FOLLOWING Liverpool’s gloriously gritty and dogged 1-0 victory at Vicarage Road on Monday night, there was a general sense of immense satisfaction at another major hurdle successfully negotiated in the quest to secure Champions League football.
This was the kind of game Liverpool are supposed to trip up in, so they say. That makes it nine points from nine in three consecutive away trips to Premier League yard dogs supreme, Stoke City, West Brom and Watford. Big grocks, all of them, but no match for these battling Reds.
Adam Lallana‘s thumping volley off the crossbar and Emre Can’s outrageous bicycle kick were the only two moments of genuine quality from either side in the entirety of the first half, in truth, totally out of kilter with the turgid nature of the contest. Can’s goal deserves to go down as one of the greatest — a sublime piece of individual genius and make no mistake about it, everything about that strike was intended and executed to perfection.
Despite Sebastian Prödl putting hearts in the mouths of every Liverpool fan by lashing a volley off the bar in the dying moments, Liverpool managed to cling on for the victory. Three absolutely monumental points in the bank towards achieving the end goal for this season.
In the aftermath of Monday night, however, there has been widespread and in some cases, quite severe criticism of Divock Origi’s performance against Watford. Across social media — albeit, not usually the best place for level-headed analysis — the Belgian has been labelled as “useless”, “a donkey” and even his entire future as a Liverpool player written off on the back of his most recent display.
Now of course, anyone who watched the game would see that Origi was well off the pace in the first half. His touch was heavy, the ball would not stick and he wasn’t making any kind of penetrative runs whatsoever, albeit on a very congested pitch against a compact defensive line. When Lallana’s volley crashed off the bar, he wasn’t there, anticipating, ready to tap in the rebound.
That said, Origi’s performance massively improved in the second half. A couple of times he got himself in behind Watford’s defence using his pace, while his general hold-up and link-up play were much more accomplished. His finishing could have been sharper, granted, but overall this was far from the disastrous performance many have suggested.
Within any fan base, it is absolutely healthy to have a debate about player’s performances and criticise where appropriate. We all want the same thing — Liverpool to succeed — and that means for the players to be the best they can be. However, it seems to some that no player is allowed to have an off-day without every single minute detail of their performance being scrutinised in detail.
Take Dejan Lovren, for instance. In all three recent victories against Stoke, West Brom and Watford, the Croatian has been mostly excellent, bar an iffy first half against Stoke when no Liverpool player was anywhere near their level. He’s been winning his aerial duels, defending well on the front foot and clearing danger effectively.
Yet against Crystal Palace, when Lovren decided to step back in time and reproduce a performance akin to those we saw during his first season at the club, he was slaughtered for his part in both of Christian Benteke’s goals.
Fans were absolutely right to say Lovren wasn’t good enough that day — far from it. However, this seemed to translate into hugely hyperbolic statements about Lovren being a “terrible defender” and widespread derision over the club’s decision to reward him with a new £100,000 per week contract. Whether you feel Lovren deserves that kind of money is neither here nor there, to be honest. Jürgen Klopp clearly values him as an integral part of his squad and won’t be changing his opinion of the player off the back of one poor display in what has largely been a decent season for the defender.
Back to Origi, then. Those slating him after a poor first half showing might do well to remember that Can was on the receiving end of this kind of criticism earlier in the season and has since emerged as arguably Liverpool’s most consistent performer in recent months. To highlight his weaknesses and to voice doubts over his ability is one thing, but to completely call curtains on Origi’s future prospects at this stage is nonsensical and reactionary.
There are, of course, plenty of things Origi can do better. His finishing is still nowhere near the level we’ve come to expect for a Liverpool striker, although expectations are conditioned by the somewhat ludicrous standards set by the likes of Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen, Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez and the 2013-14 version of Daniel Sturridge, over the years.
For a player with such strong physical attributes, you also get the feeling Origi could put himself about more than he does and make life more difficult for defenders. Too often his movement is static and he could improve his game by drifting out into the channels and varying his position.
Nonetheless, his potential ceiling is clearly very high. We’ve seen him tear apart a brilliant Borussia Dortmund side in the Europa League last season, at which point he was virtually unplayable prior to Ramiro Funes Mori ending his season with that cowardly challenge in the Merseyside Derby.
Earlier this season, in December, he went on a run of scoring in five consecutive games. He’s capable of scoring all kinds of goals, too. He can whip the ball into the far corner while cutting in from the flank. He has a great leap on him to score headers, while he has demonstrated his poaching ability with several close range tap-ins as well.
What we have in Origi is an enormously talented young player who thrives off confidence. When he’s flying, he looks almost the perfect striker. The problem he has, at this stage in his career, is that his performances wildly oscillate between the extremes. When he’s not quite at it, he’s near enough an empty shirt.
Despite all his flaws, though, Origi is into double figures for goals for the second successive season at Liverpool. In fact, at the time of writing, Origi has started 19 games in both his seasons at Liverpool so far, hitting 10 goals and picking up three assists in each of those seasons, with three games still to play this campaign.
Of course, many of his appearances for Liverpool have come off the bench, so those numbers are not fully reflective of his productivity. However, imagine a scenario where Liverpool were linked to a 22-year-old striker with 20 goals and six assists in 38 starts. You’d take it, wouldn’t you?
The point here is that progress is very rarely linear and that with any young player, there will be peaks and troughs in their development. While at times we can lose patience with some players, as fans we often accentuate the pitfalls and neglect the many positive attributes about our own players.
Origi might never become the world-class, prolific goalscorer we want him to be at Liverpool. He will almost certainly have a decent career at a high level somewhere, though. In the immediate future, he remains a valuable player in the squad who will have a significant role to play next season with European football on the cards.
A key thing to mention here, which applies not only to Origi but several other young players at the club, is that Liverpool are very much a project under Klopp’s management — a place where talent is nurtured and persevered with. It’s part of the whole ethos of the manager and the owners. That isn’t to say players have an unlimited free ride — they have to show they can make a worthy contribution and that they are progressing — but that talent is not discarded without a great deal of thought.
In order to achieve success, Klopp will clearly need to strengthen his squad with several first-team-ready players this summer as this isn’t simply just a project to develop individuals. Liverpool have ambitions to achieve, trophies to win.
However, a player like Origi has shown enough in his fledgling career to date that he is not one to be letting go of at this stage. There’s significant potential in there, waiting to be unlocked, and he is working with the right manager to help him iron out the flaws in his game. He can be frustrating to watch and there will come a point where he’ll have to kick on to the next level in order to justify his place at Liverpool.
Right now, though, Origi has plenty to offer. We haven’t seen the best of what he can achieve yet and time is still very much on his side.