the central striker instead of Firmino in certain games.
Firmino is a fantastic player on his day. In fact, he’s probably up there among the most talented and crucial to the system that Klopp employs. On his day.
At his best, the Brazilian spearheads a flowing attacking trio alongside Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane, in which the three interchange, pull defenders around and create space for themselves to play. We’ve seen this in action, and in its best form, in the autumn months of this current season. It’s no surprise that Coutinho’s untimely injury and Mane’s departure to the African Cup of Nations coincided with a dip in form.
If your team’s striker isn’t performing at his best, goals can pay the rent. Origi was delivering that for a time, until a drop-off in form of an increasing number of players saw the Reds crash out of the title race and both domestic cups. That isn’t Origi’s fault by any stretch, and it’s unlikely anybody would point the finger at him first and foremost — he is just 21 years old after all. He’s got a lot of learning to do and time is on his side.
One thing that is key to point out is that Origi isn’t a bad player by any stretch. Those who say that he is wouldn’t have been saying the same in April 2016, as his goals fired Liverpool towards a Europa League final. Some may view the chances of him being able to meet his potential as slimmer than that of players like Kevin Stewart — even though Stewart is older, despite being less experienced at first-team level.
Klopp didn’t have a choice between Firmino and Origi versus Burnley due to the Brazilian’s groin injury but it could be argued there was still a case to start Origi. We all knew what to expect from Burnley coming to Anfield. They were going to sit deep, stay compact and not let Liverpool’s attack drag them out of position — as the Reds had been doing to teams earlier in the season and Burnley themselves had stopped them doing to great effect at Turf Moor back in August.
When teams have done that in the past, it’s been hard not to get frustrated when the players have panicked and starting trying to score worldies from 30 yards out or gone direct to Firmino to no avail. Firmino gives you so much as a number nine, which is why Klopp chooses to start with him over the natural striking options he has at his disposal. One thing he doesn’t give you, however, is an option to target with long balls, to hold the ball up and get locked into battles with the biggest grocks the Premier League has to offer. That’s no slight against Firmino, it would be daft to expect him to do those things and possess the flair and goalscoring touch that he’s shown so often, wouldn’t it?
That is where Origi can be the ‘Plan B’. He can provide a bigger target, better hold-up play and isn’t afraid to get involved in a battle. He’s not your ideal big man by any stretch, but equally he doesn’t sacrifice much of what Firmino brings in terms of contribution to the team’s pressing. Origi’s pace makes him a decent presser, not on Firmino’s level but teams that defend deep don’t spend enough time on the ball to require that level of pressing anyway.
0:37 – Divock Origi scored just 37 seconds after coming on as a substitute in this match; the fastest goal by a sub in PL 2015-16. Rapid.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 14, 2016
The Reds have lost five games this season. That’s not a disaster. But it would look much better if all five of those losses weren’t against sides in the bottom half of the league. These are games in which Liverpool struggled but no change in style has been forthcoming. Many will put that down to Klopp’s belief in his own system. The same system that Origi became a key part of towards the back end of last season. Firmino isn’t to blame for those five losses, but in all bar the loss to Swansea he hasn’t brought what he brings in the games against the top sides. You could even argue that in that game against Swansea he found a way to make himself more like a proper number nine — getting on the end of crosses, taking balls down in the box. Unless he can find a way to do that sort of thing against those sides more often, Origi could be a more suitable choice.
You might suggest bringing Origi off the bench — he showed against Arsenal that he can make an impact as a substitute, as he has many times previous — but one of Liverpool’s biggest problems against the league’s lesser lights has been giving them encouragement in the early stages of the game, as they did gifting Bournemouth a goal after seven minutes on Wednesday.
If Origi starts and gets stuck into them early and, in an ideal world, grabs a goal, the chances are the opposition act more like a team that is bottom half of the Premier League and the Reds go on to win the game. If Firmino hasn’t started he could even be brought on at striker while Liverpool lead to introduce the free-flowing play and interchanging as the opposition start to go for a goal of their own.
Origi wasn’t great against Burnley but nobody was. He was involved in both goals though. And one thing he did do was fight. He got down to Burnley’s level. Sean Dyche’s side came to Anfield to get involved in a battle: they thought they could win at that game — even if they didn’t win the actual game. Against Bournemouth most thought he demonstrated more of the qualities discussed in this piece. Though the ratings from that night don’t go along with that, it isn’t to say him playing as the central striker against those sort of teams won’t work in future. There are ways Klopp can tweak the system to be a bit better at dealing with those challenges, and the physique and battling qualities of Origi can be a part of that.
He’s had a hard time lately, but coming in from the cold and being expected to shine is tough. He is now starting to show signs that the real Origi will soon stand up.