Last Sunday’s 2-1 to defeat to Crystal Palace was painful enough for Liverpool. However, the scorer of both goals for the Eagles added salt to a fresh wound.
Christian Benteke was the ghost who returned to haunt his old employers, with the Belgian’s brace putting a serious dent in the Reds’ hopes of a top-four finish in the Premier League.
The striker struggled to make much of an impact in his solitary season at Liverpool, yet his heroics for Crystal Palace at the weekend will make sure he’s not forgotten in a hurry by Liverpool fans.
“Benteke has now scored more Premier League goals at Anfield than he ever did while playing for the club in the 2015-16 season—five in total for Aston Villa and Crystal Palace,” commentator Martin Tyler revealed in his blog for SkySports.com.
However, would Benteke make it into the best XI of ex-Reds still playing?
We at Bleacher Report decided to pick a side of former Liverpool players and see how they compared to Jurgen Klopp’s current team. To be clear; injuries are not an issue, while both lineups are set out in a 4-3-3 formation to allow a direct comparison for each position.
Goalkeeper: Simon Mignolet vs. Pepe Reina
Simon Mignolet and Pepe Reina have been Liverpool’s two best goalkeepers in the Premier League era.
While the current No. 1 is always seemingly just one mistake away from having his place come under scrutiny again, the man he replaced between the posts is fondly remembered from his time with the Reds.
The thing is, though, Reina wasn’t averse to an error. While Mignolet appears uncomfortable coming for crosses, his predecessor accepted every aerial ball into the penalty area as an invitation to come off his line.
Still, the Spaniard’s CV is impressive. He was a three-time winner of the Golden Glove award during his time in England, won the Bundesliga while at Bayern Munich and is first choice at current club Napoli.
Verdict: Reina is 34, but Liverpool fans would have him back in a heartbeat. Poor Mignolet may never win the Anfield faithful over the way Pepe did during his 395 appearances.
Right-Back: Nathaniel Clyne vs. Glen Johnson
There are similarities between Nathaniel Clyne and Glen Johnson.
Both England internationals, they were signed by Liverpool for sizeable fees after impressing for south-coast clubs in the Premier League.
Both are physically gifted, too. Strong and blessed with pace, they willingly raid down the right flank while still capable of carrying out their defensive duties.
After joining from Portsmouth, Johnson—who was named in the PFA Team of the Year at the end of the 2008/09 season—made exactly 200 appearances for the Reds.
Clyne arrived from Southampton in 2015, the same summer his compatriot left on a free transfer to join Stoke City, to become Liverpool’s new first-choice right-back.
Verdict: Mould the pair together and you’d have the perfect full-back. While Johnson is a greater threat going forward—he scored nine goals in his Anfield career—he’s also past his prime. Therefore, Clyne is in.
Centre-Back: Joel Matip vs. Mikel San Jose
Joel Matip hasn’t quite managed to solidify Liverpool’s leaky defence, but that’s not entirely his fault.
Signed on a free transfer in the summer of 2016, the 25-year-old has impressed in his first season at the club. Tall and quick, Matip is comfortable in possession and calm under pressure.
Mikel San Jose, however, never had the chance to shine with the Reds.
The Spaniard arrived from Athletic Bilbao as a teenager in August 2007 and played regularly for the reserves for two seasons without ever making a first-team appearance.
“It was good for me. The player I am now is thanks to the experience I had there. Spending two years in Liverpool, surrounded by world-class players and coaches who helped every player improve, it was very important,” he told Nick Wright of SkySports.com
San Jose returned to his former club, at first on a season-long loan before signing a permanent deal in 2010. He made his international debut in 2014 and was a member of Spain’s squad at Euro 2016.
Verdict: Both Matip and San Jose have played as a holding midfielder, as well at centre-back. The latter may be younger, but the experience of playing in two different leagues puts him ahead of his rival.
Centre-Back: Dejan Lovren vs. Martin Skrtel
Dejan Lovren vs. Martin Skrtel—a fight between two tough centre-backs prone to a cock-up.
Both are better suited to physical confrontations than dealing with willing runners. Pull them out of position and they are like lost children in a supermarket; unsure of where to go and in need of supervision.
Lovren’s display in the 2-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace last Sunday again gave further weight to the argument Liverpool need to sign defensive reinforcements.
Skrtel was deemed surplus to requirements by Klopp last summer. After 320 appearances for the Reds, the Slovakian—who had a penchant for putting the ball in his own net—moved to Fenerbahce in Turkey.
Verdict: This is a tight call. Supporters had their doubts about Skrtel, and the same now rings true for Lovren. The latter is the better of the two in possession, though, so gets the nod to start.
Left-Back: James Milner vs. Emiliano Insua
Liverpool’s relationship with left-backs during the Premier League era has been rocky, to say the least.
This season, Klopp found a solution to the problem position by shifting James Milner from central midfield. The move has worked to a degree, as the versatile Milner has adapted well to the new role.
But is he better than any of the previous occupants who are still playing?
Well, Brad Smith is struggling for minutes at Bournemouth, Stephen Warnock just got relegated from the Championship with Wigan Athletic and Paul Konchesky is now plying his trade for Billericay Town.
Emiliano Insua is the best of a mixed bunch. The Argentinean played 62 games for the Reds—congratulations if you can remember any of them.
After spells at Sporting Lisbon and Atletico Madrid—along with a loan stint at Rayo Vallecano—Insua is now at VfB Stuttgart, playing regularly for a team looking to win promotion back to the Bundesliga.
Verdict: Insua is playing second-tier football in Germany. Milner may only use his left foot for standing on, but he’s still top of the pile.
Central Midfielder: Jordan Henderson vs. Javier Mascherano
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has blossomed this season. Situated as the deepest of Klopp’s midfield trio, the former Sunderland player has adapted well to a new role.
Per the Premier League’s official website, only Manchester United’s Paul Pogba has completed more passes than Henderson—and the latter has missed the last nine games with a foot injury.
And yet, while Henderson has stepped out of Steven Gerrard’s shadow to become a pivotal member of the current squad, he’s not quite managed to find a place in this current/past XI.
Javier Mascherano also excelled in the holding-midfielder role while on Merseyside. Rescued from West Ham United’s reserves by Rafa Benitez, the Argentinian kickstarted his career at Liverpool.
Since moving to Barcelona, he has transitioned to become a ball-playing centre-back. Wherever he plays, Mascherano is a destructive force whose abilities on the ball are often underrated.
Verdict: Henderson has the physical advantages in the battle for the starting berth, but Mascherano is the ideal man to protect the back four…no matter what it takes.
Central Midfielder: Georginio Wijnaldum vs. Xabi Alonso
Through hard work and the occasional goal in a big game, Georginio Wijnaldum has slowly won over the doubters since his arrival from Newcastle United last summer.
Yes, the Dutchman is still yet to score a Premier League goal on the road. However, “Gini” netted the winner against Manchester City last December, then grabbed the equaliser in the 1-1 draw with Chelsea the following month.
While Wijnaldum is more about covering ground and getting into promising positions, Xabi Alonso lets the ball do the work.
The £10.7 million Benitez sent to Real Sociedad to bring his fellow Spaniard turned out to be money well spent. Alonso played 210 games for the Reds, winning the UEFA Champions League and the FA Cup.
Although the relationship with the man who signed him soured towards the end of his career in England, the boy from the Basque country will forever be fondly remembered at Anfield.
Verdict: Yes, Alonso—who has played for Real Madrid and Bayern Munich since leaving Merseyside—is retiring at the end of the season. But, even at 35, Liverpool fans would love to have him back.
Central Midfielder: Adam Lallana vs. Joe Allen
The current teacher’s pet against the former manager’s favourite foot soldier.
Adam Lallana is Klopp’s marathon man. The midfielder runs. And runs. Then he even runs a little more. He does other stuff, too, like score goals (seven this season) and produce assists (again, seven this season).
England’s player of the year for 2016, Lallana’s adaptability and willingness to work for the team has helped him go from peripheral figure to one of the first names on the teamsheet.
Dubbed the Welsh Xavi by Brendan Rodgers, Joe Allen struggled to make a mark at Liverpool until enjoying a late resurgence in his final season.
Sold to Stoke City last summer, Klopp still thinks about the one that got away. “Do we miss Joe Allen? Yes. He’s a nice guy, unbelievably strong player,” the German said, per James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo
Verdict: Allen won over many at Anfield in the end, yet Lallana is the clear-cut choice to play alongside Mascherano and Alonso in our midfield. That’s quite a trio to roll out in any team’s engine room, too.
Right Winger: Sadio Mane vs. Raheem Sterling
The manner of Raheem Sterling’s departure from Anfield ruined his relationship with Liverpool fans.
“I’ve always loved Liverpool, it was a great team which helped my development. I never had any big issues there at all; with the fans or anything like that. It didn’t go the way I would have liked but it happened and you have to move on,” he told the BBC’s Premier League Show (h/t Matt Maltby of MailOnline).
Leaving for Manchester City is one thing. The way his wishes were made so public didn’t sit well with followers of the Reds, although the £49 million they received helped calm the hysteria.
Speaking of money, eyebrows were raised when Liverpool spent £30 million to make Sadio Mane their latest signing from Southampton last summer.
However, the Senegalese silenced the doubters in a hurry. Pacy with an end product, Klopp’s side simply don’t look the same without their Mane man raiding down the right.
Verdict: Has Sterling kicked on since moving to Manchester? That’s a topic that could take up a few thousand words. Has Mane proved to be worth the risk? That question can be answered with one word; yes.
Striker: Roberto Firmino vs. Luis Suarez
Roberto Firmino has excelled as Liverpool’s leading man up front this season, keeping more recognised strikers Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge out of the team with his all-action displays.
The Brazilian has bagged 11 goals and also weighed in with nine assists. He also runs around more than a desperate shopper on Christmas Eve, a quality that endears him to both supporters and his manager.
However, for all Firmino’s good qualities (one of which isn’t his fashion sense), Luis Suarez is a shoo-in.
After scoring 82 goals in 133 appearances at Liverpool, Suarez has gone on to become a member of the MSN forward line at Barcelona, forming a famous alliance with Neymar and Lionel Messi.
The good news for Liverpool supporters is that the Uruguayan has no intention of a return to England with anyone else than the Reds. “You never know in football what the future holds, but if I ever play in England again, I will play for the Liverpool team and not another team,” he told ESPN.
Verdict: Suarez is the obvious choice, but there were plenty of other names in the frame from Liverpool’s past.
Christian Benteke is excelling at Crystal Palace—including scoring twice against his old employers on Sunday—while Andy Carroll has done well for West Ham United when not on the treatment table. Fernando Torres is still going at Atletico Madrid, but isn’t the force of old.
Left Winger: Philippe Coutinho vs. Suso
Philippe Coutinho’s form has mirrored Liverpool’s progress during the 2016/17 season.
The Brazilian was brilliant in the early months of the campaign, only to pick up an ankle injury last November. On his return, Coutinho struggled to hit the same heights as the Reds suffered a slump at the start of 2017.
Recently, however, the playmaker has begun to rediscover his best form. If Liverpool are to finish in the top four, Coutinho needs to finish with a flourish.
Left wing was a troublesome position to fill for the past XI. Stewart Downing plays deeper these days for a Middlesbrough side that seem determined to go down without a fight, while Fabio Borini has played across the forward line for Sunderland, who look certain to finally fall through the Premier League’s trap door.
So, forgive us a little licence for shifting Suso from his right-wing role at AC Milan. The Spaniard barely featured for Liverpool but has enjoyed success in Serie A.
Verdict: The left-footed Suso has managed seven goals and nine assists this season. Coutinho, meanwhile, reached double figures in the Premier League with his wonderful free-kick against Crystal Palace last Sunday.
Phil fills the slot, meaning Klopp’s crop dominate our combined XI. Still, how the Reds boss—and the club’s fans for that matter—would love to add Reina, Mascherano, Alonso and Suarez to this current squad.
All statistics used in the article are from TransferMarkt unless otherwise stated.