The Misfits: Liverpool’s unlikely heroes are driving them closer to the Champions League

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The Reds' push for a top-four finish in the Premier League over recent weeks has primarily been pressed by a trio that were reviled not so long ago


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At the start of February, when Alfred N’Diaye and Oumar Niasse profited from Liverpool’s defensive frailties to grant Hull City a 2-0 home win, a large swathe of supporters wished they’d never have to see Simon Mignolet between the sticks for Jurgen Klopp’s side again. 

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By the end of that month, with Leicester having sacked Claudio Ranieri and shaken themselves from slumber to punish a pathetically passive approach from the Reds, Emre Can and Lucas provided the Belgian with company in the can’t-the-club-just-get-rid? camp.

HD Simon Mignolet Liverpool celebrate

But in the nine games since - the solitary defeat against Crystal Palace an exception, the trio have been most influential for Liverpool.

The Merseysiders’ season may have been built on their thrilling attacking trident in Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino, with Adam Lallana their trigger, while Jordan Henderson acted as the metronome and Gini Wijnaldum served as the golden thread, but it is being shoved towards the finishing line by Mignolet, Can and Lucas.

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The goalkeeper that spilled the ball under pressure from Abel Hernandez for the opener at the KCOM Stadium has been replaced by one solid enough to shut out a roughing up from Troy Deeney at Watford. 

He pulled off a fine save to thwart Etienne Capoue from distance in that game and was equally decisive in the victories over Stoke City and West Brom. 

GFX Klopp Quote Mignolet

Away to Mark Hughes' men, Mignolet earned credit from Klopp for a stellar stop off Saido Berahino, as well as his unerring attitude during testing times.

"We needed him with two outstanding saves, the second one was one of the best I have ever seen - the save of the year," the German said post-match.

"It was outstanding and well deserved for him because he got a lot of criticism in his Liverpool career and sometimes these are the moments you need as a player. And for us as a team we need a goalkeeper like this."

For the first time since his switch from Sunderland to Liverpool in the summer of 2013, Mignolet has had genuine competition as the club's No.1 and he has responded expertly. 

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Instead of being defeatist when Loris Karius replaced him, he sharpened up the very attributes he lacked that the German was recruited for, and applied it after being restored to the XI following his team-mate’s teething issues.

Mignolet’s distribution has improved along with his decision-making on the high ball and the overall command of his area. The 29-year-old's errors have drastically reduced and he is no longer a soft touch.

In front of him, Lucas has got stuck in, and three league assists in his last five starts stands out. Klopp “was never in doubt” about the Brazilian’s ability to make a telling contribution during the run-in and that is the overriding feeling in the dressing room too. 

HD Jurgen Klopp Lucas Leiva

The 30-year-old is a player the others count on, look up to, and hugely respect. That was evident last Monday at a special dinner held at Anfield to mark his 10th year as a Red.

“He is in a good moment and is very important for us,” Klopp said. “The club showed his best side, the best face, when we celebrated his 10 years. 

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“I must say, I was never part of something like this; it was a real sign of respect, a real sign of the size of the club and the importance of the player.”

It was Lucas that spotted the space Can could exploit in Watford’s box and duly lofted in a perfectly weighted ball. The German darted towards it and executed an unreal bicycle kick - all in one motion - which will take some displacing as goal of the season.

HD Emre Can goal

The majesty of that worldy aside, the 23-year-old’s tenacious displays have helped Liverpool win ugly in their push for Champions League football. 

He has undoubtedly strengthened his hand in contract talks, both in terms of an improved package and his status within the squad. 

Can offers characteristics in contrast to Liverpool’s other midfielders, and as such, is a great advantage to his manager.

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“He is a hard-working boy, it was never any different,” Klopp highlighted when assessing the Frankfurt-born player’s upturn in form.

“He’s always had a fantastic attitude, that’s really what I like most. His performances are more stable - we spoke about why, with his calf issues and hopefully they are finally sorted, so he can train without issues for weeks and months, maybe. 

GFX Klopp quote on Emre Can

“That helps each player and helps him also. That’s the situation. There is no secret how much I like Emre - not only him, but him also, and that’s all. 

“He likes the club and it’s a completely normal situation that we are in talks. 

“You can imagine there is absolutely no pressure, all good, two partners with big respect for each other and in the end everything will be good, but [for now] nothing else to say.

“To keep good players, I think that makes real sense for development, and he is one of these good players.” 

Against Southampton on Sunday, the heroes many Liverpool fans didn’t particularly want will again look to prove they are the ones the club need in order to consolidate their position in the top four. 

And if Klopp’s charges do realise their ambition of returning to Europe’s elite next season, plenty of the credit should go to Mignolet, Lucas and Can. 

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