It has been a strange season for Divock Origi; one in which he would have hoped to kick on from the glory of 2018/19. But despite more silverware, he struggled to fire.
Origi became a hero in 2018/19, scoring some of the club’s most important and memorable goals on the way to winning the European Cup.
After a season in the wilderness at Wolfsburg, his dramatic header in the Merseyside derby announced his return and drove Jurgen Klopp onto the pitch and on his way to a fine from the FA.
He ended the campaign with a brace in the miraculous comeback against Barcelona and the clincher in the Champions League final, and Liverpool handed him a new contract as reward.
But while his appearances doubled as he settled into the role of go-to alternative in attack, Origi found himself at odds with expectations in his follow-up season.
And it is a situation that could cast doubt over his future once again.
Divock Origi, 2019/20
Started: 14 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 28
Unused sub: 10
Overall Season Rating: 6
A step up in responsibility
“I think age-wise it’s an important contract for him,” Klopp reflected as Origi committed to a new long-term deal in July of last year.
“And for us, it’s an important role which he will have in the next season.”
The Belgian had played just 21 times in 2018/19, with only 12 of those being in the Premier League, but the manager envisaged a heightened responsibility this time around.
He would provide cover for the established front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, and, being 24 at the time, would hopefully kick on and work closer to the “monster” potential outlined by Vincent Kompany in 2014.
The late return of Mane from the Africa Cup of Nations handed Origi the perfect start as he started in the Community Shield against Man City and the league curtain-raiser at Norwich, scoring one and assisting another at Carrow Road.
But there was little opportunity to truly break into the attack, and the versatile forward likely acknowledged this when he agreed his extension.
Instead, he was largely utilised off the bench or as a starter in cup ties—the Reds’ run in the FA Cup saw him line up against Everton, Shrewsbury and Chelsea, while in the League Cup he led the attack against Arsenal.
He also struck twice in the 5-2 thrashing of Everton in the league in December, continuing his happy habit of netting in the derby.
Strangely, though Origi has earned his title as ‘super-sub’ by becoming the most-used substitute in the club’s history, all of his goals in 2019/20 came as a starter.
The unfortunate reality, however, is that six is a disappointing return for the No. 27.
Origi split his duties between the left wing and centre-forward throughout the season, which allowed Klopp to rest or cover for the absences of all three of Mane, Salah and Firmino.
But as is often raised whenever any of that trio are missing, the issue for the Reds is the drop in quality when their stand-ins are called upon, with Origi the prime example.
Standing at 6’1″ and blessed with searing pace despite his history of injuries, the 25-year-old is built like a modern centre-forward, and his technical ability has secured him a long-term place at Liverpool.
When filling in for any of the Reds’ first-choice forwards, however, Origi struggles to meet their world-class standards; he just isn’t a like-for-like replacement for any of the three.
Liverpool’s buildup play suffers as a result, with the final-day victory over Newcastle perhaps the best example of the situation.
For close to an hour, Origi was one of the worst players in the side, with Klopp quickly switching him from his central role to the left flank to allow Takumi Minamino to better influence the game as No. 9.
But out of nowhere, he picked up the ball on the left, cut inside onto his right and fired past Martin Dubravka to put the Reds ahead at 2-1.
It was a moment of magic that symbolised his iconic status on Merseyside.
It would be remiss to describe these goals as uncharacteristic, but they contrast so wildly with his all-round input that they often come as a surprise to those watching on.
Ending the season with a new bleach-blonde look, there is only one question to ask: would the real Divock Origi please stand up?
It has already been suggested that, if the right offer were to arise, Liverpool would consider parting ways with Origi in the transfer window.
But if reports in his native Belgium are to be believed—with HLN claiming he “doesn’t feel like an adventure”—he intends to honour his contract with the Reds, at least for now.
The Reds have already pulled out of a move for Timo Werner, but though there are high hopes for Elliott and the returning Brewster, it can certainly be argued that a higher-quality addition to the forward line is required.
Heading into next season with largely the same front line may be the plan, but it could again be a gamble on the admittedly impeccable fitness of Salah, Mane and Firmino.
If any of the three are sidelined for an extended period, can Klopp trust any of Origi, Minamino, Elliott or Brewster to step in and shine on a regular basis?
The manager seems to have faith in his current crop, and given he features in the Reds’ top 10 for the season in terms of appearances, Origi in particular.
After just six goals in 42 games, however—averaging one every 237.7 minutes—a better record should be the target in 2020/21.
A lot could hinge on Klopp’s plans for Brewster, with his free-scoring form on loan at Swansea suggesting he is ready for the step up, and he certainly deserves a chance to compete with Origi.
Best moment: Embarrassing Jordan Pickford yet again in the derby at Anfield.
Worst moment: 23 games without a goal from December to July.
Role next season: Likely staying as backup, but could Rhian Brewster usurp him?