Liverpool Adapting to Life After Coutinho

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Source: Liverpool FC via Facebook.

Liverpool’s 4-3 win over Manchester City in mid-January verified the beginning of a new era for the club. Although Jurgen Klopp has now occupied the home dugout at Anfield for multiple seasons, this campaign has felt like a turning point where Liverpool make the transition from hopefuls to contenders. City may remain uncatchable for this domestic season, even though Liverpool ruined their immortalisation as invincibles, but that 4-3 victory from a side recently depleted of superstar Philippe Coutinho will give fans the hope that a first Premier League title is not too far away.

Two late goals from City made the scoreline less stunning than it could have been, although Klopp was sufficiently elated to tell the BBC that it was an historic win. Those late goals rightly point to enduring questions over Liverpool’s defensive stability. Liverpool have been too fragile at the back for too long, although the arrival of Virgil van Dijk should improve defensive organisation. Yet at the front, Liverpool can be as fearsome as any club side. The front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah is full of pace and ingenuity. Klopp would never dream of saying no to the idea of having Coutinho behind them pulling strings, but the Brazilian wanted away. What it does mean for Liverpool is that their midfield three can now be comprised of a sitting player, a box-to-box player and then a wildcard depending on the opponent. This gives the front three the base from which to roam and rampage, while providing more cover for the defence.

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Source: Liverpool FC via Facebook

Liverpool are now bearing more of a resemblance to Rafa Benitez’s side that famously triumphed in the Champions League in 2005, not necessarily in terms of style but more with regard to an air of self-assurance and expectation that surrounds their play. Klopp has created a team that can enter a Champions League knockout game as comfortable favourites against reasonable opposition, with Liverpool’s prolific attackers capable of blowing away even the most stubborn defences. Most now expect Liverpool to outscore their opponents, with commentators such as Oddschecker justified to predict a bundle of goals when the Reds took on Porto in the Champions League. Salah to feature in the goals is also a wise prediction, with the attacker reliably chipping in with crucial first or last strikes in the game.

Having a relentlessly clinical player such as Mo Salah understandably contributes to that expectation, with the Egyptian consistently demonstrating that he can be the man to come up with crucial goals at pivotal moments. Coutinho had established a reputation as someone who could curl in a long-ranger or unlock a defence in times of need, but now Liverpool’s attacks filter through the irrepressible pace of Salah and Mane as they surge into the space created by Firmino’s clever movement. That pace is hugely difficult to defend, and with confidence running high Liverpool’s attackers have the composure to add the finish to swashbuckling breaks forward.

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