In another interesting piece for The Times, their northern football correspondent Paul Joyce makes some excellent points on how Liverpool have adapted to life without Philippe Coutinho.
As we all know, the club sold the Brazilian to Barcelona in January for £142 million. The reaction of the public – the fans, the media, pundits, was generally in the same frame: why? Why now? Why mid-season? Why at all? One man who spoke differently was manager Jurgen Klopp.
The German believed, and constantly repeated his stance, that Liverpool would be fine. Many disagreed.
As Joyce nicely points out, the managers vision was to create a core of relatively young players, a group that would then hold together in what is meant to be a proper quest for trophies.
Almost every player that has so far worked with Klopp has improved significantly. Those that haven’t have been earmarked for departure. The team’s defence is looking at another level compared to that from the start of the season.
Adam Lallana was probably the player meant to take up the role of Coutinho, but injuries have prevented him from doing so. In his absence, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner have notably stepped up.
And the thing that perhaps underlines Klopp’s vision the best is what the manager said to Georginio Wijnaldum after the victory at the Etihad: that night was not to be the highlight of the season.
Klopp has often been criticized for his in-game management, but the Etihad game proved just how shrewd he can be. He was quick to shuffle things around up front by moving Salah to the centre, Mane to the right and Firmino to the left, in order to give more freedom to the Egyptian to attack while providing Trent Alexander-Arnold with Mane’s defensive contribution.
Another thing that the Times journalist rightly notes is Wijnaldum’s positioning in the first half and how it was corrected in the second. The Dutchman drifted too far up the pitch in the first half, which forced Milner to drop deeper, which in turn meant the midfield wasn’t shaped the way Klopp had envisioned it. In the second half it was much better, most likely the result of some halftime talk.
So, was selling Coutinho in January such a bad call after all? It seems it wasn’t. But here’s an interesting question: