Liverpool Focus - Coutinho absence highlights Reds’ depth
When Liverpool lost star striker Luis Suarez to a lengthy 10-match suspension following his bite on Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic towards the end of the last Premier League campaign, many felt that the Reds would struggle without their Uruguayan magician.
After all, the former Ajax star had scored an impressive 23 top-flight goals for the Anfield outfit before receiving his suspension. However, Brendan Rodgers’ men’s form did not dip - with the Merseysiders winning six and losing just one of their nine league games while Suarez was unavailable.
Similarly, when influential Brazilian starlet Philippe Coutinho picked up a shoulder injury during the 2-2 draw against Swansea in the middle of September, neutrals once again predicted it would derail Liverpool’s superb start to the season. The youngster, who signed for the Reds from Italian giants Inter in the January transfer window, lit up the Premier League with several exciting displays since his move to England. Without his imagination and creativity, the Anfield outfit would struggle, it was suggested.
And struggle they did - for one game. In the fixture immediately after Coutinho’s injury, a disappointing Liverpool performance saw Rodgers’ side slip to their first defeat of the campaign against lively Southampton, the beginning of the end, according to some.
However, since then, the Reds have won three and drawn one of their four Premier League games - scoring 12 goals in the process. Victor Moses, on a season-long loan from Chelsea, filled in for Coutinho but was unable to fill the Brazilian’s boots. Yet the remarkable partnership between Suarez and his strike partner Daniel Sturridge allowed Liverpool to cope without Coutinho.
That is not to say that the Reds do not need Coutinho - a player of his great quality can only improve Rodgers’ side and he will be welcomed with open arms should he return during the mouth-watering top-of-the-table clash against Arsenal this weekend. But the fact that Coutinho and Sturridge stepped up to fill the hole left by Suarez’s absence towards the end of last season and at the beginning of this season, and Suarez and Sturridge have performed exceptionally well to keep Coutinho out of supporters’ minds in recent weeks, gives an indication of how strong the character and mental strength has been at Anfield over the past six months.
Should in-form forward Sturridge collect an injury in the coming weeks, then there will not be that huge fear among supporters - they will be confident that the like of Suarez and Coutinho can take their game to another level and continue winning games for Liverpool in the Englishman’s absence.
In short, the Reds are no longer the ‘one-man team’ they were previously accused of being. Captain Steven Gerrard, who at one point seemed to be on a different wavelength to the rest of his teammates, now has a handful of players around him who he can trust to produce a moment of magic. As talk, albeit premature, of Liverpool’s possible title chances grows louder, the gift of being able to rely on more than just one player to win a match can only be a positive for the Reds.
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