Philippe Coutinho is a truly talented player that can turn a game on its head with a moment of brilliance. Out for the first five games of the season with a series of mysterious transfer-related illnesses and injuries, he’s now back to scoring again. But the question is, can he oust anyone from the current Liverpool starting lineup? And is there a place for him on this team?
Liverpool’s trouncing of Arsenal was their best performance of the season so far; although admittedly against a club in turmoil. And as far as the Brazilian’s transfer saga goes, it was tantamount to Klopp sending him a late-night text saying he’ll call him if he needs him.
The front three of Salah, Firmino, and Mane have taken over Coutinho’s mantle as the creator-in-chief. In fact, one could argue that his compatriot Firmino, with his selfless style of play and wonderful awareness, is now the most important Brazilian in the club.
In Coutinho’s absence, Liverpool was far from perfect with their outings against Watford and Crystal Palace showing that there is still work to be done, particularly at the back. Even so, many fans will forgive the club’s failure to sign a centre half if they can maintain the momentum they’ve built up since scraping the win against Palace in the second game of the season.
So, with the majority of Klopp’s problems revolving around the back line, Coutinho is not the quick fix to a problem area that he may have been expected to be. With Lallana out injured, many would have thought that the team would struggle going forward. However, not only have they proven that they won’t miss the Englishman all that much but that they really can manage without their most valuable player.
Of the players that started against Arsenal, it’s hard to make a case for dropping any. Can and Henderson both bossed the midfield while Wijnaldum was imperious in possession. And while Coutinho adds a bit more spark and threat than the Dutchman, Wijnaldum offers more cover at the back when required, and with the shakiness at the back, this will be more often than not.
No doubt there are sections of the Anfield faithful that would like to see Coutinho rot in the reserves for the season, but with the club in four competitions, strength in depth is essential. In fact, a more fitting ‘punishment’ for his transfer request (not that one is required) would be to sit on the bench while his teammates take all the plaudits.
It will be interesting to see how Klopp sets up his team with Coutinho in mind. We all know the German has a stubborn streak (Sakho being the perfect example) and it remains to be seen if he’ll take his time reintegrating the Brazilian into the team regardless of his questionable fitness level. It would seem more likely that Klopp will stick to his chosen front three and midfield for the time being and perhaps mix it up a bit in Europe and the Cups. We’ll just have to wait and see though.
Liverpool now finds themselves as fourth favourites for the league with 11/1 odds on BetStars. Of course, it’s still too early to make such a call, but given the depth in the squad in terms of attacking players, and with Coutinho back in contention, it’s hard to argue with the bookies’ prediction that they’ll be in and around the top four again this season.
One would imagine that a Cup win (regardless of which one it is) is a must for this season, particularly after playing hardball with Barcelona, to keep their most creative player. In keeping the Brazilian, FSG has removed the excuse of losing their best player that many managers (Arsene Wenger, we’re looking at you) have used in the past. Let’s hope for their sake and Klopp’s that we see a player fighting for his place in the World Cup squad rather than another ‘couldn’t be bothered’ Sanchez.