Sat | Nov 28, 2020

Coutinho is back but problems run deeper at Liverpool

Published:Thursday | September 14, 2017 | 6:05 PM
Liverpool's Sadio Mane (second left) celebrates scoring his side's first goal during the English Premier League match against Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield last season. Others in photograph (from left) are James Milner, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho.

LIVERPOOL, England (AP):

Philippe Coutinho's belated return to the Liverpool team adds an extra layer of ingenuity to a forward line that promises to be one of the most thrilling in European football this season.

Entertainment is unlikely to be in short supply at Anfield now that the front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah will be prompted from midfield by Coutinho, who has been reintegrated after his unsettling off season when he was wooed by Barcelona.

However, many goals they score, though, Liverpool seems destined to be debilitated by their frailty at the back.

Whether it's a collective problem - as manager Juergen Klopp is suggesting - or individuals simply making bad decisions or mistakes, Liverpool do not have the defence to make a realistic challenge for major honours this season.

This past week, Liverpool have lost 5-0 at Manchester City, albeit after being down to 10 men for more than half the game, and then ruined a dominant performance against Sevilla in the Champions League by giving away two sloppy goals in a 2-2 draw.

Would things have been different had Liverpool managed to sign Southampton centre back Virgil van Dijk, its much-publicised top defensive target? Klopp doubts it.

"I know here you're always looking for this thing about the defence ... that these problems will have been sorted with one player - it was mentioned we put all our money together and do this," Klopp said after the Sevilla game. "It's not about this. It's about being dominant and losing a little bit of concentration, the grip of the game that you do not have in all defensive moments."

At centre back Joel Matip is good on the ball but not a commanding presence at set pieces or under the high ball, while Dejan Lovren can be clumsy and error-prone.

Of the so-called "Big 6" in the Premier League in Klopp's time in England, Liverpool had the leakiest defence in the 2015-16 season and only Arsenal conceded more goals last season.

ROONEY'S RETURN

On Sunday, Wayne Rooney makes his first return to Old Trafford since leaving Manchester United to rejoin boyhood club Everton.

Rooney spent 13 trophy-filled years at United and is the club's record scorer with 253 goals, yet seemingly isn't held in the same regard as United's great names of the past like Bobby Charlton, Eric Cantona and Ryan Giggs.

United midfielder Jesse Lingard predicted Rooney will receive a good reception, saying: "He's a legend at the club and we will always welcome him back."

United lead on goal difference after collecting 10 points from a possible 12. Everton has scored only two goals in four games this season, Rooney grabbing both of them.

HODGSON'S FIRST GAME

Fifteen months after leaving the England job, Roy Hodgson is back in management after taking over at Crystal Palace.

Palace fired Frank de Boer after only four league games, with the team in last place and yet to score a goal in four straight losses. Hodgson's first game in charge is at home to Southampton tomorrow.