Sun | Mar 25, 2018

Without Coutinho, Liverpool look to bring down City

Published:Friday | January 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Barcelona's new signing Brazilian Philippe Coutinho poses for the media, during his official presentation at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona.


Roberto Firmino likely spoke for lots of Liverpool fans when he posted a message to Philippe Coutinho via Instagram following his fellow Brazilian's move to Barcelona.

"Liverpool is no longer the same without you, my magical brother," Firmino wrote.

The club gained €160 million (US$192 million) by selling Coutinho in a blockbuster transfer that was completed on Monday, but the team lost his long-range goals, his technical skills and close control, and his vision and passing range from central midfield.

Liverpool have to move on, and quickly: Manchester City - the unbeaten English Premier League leaders - arrive at Anfield on Sunday, in the Reds' first match without Coutinho as they battle for a finish in the Champions League qualification positions.

They occupy the fourth and final spot with 16 matches remaining and are on a 13-match unbeaten run in the league, but there is a danger the loss of Coutinho could derail them.

How will Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp ensure that doesn't happen?

Klopp is fortunate in one respect - that the departure of Coutinho has coincided with the return to fitness of attacking midfielder Adam Lallana, who has started Liverpool's last two games after a long-term thigh injury. Lallana is still not fully up to speed but when he is, the England international is an important part of Liverpool's team pressing, mobility, and ball-carrying in midfield.


Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another, albeit very different, option in midfield and is getting to grips with Liverpool's style of play following his summer move from Arsenal.

In Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Klopp has players who will offer less in attack than Coutinho, but will work harder and allow Liverpool to retain a better defensive shape. This has been important in recent months for Klopp, who has made the team harder to beat since its collapse at Wembley Stadium on October 22 in a 4-1 loss against Tottenham.

In the 13 league games since then, Liverpool have won nine and drawn the other four. They are on a 17-match unbeaten run in all competitions.

Liverpool actually have a better win percentage without Coutinho than with him this season (66.70 per cent from nine games he didn't play, compared to 46.20 per cent from 13 games he played), with the explosive front three of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and Firmino still offering the team a threat up front.

Liverpool's defensive resilience has been strengthened further by the arrival last week of centre back Virgil van Dijk for $100 million, a world-record fee for a defender.