For a long time this season, Jurgen Klopp’s champions looked invincible but the idea that they’d wipe the floor with Kenny Dalglish’s 1990 champions is way off the mark.pits them head to head.
Bruce Grobbelaar (7/10) v Alisson Becker (8/10)
Having grown up with the serenity of Ray Clemence, Grobbelaar was always a hard person to like. Moments of outlandish brilliance were offset by the occasional clownishness for which he was ultimately remembered, along with unfortunate match-fixing accusations. When the team in front of him declined, he could do little to rescue the situation. You don’t get that feeling with Alisson. He rarely dazzles but makes fewer errors, and that helps spread a confidence in his back four.
Steve Nicol (9/10) v Trent Alexander-Arnold (8/10)
Nicol was footballer of the year the season before, adaptable and always a threat going forward. Versatility, as it so often does, dilutes the overall reputation of what was a remarkably gifted player. There have been many predictions of Trent stepping up into midfield one day, such has been his contribution to Liverpool’s attacking style. Defensively brittle, but for a team so often on the front foot that hardly ever seems to matter.
Alan Hansen (9/10) v Virgil van Dijk (9/10)
A tough comparison, particularly when you recall the 1990 Hansen was wearily plodding through his final season with suspect knees. At his peak, however, the elegance of his play and a zen bearing compares favourably with his modern counterpart. The Dutchman has played arguably the biggest role in turning Klopp’s exciting but erratic side into one that shoots itself in the foot far less than it ought to. Were he to keep improving (a tall order, admittedly), could anyone question his right to be called Liverpool’s greatest ever central defender?
Verdict: Too close to call.
Glenn Hysen (7/10) v Joe Gomez (7/10)
Another comparison of experience with youthful promise. Hysen was approaching his career’s end when Liverpool gazumped United for his services, forcing them in turn to pay big money on Gary Pallister. Retrospection produced an obvious winner on that front, but at the time the Swede was thought to be a welcome robust solution to the tougher aerial strikers that had already begun to bully the slightly fading Reds.
Gomez has much to commend him, but a clear run from injury and the final act of commitment and trust from his manager remain tantalisingly elusive.
David Burrows and Steve Staunton (6/10) v Andy Robertson (8/10)
Liverpool’s glass jaw has always been left back, confirmed by neither of the above players (nor the late Gary Ablett) ever truly making the role their own. Some grisly hybrid of all three might have made the perfect defender, but individually they never looked the part for long.
Robertson not only has talent and an incredible engine; he has produced some weird alchemy that’s overcome a curse which blighted his position long before the club stopped winning league titles.
Probably the only player in the outfield with no viable replacement on the few occasions he’s injured.
Ray Houghton (7/10) v Georginio Wijnaldum (7/10)
Not really similar players, Houghton’s ’89/’90 season was blighted by injury, but he was always first choice in a midfield that had taken Liverpool to new levels in 1988 and, when available, was still too much for most of their opponents. Gini’s work rate tends to mask his ability to get in the box and cause the kind of havoc that broke Barcelona last season, something he should do a lot more of but often seems restricted by the role and formation.
Verdict: Dynamic draw.
Steve McMahon (8/10) v Fabinho (7/10)
McMahon’s energy was incredible. If today’s techniques of measuring the ground covered had been available then, he’d match anyone playing today — and he could score great goals, too. Fabinho has been important but did not return from injury with his best form. Subsequently, he often looks the most expendable. On his day, an efficient protector and link-up man, but those days have been rare as Liverpool began their struggle (of sorts) in the second half of this pandemically-prolonged season.
Ronnie Whelan (8/10) v Jordan Henderson (8/10)
Unnervingly similar players, both could be abused by supporters who would precisely list what they lacked but ignore what they brought to the table.
The conclusive proof in importance was always when each was absent, and Liverpool’s effectiveness was cut in both instances.
Whelan began Anfield life as a cocky, skilful wide player with more than his share of goals but knuckled down into a central midfield workhorse once John Barnes arrived. Henderson was never anything else, but both were vital cogs in successful teams albeit with a jaw-dropping lack of credit.
Verdict: Underappreciated both.
Peter Beardsley (8/10) v Roberto Firmino (7/10)
The Geordie scored his fair share but was more often a creative foil first for Aldridge, then Rush. Had the capacity for work which augmented the midfield when required.
Presumably Firmino was the player most under threat when Timo Werner’s services were being considered, but whether an increased strike rate could have compensated for the Brazilian’s general play is questionable (and moot now, anyway). Klopp’s pivotal player in many respects, he can be aggravating but always on top form whenever Liverpool are at their best. That’s not a coincidence.
Ian Rush (7/10) v Mohamed Salah (8/10).
Few could have predicted that Rush’s tremendous feats of goalscoring at Anfield would ever be threatened by the Egyptian who’d looked so nondescript in a Chelsea shirt. The supreme LFC poacher had passed his best days after a lousy sojourn in Italy, but still helped himself to plenty more goals with the help of Barnes and Beardsley on his return.
Salah could never keep up with a stratospheric debut season, skewing the perspective of his contribution, but he is still such a threat. Often derided as a one-trick pony, it’s a trick few English defences have managed to work out even now.
John Barnes (10/10) v Sadio Mane (8/10).
Barnes was a revelation in his first Liverpool season but somehow managed to fly higher two years later. He was the main man for the Reds then, and though England fans came to regard him as someone who flattered to deceive, Kopites never let that bother them. He shone at his brightest for four years only, but that was enough for many to claim he was the greatest they ever saw.
Mane has come more to the fore as his strike partners had comparatively muted seasons, but he could always be relied upon when others didn’t show up. Aggressive and persistent, he has saved Liverpool on numerous occasions and his late winner at Aston Villa was perhaps the watershed moment when fans genuinely believed this could be our year.