Liverpool's 2017 Review: A year of progress on and off the pitch but Reds still chase overdue silverware

Liverpool have undergone another year of progress, particularly off the pitch but also on it, but will hope that 2018 can see them end their wait for silverware as they look to ratify their development under Jürgen Klopp.

Liverpool's 2017 Review: A year of progress on and off the pitch but Reds still chase overdue silverware
(Picture: Getty Images - Paul Ellis)

Having achieved their goal of qualifying for the Champions League last season in the first five months of the year, the first half of Liverpool's 2017-18 campaign have since been largely positive.

Their senior summer signings have again been successful, they topped their European group with an unbeaten record and they remain well placed for a second successive top-four finish - ending the year by equalling their best unbeaten run under Jürgen Klopp.

The only real recent negative has been the deterioration of their form against their 'big six' opponents, collecting just five of an available 18 points against Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur - losing heavily to the latter two.

But on the whole, 2017 has been another promising year for Liverpool - one with which they will hope they have built further foundations to set themselves up for a 2018 to remember.

Results

In the Premier League, Liverpool have lost just six of 40 games - half of those defeats coming in a dreadful spell of form in January - although they have drawn a disappointing 14, particularly some frustrating home games in recent months. 

Yet the general consensus should focus on the fact they have racked up some impressive wins and scored an excellent 80 league goals - an impressive average of two per game and a record behind only City (102), Spurs (88) and Chelsea (82) - the three teams to finish ahead of them last season, though in the opposite order.

They have netted three goals or more on 15 separate occasions this year among some swashbuckling attacking performances - most inspired by their current quartet of Mohamed Salah, Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino

But by contrast they also ground out a lot of wins - particularly in the second half of the 2016-17 campaign, when Liverpool adopted a resilient approach which saw them claim steelier wins.

In Europe, they have won five matches (including both legs of their final qualifying round clash with Hoffenheim) and drawn three, an unbeaten record helping them to top their group for the first time since 2008-09.

The only real blip - barring some disappointing league results, often to lesser opposition earlier in the year - has been Liverpool's domestic cup form.

They have won only one of five FA Cup and League Cup matches, that sole triumph coming away at League Two side Plymouth Argyle - a disappointing return given those competitions are their most likely ways of securing some silverware.

That is something that must improve if Liverpool are to indeed win their first prize since 2012 and only a second trophy since 2006.

Best player

With 23 goals and six assists in his first 29 games for the club, how could this accolade not go summer signing Salah's way?

The Egyptian is the only second player after Roger Hunt in 1961-62 to score as many goals before the New Year and is a quintessential member of an attacking force which has scored more goals (77 in 30 matches) at this point in a top-flight season than any other Liverpool team, the previous best standing at 75 in 30 in 1980-81.

And how big a part of that Salah has played with his electric acceleration and pace, his relentless work rate and movement and the excellence of his technique. He is already worth over triple the £36.9 million fee Liverpool paid AS Roma back in June.

The 25-year-old has proven himself a consistent match-winner for the Reds and his goalscoring exploits from a wide position are scarcely believable, particularly so early in his time at Anfield.

His impact is akin to that Fernando Torres and Luis Suárez - both arguably the best strikers in Europe at their peaks for Liverpool - with few defences finding a means to stop him having a say.

Firmino comes in close behind Salah, the Brazilian's underrated brilliance crucial to Klopp's side. He has rebuffed critics who have spoken of an apparent need for a '20-goal-a-season striker' with 21 goals and 13 assists in 47 league and cup games in 2017.

And compatriot Coutinho - 20 goals and 10 assists in 42 games - is another close contender. A constant difference-maker with his class and ingenuity, the playmaker has performed particularly well in 2017-18 after being denied a dream summer move to Barcelona.

Coutinho comes in behind Salah and Firmino though due to a slump in form at the start of the year while long-term injuries prevented Sadio Mané and Adam Lallana from also challenging Salah.

Most disappointing player

It may seem harsh given he has only made 14 appearances across Liverpool's 53 games in 2017, but it is exactly why he has made so few displays that Loris Karius has underwhelmed - because he has not been good enough.

The German probably hasn't been the worst average performer thanks to his displays in the current season, but since being touted as the club's long-term No.1 when he signed from Mainz in the summer of 2016, Karius has yet to suggest as such.

His most notable errors actually came before the start of 2017, against Bournemouth and West Ham, and while the consistency of his displays has improved this season - he has yet to demonstrate his supposedly high ceiling, with many calling for Liverpool to bring in a new first-choice 'keeper.

It was expected by now that he would have ousted Simon Mignolet but instead he has become a cup 'keeper, with just three Premier League appearances across the entire year.

Daniel Sturridge is another vying for the tag of biggest disappointment, with his performances having sadly seemed to confirm his loss of sharpness and pace due to constant injuries.

Just five goals in 30 appearances this year make him a likely candidate to be loaned out in the January window and his Liverpool career appears beyond possible rectification.

Others will put forward the cases of Dejan Lovren and Mignolet but the 'keeper was actually one of Liverpool's best performers in the final months of last term and despite failing to cut out the costly errors that have plagued his entire Anfield career, is saved by that. His review come the end of 2018 - if he remains a Liverpool player by then - could be dramatically different.

Lovren, meanwhile, has actually had some positive displays - though ones overshadowed by erratic and error-strewn displays such as his horror show at Spurs where he was substituted after half-an-hour. Besides, for the Croatian to be the biggest disappointment would require him to have a far higher standing among Liverpool fans.

Left-back Alberto Moreno's miraculous amelioration this season also counts him out of the competition despite a disastrous 2016-17.

Best moment of the year 

Undoubtedly, Georginio Wijnaldum's pressure-releasing strike in their 3-0 win over Middlesbrough on the final day of last season - a triumph that confirmed Liverpool's fourth-placed finish.

Until the Dutchman's thunderous drive in first-half stoppage time, Anfield had been riddled with anxiety as an already-relegated Boro sat with seeming hordes of men behind the ball.

But Liverpool were far more comfortable in the second half with Coutinho scoring a delightful free-kick and Lallana adding a killer third before the hour mark, sealing their return to the Champions League for only the second time in eight years.

Yet it was Wijnaldum's touch to bring a pass that was behind him under his control and the accompanying finish - generating euphoric and cacophonous celebrations - that set Liverpool on their way.

Stand-out matches include 4-0 wins away at West Ham United and at home to Arsenal, as well as thumping 7-0 victories on the continent away at NK Maribor and at home to Spartak Moscow

The capture of Naby Keïta, as well as Van Dijk's arrival (although it's not technically official until January 1), also represent big statements regarding the club's long-term goal of challenging the elite and proved delightful days for the club's supporters.

Worst moment of the year 

Liverpool suffered a disastrous start to 2017, winning only one of their first 10 games with injuries decimating a thin squad and exposing the team's weaknesses. 

An FA Cup fourth-round exit to a then-struggling Wolves and a League Cup semi-final defeat to Southampton, losing home and away, made for underwhelming conclusions to their domestic cup campaigns.

Most crushingly, they failed to win any of their first five league games of a calendar year for the first time since 1954 and - in the absences of Mané and Joël Matip - saw their hopes of challenging Chelsea for the title evaporate.

A five-point gap to Chelsea on New Year's Eve, after Liverpool had beaten Manchester City, became a chasmic 13-point margin by February 4 - when they suffered a humbling defeat at relegation-battling Hull City, having already lost to strugglers Swansea City.

Liverpool recovered to finish fourth but ended a disappointing 17 points away from title winners Chelsea and even 10 points off second-placed Spurs, largely due to their January lull.

Liverpool do appear to have learned their lessons this year though, with Klopp's heavy rotation and their improved strength in depth having helped deliver a 15-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

Other low points include a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Spurs in October, arguably their worst performance of 2017 in spite of the 5-0 loss at City, and surrendering a three-goal lead at Sevilla.

Off the pitch, there was the embarrassing public apology to Southampton after illegally approaching Van Dijk back in the summer and also a ban on signing Academy players from English league clubs, also due to tapping up. 

What to expect in 2018?

More progress, Klopp will hope, but also some silverware to educate those outside of the Liverpool's bubble that they have genuinely made forward steps under the 50-year-old.

In fact, they have made strides both on and off the pitch. But for them to continue to do so, Liverpool must achieve another top-four finish, embark on a productive run in the Champions League knockout stages and also produce a real attempt at winning the FA Cup.

They are certainly better equipped to sustain their form until the end of the campaign, in contrast to their wheels-falling-off stumble last January.

And another target - having recruited Van Dijk, to join on January 1, and Keïta, joining in the summer - will be to further boost the spine of the squad with it expected that Emre Can and Coutinho will depart, though Liverpool will hope they leave in the summer rather than next month.

If they can fill the creative void left by Coutinho's likely exit and replace the steel of Can in midfield, as well as further upgrading in defence - especially in goal - then they may start 2018-19 as a stronger side.

But until then, Liverpool will hope the free-scoring form of their 'Fab Four' can yield domestic and continental success as they look to rubber-stamp the progress of the past 12 months.