In the absence of Sadio Mane and amid a worrying stat with him not in the side, Dave Tindall is hoping Divock Origi can finally fulfil his potential and fire Liverpool into the Champions League.
There’s never just a normal week for LFC is there.
In theory, taking four points out of six in the space of five days represents a solid enough return in our bid to get a prized Champions League spot.
And yet, as usual, it was laced with drama and cruel twists.
It also started so well when Sadio Mane pressed the accelerator and burst through the Everton defence to give us a lead inside the first 10 minutes in Saturday’s Merseyside derby. The rest of that day was spent in celebration at yet another Premier League double over the neighbours and the weekend got better as Man Utd, Man City and Arsenal all dropped points.
And yet, by Wednesday night I was in a sulk and riddled with top-four doubt again.
News had come through the day before that Mane was probably out for the rest of the season and we then conceded a stupid and sloppy 87th-minute equaliser to chuck away two points against Bournemouth, a goal that Jurgen Klopp said had nearly made him vomit. I knew exactly what he meant….
Highs and lows. Joys and woes. A week in the life of a Liverpool fan is an emotional rollercoaster.
Time to man up though. Rather than wallow in pity about Mane, I’m now focusing on what we can achieve without him – even though TV and online keep reminding me that we haven’t won a Premier League game without him this season.
My cunning, reverse-psychology, plan last week to suggest we might take the money and sell Philippe Coutinho clearly worked a treat. He’s responded to the criticism with two goals in two games.
Coutinho will hopefully be a key figure in our final seven games but the man I want to focus on this week is Divock Origi.
With Mane out of the picture, this is the Belgian’s big chance to show us that he’s the one to take us forward into the Champions League.
Liverpool are looking for a mobile striker, who can score goals and actually head a ball. And we might just have one right under our noses….
Origi, the son of a Kenyan international, has had a rather in-and-out career so far at Anfield since we signed him for £10m in the summer of 2014 – a summer that had seen him score a goal for his country in the World Cup finals in Brazil.
At first it seemed Klopp might not fancy him but during the second half of last season it appeared he’d become the golden boy.
While many were clamouring for Daniel Sturridge to start, it was obvious that Klopp had more faith in Origi to fit the system he was trying to play. And he was rewarded too, the high point coming when the young striker put us in front at Borussia Dortmund, a goal that would prove precious in the final analysis.
Oozing confidence, Origi netted twice in a 4-1 home win over Stoke three days later and then gave us hope with another goal against Dortmund to pull it back to 2-1 before those amazing scenes at the finish.
He then banged in the opening goal against Everton to make it five in five matches before, on the crest of a wave, he was cruelly ruled out for a month after having his ankle wrecked by a dreadful red-card tackle from Everton’s Ramiro Funes Mori.
Origi did get 20 minutes at the end of the Europa Cup final but the game had gone from us by then and he couldn’t help reverse the momentum.
Look through the 21-year-old’s goalscoring record and you’ll see that they come in bunches.
Last season he netted five in eight games in December to February and, as mentioned earlier, five in five from the opener in Dortmund. That accounted for all his 10 goals in 2016/17.
This season, he was given two starts in the EFL Cup and scored against Burton and Derby and later went on another five-in-five run as he scored in successive games against Sunderland, Leeds, Bournemouth, West Ham and Middlesbrough.
This was him kicking on and being a huge asset to Liverpool. But more bench time and starting alongside the kids in FA Cup games seemed to do him no favours and the underwhelming Origi returned.
Klopp said he “had no rhythm”, not a reference to his dancing abilities but a reflection on the Belgian being unable to build up a head of steam. When he did finally start games, all the bench warming appeared to have left him off the pace.
But when Mane hobbled off against Everton, looking in serious trouble as he did so, Origi seemed to sense this could be his big chance.
He’d only been on the pitch three minutes but, showing good awareness, found space to latch onto Coutinho’s clever pass and larrup a right-foot shot past the helpless Joel Robles. It proved the killer third goal from which they’d never recover.
But for Bournemouth’s late equaliser, he’d also have bagged us the winner on Wednesday night.
It was a simple finish but he was in the six-yard box and he scored with his head. A striker’s goal. Not as beautiful as a Mane dribble and shot but just seeing us having a focal point in attack is quite a refreshing change and could be hugely valuable in the run-in.
Our fixture list contains lots of matches against teams that might prove hard to break down so having a genuine No.9 is no bad thing (all the other top teams have one) rather than the clever fluidity which works brilliantly against the top six but far less so against the stubborn defences of those lower down the table.
The fact that Origi tends to score in bunches gives me confidence that he can keep this going. It’s two-in-two so far and he’ll be pencilled in as our main striker for the foreseeable future unless Daniel Sturridge has some sort of body transplant.
First up are the away games against Stoke and West Brom and Origi’s physical presence as much as anything should be good in those two matches. He’s beefed himself up in the gym and is our tallest striker at 6ft 1in.
He may be still just 21 and far from a world beater. But I see a player with energy, pace, good movement, a hard shot and an ability to score goals with his head.
Divock, this is your time. Go ahead and fire us into the Champions League.
By Dave Tindall