Liverpool prevailed against Villarreal in the Semi-Final Second Leg Tuesday and progressed to the Champions League Final without a contribution from the only Belgian on the side, Divock Origi. (He did play 12 minutes in the first leg). He might be somewhat of a bit player but Liverpool supporters still have a soft spot for him.
There’s just something about this guy, mild-mannered and easy-going he never seems to offend anyone. Perhaps it’s because his parents adopted his name from former NBA star and international do-gooder Vlade Divac. He plays a clean game having only picked up only 4 yellow cards in 174 appearances for Liverpool. Heck, he even turned down Manchester United as a 15-year-old in favor of joining Lille.
Despite all this, he’s never quite nailed down a starting place in the side nor garnered the sympathy amongst The Kop that he is worthy of one. And it’s maybe a little surprising given his goal-scoring record and his ability to shift defenses onto their back foot.
Origi has scored 41 goals for Liverpool over what is now his 7th season, one of which was spent almost entirely on loan in Germany. That doesn’t sound like much but the Belgian averages 25 appearances a season for the Reds at 35 minutes per game. That translates into a goal every 155 minutes or 22 goals over a full Premier League campaign.
Divock Doesn’t Just Score Goals
Like against Preston North End, Lincoln City, and Burton Albion; he scores big goals too. Only Steven Gerrard has scored more than Origi’s 6 against Everton in the Premier League era. While Divock Origi has only managed four Champions League goals, one was in the Champions League Final while two were in the epic comeback against Barcelona. Indeed, with Mo Salah in the stands injured wearing his “never give up” shirt, and as the commentators famously exclaimed “corner taken quickly”, it was Origi nonchalantly slotting home twice to the dismay of Messi and co.
But Liverpool’s forward has consistently failed to be seen as the first choice by Jurgen Klopp. Some would argue he lacks the intelligent off-ball movement and pressing ability to be a key member of a Klopp side. Origi though at least thinks he’s fast. Asked a couple of years back about his disappointing “FIFA” rating he replied “I wasn’t happy about that, to be honest. But again, someone needs to go and speak with them. Especially my pace. I’m top 10 speed in the Premier League so I need a better rating.”
There is little doubt that he makes defenses accommodate him. When he comes on as a sub which is the majority of his appearances (61%), he causes a defensive shift. In the recent game against Everton, Toffee’s defense had the door closed on the edge of the goal area. Origi’s introduction changed that as his size, strength, and ability to create separation from the defender in small spaces forced back lines onto their 6-yard box.
Divock’s Origi Lack of Starts
Yet he has started in a decreasing amount of games season-by-season under Klopp; from 15 and 21 in his first two seasons to 7, 14, 6, and 5 in his last 4 seasons. So why is Divock not a good fit for Klopp? The answer can be seen in who does start upfront. Players who can run with the ball and cover distance, and ones that can pass, shoot, press, overlap, etc. These are all abundant qualities in the current stable of 5 main forwards, while Origi is closer to being two-dimensional.
According to Robin Van Persie: “If you compare him with [Raheem] Sterling, for example, if you compare his runs, he’s [Origi] not choosing his runs at the right time. He’s not making the pre-run, you have to make a change of direction at one point, you have to go and hurt them. You have to make a short run of a couple of meters towards your right and then end up diagonal on your left side to make space for your colleagues as well, or maybe get the ball. There’s no book about it, it’s just your feelings and sense of space, where you have to be.” – BT Sport 2019
Divock Origi Skills or Weaknesses?
What makes Origi a success in some facets of the game is exactly what his shortcomings are in others! As Van Persie said, it’s feelings and a sense of space. For Origi, that increases in tight spaces close to the goal and recedes further out.
It appears he’ll be heading out of the door this summer, with reliable reports having him heading to AC Milan in a league where his box-based style will be more valued. Nothing is signed yet, and Liverpool may yet be prepared to make an offer, but Origi does want to play more regularly than seems likely at Anfield.
Liverpool’s cult hero will be missed, and not just from an emotional perspective. Klopp’s side does not have another player that can create penetration against effective low-block defending. It does not fit their metrics-based approach to look for one either and the Reds will pay a price if they do not equip the subs bench with a comparable player for such situations – or maybe make Origi an offer he can’t refuse.