Liverpool: Team of the Century?

Liverpool Football Club have had some of the most iconic players in the history of the game. Trying to whittle this down to just eleven is a task that would be almost impossible.

The game has changed, in more ways than one. There has been huge advances in sports science, meaning the level of players today is much higher than of those 40 years ago. They’re fitter, faster and stronger – physically it would be unfair to compare them. Wolverhampton winger Adama Traore is a perfect example here – an absolute specimen with his physique and capabilities of that physique, but you’d be hard fought to see a player like him knocking about in the 70s.

The culture of the game has also changed. Gone are the days of a team going to the pub for a few jars regardless of the result. Win, lose or draw the players are now back in the next day in most cases for recovery, again adding to the shift in professionalism and consistent performance levels.

Outside the physical improvements there is now a huge focus on tactical set up and the progression of formations and ideas. You won’t see any coach deploying the WM formation in 2023, with the most popular being a 4-3-3.

That being said, I will not attempt to combine a squad of players from different generations and different eras. Instead, I will put forth my best eleven players since the turn of the millennium for Liverpool Football Club.

The Squad

The manager

First of all we need to decide the most important man in the squad, the manager. Since 2000 LFC have had six head coaches. Some were good, like Gerard Houllier, who led the Reds to six trophies in as many years. Others weren’t so good, namely Roy Hodgson, who lasted only six months and won only 41.94% of the games he was in charge for.

But the man that stands out is the German Jurgen Klopp, the current Liverpool manager. He has a higher win rate than those he is competing with at 60.44% and a greater trophy haul at an impressive 7. He has been transformative for Liverpool Football Club and is by far the best coach in the past 23 years of the clubs history.

As a result, the squad will line up in Jurgen’s favoured 4-3-3.

He’s a god-like figure

Jamie Carragher, speaking about Klopp on the Diary of a CEO podcast

Goalkeeper

My selection here was a very easy choice. There has been a lot of mediocrity at Liverpool at points in the last 23 years, none more prominent than between the sticks, and without naming names, the 2018 Champions League final comes to mind.

An honourable mention goes out to Pepe Reina, but the goalkeeper in this team is Brazilian Alisson Becker. At the point of his arrival on Merseyside from Rome, he was the most expensive goalkeeper in history – but it didn’t take him long to prove he was worth his weight in gold, winning:

  • UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year (2019)
  • The Best FIFA Football Awards (2019)
  • Premier League Goalkeeper of the Season (18-19)
  • Premier League Golden Glove (18-19)

As well as these individual honours, he played a massive part in the trophy haul during his first 18 months at Liverpool. He also scored an unforgettable goal against West Brom which helped Liverpool secure Champions League football in 2021, which is something not many keepers can claim to have done.

The best at Liverpool, and the best in the world – Alisson Becker.

He is the Lionel Messi of goalkeepers

Alisson’s former goalkeeper coach from his time playing in Brazil
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The Fullbacks

Right Back:

The right back slot is very easy to fill. The club has a rich history in this position, including Phil Neal and Steve Nicol to name a few – but none you would immortalise in recent history. Until now, with local lad Trent Alexander-Arnold becoming a cornerstone of the modern squad.

His ability on the ball has revolutionised the position in world football – especially his passing range and his vision to create chances from that position. At only 24, with 254 appearances and 79 goal involvements already, Trent will likely finish as the greatest of all time in this position for Liverpool.

Left Back:

The opposite flank was slightly trickier however, with club legend John Arne Riise holding more than a fair claim to the position. Over 348 appearances and being instrumental in the Instanbul comeback of 2005, the Nord is one of the best Liverpool left-backs of all time, let alone the past 23 years.

However, I found it impossible not to pick Trent’s wingman, Andrew Robertson. The Scotland captain is also one of the captains at Liverpool, bringing a voice and influence off the pitch which has been more than matched by his output on it. He has the most assists (54) by a defender in Premier League history and is the epitome of the working class man, which is valued so highly in the city of Liverpool.

His intensity and quality is the perfect balance at left-back which is why he, along with Trent, are my picks for the wide defenders in this side.

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The Centre-Halves

This was arguably the hardest positions to pick for myself. There has been tonnes of quality centre-halves over the years I have been alive – some of my personal favourites being Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger. Maybe they didn’t achieve the most at the club, but they were loyal and consistent servants to the club.

Leaving Sami Hyypia out caused me great pain. Arguably one of the best centre backs in Premier League history, Hyypia was a Liverpool fan in his youth and lived out the dream by playing 464 times for the club, captaining the side on a number of occasions.

Right Centre Back:

Alas, the first man in this partnership was one of Hyypia’s teammates, Jamie Carragher. A leader in every way, vocal, professional and consistent. 737 appearances for the club, 11 trophies and three time Liverpool Player of the Year, Carragher is a Liverpool legend and this squad wouldn’t feel right without him in it.

Many forget the quality Carragher had as a player because of his modern day persona as a pundit, but make no mistake, he was an unbelievably good defender and a relentless competitor, you don’t get nominated for a Ballon d’Or through luck!

When you look at Carragher you see leadership, character and bravery. A winner! When you’re going into battle you know that Jamie is not going to shy away.

Steven Gerrard (teammate of almost 20 years) on Jamie Carragher

Left Centre Back:

The man next to him is the 4th player from the current squad, the colossal Virgil van Dijk. The Dutch defender joined Liverpool in 2018 alongside Alisson Becker. He was, at the time, a record signing for a defender, with a £75 million that many thought he would never live up to.

In the years since, he has exceeded those expectations. His signing is regarded as the pivotal moment in Liverpool’s fortunes over the past 5 years. Scoring in his debut against Everton, running to a Champions League final in his first season, then being part of the team that charged to the final again the next season, this time winning. He has since been part of a title winning squad which has lifted everything possible as well as having some incredible accolades to his own name in red:

  • UEFA Best Player in Europe (2019)
  • Liverpool Player of the Season (18/19)
  • 2nd in Ballon d’Or voting (2019)
  • Went 70 matched unbeaten at Anfield

These two to complete the defence will take some beating, Virgil van Dijk and Jamie Carragher, the heart of the back line.

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The Midfield

The past 8 years under Klopp have been the most successful period for Liverpool in the 21st century, and that is evident in the volume of the players in this squad that are part of this period of history.

There are three players from this period that narrowly miss out on a place in the midfield – James Milner, Fabinho Tavares and Giorginio Wijnaldum. All three are players that have been instrumental in the previously stated success. However, there is one name that stands out from the rest.

Centre Defensive Midfielder

And that name is Jordan Brian Henderson – a man who stepped up and led in the wake of Steven Gerrard’s departure. Henderson has been vital as an extension of the manager on the pitch. He’s another leader in this squad and arguably one of the best, having lifted trophy after trophy – most notably the notorious 19th league title that had eluded the club for 30 years.

This same year, he won Liverpool and England Player of the Year and was the FWA Premier League Player of the Year. Having played 473 times for the Reds, he has never been the highest contributor in goals with only 33, but that isn’t his job in the team. He is the engine, the fuel that has empowered others in the side to express themselves.

Being the six in this squad will be the perfect stabiliser for the next two players.

Left Central Midfielder

The next man to join Henderson in midfield is the current manager of German club Bayer Leverkusen, Xabi Alonso. Dubbed ‘the pass master’, Xabi Alonso was simply the metronome of the Liverpool midfield in his time on Merseyside.

210 appearances for Liverpool, he was revered by many players on opposing sides as an impossible opponent. He was also revered by the Anfield crowds, constantly in awe of his technique and ability to control the tempo, but his most iconic moment came in Istanbul.

Picture the scene. The Champions League Final in 2005. 3-2 down to AC Milan, with 60 minutes on the clock. Xabi Alonso struck the ball from the spot, it was saved, but Alonso scored the rebound which salvaged the game and allowed Liverpool to make history on penalties.

Xabi Alonso is a player that no Liverpool fan will forget.

I’ve never seen another player with his ability to play such fantastic passes

Mesut Ozil’s comments on Xabi Alonso
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Right Central Midfielder

Captain. Leader. Legend. A man that makes the list of all-time Liverpool players, not just of the 21st Century. Perhaps even the best to ever do it donning the Liverbird on his chest… Steven George Gerrard.

Born a Red, Gerrard was Liverpool through and through his entire career. Born in the shadow of Anfield in May of 1980, Gerrard came through the academy and made his debut for the senior side on the 29th of November 1998. Almost 20 years later, on the 24th of May 2015, he played his last game for the club.

But between those dates he achieved great things. In 710 appearances, Gerrard bagged 186 goals, 154 assists and lifted 11 major honours. A magician, a machine, the best midfielder in Europe at his peak, from 35-yard volleys to heavy-hitting tackles, there was nothing Gerrard couldn’t and didn’t do. At times he was often found dragging Liverpool to places they had no business being, but Gerrard has every bit of belonging in this squad.

He also scored the goal that sparked the comeback in the same final Xabi had his iconic moment in, and as former teammates they won’t be estranged when they link up in the middle of the park again here.

The midfield three of Jordan Henderson, Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard brings perfect balance to the side – defensive intensity and impact, an abundance of energy and creativity, and leaders all in their own right with some of the best footballing brains the world has ever seen. It’s often said that games are won and lost in the midfield battle, and it’s fair to say you’d struggle to win that battle against these three.

The Attack

Liverpool have fielded some of the best attacking talent in the history of the beautiful game. From Ian Rush to Kenny Dalglish, the history is rich! And it is no different today, as the club have always placed value on attractive football spearheaded by brilliance at the top of the pitch.

Players like Robbie Fowler did play for LFC in the 21st century, however his best seasons in a red shirt came in the mid 90’s. You’ve also got players like Daniel Sturridge, Peter Crouch and Emile Heskey who were all machines in front of goal. The striker I grew up watching was Fernando Torres, who at his peak was the greatest number nine in world football before his £50 million move to Chelsea.

But the two players who were the closest to this squad were Roberto Firmino and Michael Owen. Firmino, is much the outlier in this list as he wasn’t the traditional number 9, and instead he was brilliant at dropping between the lines to create for the two ahead of him. That being said, the Brazilian still has over 100 goals for Liverpool. The other attacker, Michael Owen, was the best player in the world at his peak – winning the Ballon d’Or in 2001, scoring 158 goals for the club and as a product of the academy, he was very much an icon on Merseyside… before he moved to rivals Manchester United later in his career.

Left Wing

The left wing position was very straight forward for me, and I’ve chosen a player who has only just left Merseyside for Bavaria – Sadio Mane.

With 168 goal involvements in 269 matches for the club, the Senegalese winger won 2 African Player of the Year, 1 Premier League Golden Boot and helped to add 6 trophies to the cabinet during his 6 years as Liverpool. It’s safe to say he deserves his spot.

Mane was frightening. His pace was incomparable, his work-ethic was inspirational and his final product was as polished as can be. To see him leave for such a low fee in the summer just gone has left many Liverpool fans upset, and with Mane finishing 2nd in the Ballon d’Or voting, it leaves the question of how Bayern Munich picked him up for less than £30 million… but I digress. Sadio Mane is every bit a Liverpool legend and compliments the other two in this attack nicely.

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Right Wing

There is only one man that can fill this position. There’s nobody who even comes close to the Egyptian King, Mohamed Salah.

After leaving Chelsea in 2016, many thought he would be another player that never reached his potential and would never be seen in the Premier League again, but they couldn’t have been more wrong. After a season in Italy with Roma, he made the move back to England for around £37 million – which turned out to be the bargain of the century.

Salah scored 44 goals in his first season and broke the single season scoring record in the Premier League with 32! He went on to claim another 2 golden boots and is now the 5th highest scorer in the club’s history (173), and if he keeps current pace then he will finish much higher than that.

Like his wingman Sadio Mane, he is also a two-time African Player of the Year. Having won seven trophies for Liverpool and even a Puskas award in 2018 for his strike against Everton, Salah has achieved more for the club than many, and having just signed a new deal, he’s set to nail down that right-wing spot for years to come.

Striker

The final player in this squad is the striker – the man who puts the ball in the back of the net for a living. I mentioned a lot of names already, but the best I have seen do it with my own eyes is Luis Suarez.

‘El Pistolero’ – the gunslinger – is a name he lived up to in play and celebration. Suarez was a polarising character throughout his career, none more than his time at Liverpool.

Whether you loved him or hated, you couldn’t deny the man was an absolute genius on the ball, hailed by many as the third best player of his generation behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

His time at Liverpool wasn’t particularly successful on a team front, but as an individual he tore teams to shreds up and down the country. Winning the 2014 PFA Player of the Year alongside the European Golden Boot was probably the high of Luis Suarez’s Liverpool career, but 133 games, 82 goals and 29 assists won’t be forgotten by the Anfield faithful anytime soon!

Luis Suarez adds even more goals to a front three with plenty of talent and energy to burn.

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The Final Line-Up

The final line-up is as follows:

  • GK: Alisson Becker
  • LB: Andrew Robertson
  • LCB: Virgil van Dijk
  • RCB: Jamie Carragher
  • RB: Trent Alexander-Arnold
  • CDM: Jordan Henderson
  • LCM: Xabi Alonso
  • RCM: Steven Gerrard
  • LW: Sadio Mane
  • ST: Luis Suarez
  • RW: Mohammed Salah

A total of 3,737 appearances and 76 major honours to their names. What a team. What a club.