Liverpool have enjoyed a wonderful 2019 that has seen the team reach new heights – but how are the most improved players? We pick our top three.
Absolutely no one could have predicted that 2019 would see Joel Matip win a PFA Player of the Month award as a Champions League-winning centre-back. He wasn’t even in the starting XI at the start of the year. In fact, he wasn’t even first-choice backup for the starting XI.
Injury ruled out Joe Gomez. Then Dejan Lovren stepped in and immediately picked up an injury himself. Now Matip, a forgotten player, really, was in the first-choice partnership with Virgil van Dijk.
And he never looked back. Matip was PFA POTM for September and a key part of Liverpool’s Champions League winners. His clean-sheet against Barcelona was a magnificent performance and he ended the year as one of the finest defenders in the country.
The Liverpool captain came into his own this year. He’d started things a little lost, what with the arrival of Fabinho and a change in formation. But before long, he had found his role as a box-to-box midfielder on the right side of the midfield three.
Jurgen Klopp decided to play Henderson further forward midway through a game away at Southampton this year. The captain came on as a substitute and finished the game with an assist and a late winner. There was no looking back.
Henderson became a key part of a brilliant midfield and, of course, wrote his name into history as a European Cup-winning captain. It was all enough to see him finish third for UEFA midfielder of the season.
We even saw him drop back into his old role of holding midfielder after Fabinho’s injury. His performance there against Flamengo in the Club World Cup final was arguably his finest of the year.
It’s easy to forget that Fabinho wasn’t even a guaranteed starter a year ago. It’s so easy to forget, in fact, that he wasn’t even initially on this three-man list. That’s quite ridiculous as he’s absolutely the most improved Liverpool player of 2019.
I wrote a ‘Halfway review’ of Fabinho back in January. It went over what we hoped to see from Fabinho over 2019 – essentially, we wanted to see real progress. That’s because his start to last season, his first at Liverpool, was quite strange.
He didn’t play a single minute until September 18th. He didn’t start a Premier League game until October 27th. Klopp didn’t even appear to trust him in Liverpool’s preferred formation and we usually only saw Fabinho in a 4-2-3-1.
Now, not only is Fabinho comfortable in a 4-3-3 but he’s almost certainly the best defensive midfielder in the world while playing it. He’s developed into a sensational player – one of the most important players Liverpool have.
Overcoming that initial uncertainty to fulfil everything hoped of him – Fabinho has had a sensational year.