Barring the advent of the title capitulation to end all others, Liverpool will herald a new generation of players that shook the Kop. By virtue of winning the club’s maiden Premier League title, and the first league honours since 1990, the class of 2019/20 will propel themselves into lore, and rightly find themselves named alongside legends like Dalglish, Rush and Gerrard.
Naturally, comparisons with the title-winning squads of the 1980s are a frequent pub topic, after yet another effortless win as often previewed here
. However, there are some players from Liverpool’s past that are often overlooked in how they may well have inspired the current crop to ultimate glory.
The addition of Allison in 2018 was the final touch needed to turn a great squad into a perfect one. Even so, a distinct degree of adaptability was paramount for the Brazilian to make his mark with the European champions, just as it was for David James back in 1992.
While many Liverpool fans will point to Jerzy Dudek and Pepe Reina as better all-round keepers in the Premier League era, it is easy to forget that James had gargantuan gloves to fill. Replacing Bruce Grobbelaar long-term was nothing short of daunting for any keeper, let alone a young man from lower-league Watford.
Inevitably, there were times under the flailing managerial regime of Graeme Souness that James endured some agonising matches early in his Liverpool career. However, he enjoyed his best Anfield years under Roy Evans, playing in every minute of the 1994/95 campaign, which – coincidentally or otherwise – saw Liverpool make a four-place improvement on the previous season.
The next two years saw Liverpool challenge for the title, and again, James would not miss a minute in the league. With a reduction in his playing time after 1996/97 came a slump, and 1998/99 heralded Liverpool’s joint-lowest finish of the 1990s.
Calm, composed and able to roam effectively when not stricken by injury, Jones had it all as a defender. Sadly, it is the injuries which ended his career prematurely, aged just 28, that prevented him from being up there with Carragher, Hansen and current defensive colossus Virgil Van Dijk.
Jones certainly did all he could in the precious little time afforded to him on Merseyside, making the PFA Team of the Year on two occasions. He was amongst the first Premier League era defenders to illustrate the virtues of fluidity, so consistently honoured today by Joel Matip and Joe Gomez when in action.
Even Jamie Carragher himself has sung Jones’ praises
in the past, despite Jones' Liverpool career largely predating Carragher's.
John Arne Riise
These days, Andrew Robertson’s worst game is the best game of just about any other first-choice LB in the Premier League. The Scotsman has been consistency personified since signing for just £8m back in 2017, giving Liverpool the sort of incisiveness from that position not seen since John Arne Riise's prime Anfield years.
Riise joined Liverpool in 2001, by which time Gerard Houllier’s hitherto-stuttering master plan was starting to catch fire. Riise was key to Houllier’s setup, providing fearsome shots that could occasionally reach the corner of the net at the national speed limit.
Though Riise scored memorable goals against Everton and Manchester United during Liverpool’s then-best 2nd place finish of 2001/02, he would – like the rest of the squad – slump somewhat during Houllier’s latter days. However, he surged once again under Rafa Benitez, acting as an integral part of the new manager’s plans, and Liverpool’s unlikely run to a fifth Champions League title.
While 2004/05 was indeed a truly life-affirming season for Liverpool in general, it was particularly so for Xabi Alonso. His equaliser against AC Milan in the Champions League final represented the culmination of a remarkably journey, from the treatment room for a broken ankle sustained against Chelsea
to unparalleled stardom in just four months.
Throughout the preceding campaign, Liverpool’s midfield had failed to show the class it promised on paper. Alonso’s range of passing, in addition to defensive composure, addressed this. He was also up there amongst the most successful tacklers in the 2004/05 campaign, adding equal measures of steel and flair into the side’s physical nucleus.
After becoming a European champion in his very first campaign with Liverpool, Alonso went from strength to strength alongside Steven Gerrard. Together, they helped to thrust Liverpool back into the podium places in successive seasons, with Alonso scoring memorable goals against Luton and Newcastle that were nothing short of ‘Pure Liverpool’.
Featured alongside Alonso in Jamie Carragher’s all-time Liverpool XI
, 1981 Liverpool debutant Nicol shares common ground with two of Liverpool’s most vital players today. The first of these is Trent Alexander-Arnold, and like ‘T.A.A’, Nicol was tasked with becoming a man while still a teenager. While it would be several years before he could threaten Phil Neal’s position as the Reds’ first-choice RB, the former labourer’s workrate ensured his long-term future in the side.
By playing in front of Neal during his formative years, Nicol got a solid sense of what would eventually be expected of him. So too did he develop an appreciation for both the defensive and offensive sides of operating out wide. In turn, just as one James Milner has in recent years, Nicol would also establish himself a solution in the midfield as well as in the wide defensive areas.
For those who were there throughout the glory days of the 1980s, and have lived long enough to witness the maturation of a new title-winning team, Nicol was (and still is) the original Milner-esque ‘everyman’.
While the 1990s were not particularly kind to Liverpool, Stan Collymore is easily overlooked as a major part of the Liverpool team that improved much over Roy Evans’ first two full seasons in charge. And wrongly so.
Collymore signed from Nottingham Forest in 1995, with his industry ensuring that the Trentside club had finished one place (in third) above Liverpool that year. During his time at Anfield, Collymore enjoyed a hit rate of 40%, even though it was mainly Fowler stealing the headlines.
In retrospect, the Fowler-Collymore axis rivalled that of the one Sturridge and Suarez boasted in the title race of 2013/14. Speaking of title races, Collymore was also part of the first Liverpool squad ever to top a Premier League era table on Christmas Day (in 1996).
Written by Alan Spencer