With Sadio Mane facing a spell on the sidelines with a knee injury, Divock Origi has been handed an opportunity to reassert himself for Liverpool.
The Reds were dealt a disappointing blow as Mane limped off the field just under an hour into Saturday’s 3-1 derby victory over Everton, buckling under a challenge from Leighton Baines.
Speaking after the game, Jurgen Klopp moved to swiftly rule the winger out of contention for Wednesday night’s home clash with Bournemouth, despite Mane leaving Anfield unaided.
With Adam Lallana also sidelined, Mane’s place in the Liverpool side to take on Eddie Howe’s Cherries is likely to be taken by Origi.
And during a campaign that the Belgian described as “frustrating,” this could give Origi an opportunity to stake his claim ahead of a summer of upheaval on Merseyside.
Origi’s 2016/17 Frustration
Speaking while away with the Belgium squad during the March international break, Origi reflected on his second season at Liverpool so far, with his role diminished under Klopp.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating that you cannot express your qualities on the field,” he said.
“I believe in myself and I will get through. But sitting on the bench, there are times that you get down. All I can do is work hard. That is still the goal with Liverpool. That’s my focus.”
After a breakout campaign that saw him score 10 goals in 34 games in 2015/16, surpassing Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino as Klopp’s first-choice centre-forward, this was a frank assessment from the youngster.
This season, Origi has been named on the substitutes’ bench on 25 occasions, starting just 14 games, with only seven of those coming in the Premier League.
While the former Lille striker has still managed to net nine times in his 35 appearances in all competitions, that Origi’s exploits in front of goal have not earned him a regular starting role have clearly sapped his confidence.
His longest run of consecutive starts so far is six, when Philippe Coutinho injured his ankle at the end of November, and he has only started consecutive games on one other occasion, in January.
And when he has been called upon from the bench, he has rarely been given the opportunity to impress, averaging 33.7 minutes on the field per game in the league.
Origi painted a stark contrast between his fortunes and those of Belgium counterpart Romelu Lukaku, but insisted “I want the same progression as Romelu and I’m working for it.”
It would be fitting, therefore, for the Merseyside derby to have provided Origi with the turning point he has been striving for.
Decisive Merseyside Derby Cameo
Origi’s last outing, a 13-minute run in the 1-1 draw with Man City that saw him touch the ball 13 times, complete just eight passes and fail to fire a shot on goal or create any chances, suggested he would be a meagre derby replacement for Mane.
The striker’s contribution at the Etihad was limp and lethargic, lacking any of the energy or verve that the Reds needed as they pushed for a winner.
That could not have been further from the truth against Everton however, with Origi announcing himself in style with Liverpool’s third goal of the afternoon just three minutes after coming on.
Receiving Coutinho’s pass 25 yards out, Origi shifted his body to evade Ashley Williams and fired a powerful effort beyond Joel Robles to seal a vital three points for the Reds.
This was a statement strike from the young forward, coming at the perfect time in a hotly contested derby, deflating Everton and lifting the Kop.
While he nominally served as centre-forward at Anfield, with Roberto Firmino initially shifting to the right flank and then the left on Coutinho’s withdrawal, Origi took up a free-roaming duty.
Though he stands at 6’1″ and boasts a deceptively muscular frame, Origi is adept at taking the ball and driving at defenders with pace, allowing him to shine on either flank, too.
And in the final half-hour on Saturday, Origi was everywhere, often taking advantage of the inexperience of Seamus Coleman’s stand-in, Mason Holgate, to prowl close to the left touchline.
Despite playing a third of the amount of minutes, Origi made just eight fewer touches than Lukaku, as well as two more shots on goal, with his compatriot lifeless, nullified by an impressive Dejan Lovren.
Perhaps this was the perfect opportunity for Origi to come back into the side, in the same fixture he dominated this time last year, lining up against his international superior.
Having taken this chance, Origi must now find consistency, with replacing Mane a difficult task.
Filling in For Mane
It is certainly hard to paint Mane’s likely absence in a positive light, with the summer signing establishing himself as one of, if not the, most important players in Klopp’s squad.
The Senegalese’s pace and direct attacking style make him an elusive threat in the final third, and he is a unique presence on Merseyside.
Mane is also currently the Reds’ top goalscorer, with 13, while no Liverpool player has scored more match-winners in the league (five), with his cutting edge key.
Origi is a different proposition to the nimble winger, and it remains a tough task for him to step in, with Klopp likely forced to rejig his setup to accommodate the striker.
But the prospect of Origi being flanked by Coutinho and Firmino is a promising one, particularly given the relative ease of Liverpool’s run-in.
The inclusion of a more predatory, natural No. 9 could suit these clashes, with smaller sides more likely to sit back and defend.
The 21-year-old has already scored against Bournemouth, West Ham and Middlesbrough in the league this season, with the bottom-half outfits all among the Reds’ final eight opponents this season.
And if he continues to find the back of the net between now and May, Origi could still hope to end the campaign as Liverpool’s top scorer.
Having endured a tough season on the margins, it is easy to forget the potential Origi possesses, but he remains one of few squad players to provide Klopp with a genuine solution.
And as he professed after his derby intervention, he’s “not an option for the future, but an option for today.”