Life Without Philippe

Liverpool started the English Premier League with three successive one-nil victories to sit atop the ladder with a perfect record. The fact that the team hadn’t conceded a goal in that time was certainly impressive, but frankly the performances themselves were nothing to write home about.

Daniel Sturridge has started the season in blistering goal scoring form, but besides him the team never really looked that fantastic from an attacking perspective.

When midfield star and playmaker Philippe Coutinho went off with a shoulder injury an hour into the Swansea match last week, Liverpool’s luck ran out. With Suarez suspended until the end of last night’s fixture against Southampton and with Glen Johnson also injured, an injury to Coutinho was basically a death knell to the attacking prowess of the Reds until Suarez returns.

See the thing about Liverpool at present is that it’s best 11 can rival the top teams and definitely put them in with a chance of Champions League qualification, but as soon as you take away two or three of those first choice players the rest of the squad aren’t quite at a level to pick up the slack.

Coutinho plays the role many consider to be the most important to the attacking structure of a team, the “Number 10” role behind the striker and ahead of the other midfielders and he has been a revelation in that role since Rodgers brought him to the club from Inter, although he also has been known to be used in the wider role of an attacking trio. He is young, skinny and relatively small so teams are going to bring him down a lot, leading to situations like last week where he took a nasty fall on his shoulder, had the crowd boo him for “staying down” and then finding out he needed surgery on it.

With Coutinho sidelined it falls on other players to pick up the slack. Suarez will obviously do his part when he returns, but without him there is a massive hole. Victor Moses has looked good since joining the team on deadline day, but he is a winger and he plays in a way that is quite individualistic, which isn’t an insult, just means he isn’t the type to bring overall structure to the attack.

Sturridge does all he can, but as the striker he needs to sit higher and worry about scoring the goals. Last night I felt like he was dropping deeper to do what he could to help create, but then wasn’t in position to be on the receiving end and do what he is there to do, which I can’t blame him for.

Steven Gerrard is obviously crucial to the team and had a really poor game last night, but his role is no longer to be that attacking midfielder he was for years, but rather to sit a bit deeper and control things. I trust him to do that role but he was completely off against Southampton. Whereas Jordan Henderson, who admittedly had a strong start to the season, is never going to be the player that creates the attack or brings dynamism to the team. At his best Hendo will give it 100% and be involved wherever he can as a box to box midfielder type, but he needs players like Coutinho to be around him to allow him to only do that.

This then brings us to the man who took Coutinho’s place when he went off at Swansea and then started against Southampton, Iago Aspas.

Look, Aspas might be getting played out of position in that role as he seems to be an out and out goal poaching striker, but he has been really poor since his Liverpool career started. Obviously it takes time for players to adjust to their new team and new league, but Aspas has been wasting the ball more often than using it well and done very little to endear himself to Liverpool fans so far.

With Suarez returning, Aspas is likely to move back to the bench and after being dragged by Rodgers at halftime against Southampton one would imagine we won’t be seeing all that much of him in the near future. Aspas still has time to figure things out and not become another Liverpool bust, but if he doesn’t do it soon he probably won’t be given that much of a chance to turn it around.

Luis Alberto is another youngster and he did come on for the backend of the game last night, but I would have liked to have seen him given the starting role to see what he was really capable of. Along with Raheem Sterling and Jordan Ibe, he makes up the trio of youngsters that sit on the bench of Liverpool and all three are clearly talented, but are any of them ready to start for a team chasing a Champions League spot, the way Coutinho is?

One player I have been impressed with in his two appearances is Mamadou Sakho. He played left back for most of the last game and then went back to his natural central position, but I have been happy to see him be the player I’d heard about for the last few years. He obviously didn’t provide the attacking full back spark when playing left back, but that’s what you get when you play a centre half at full back. Defensively however I think he has been very impressive and I can see him being a long term solution for the Reds in the middle.

But with these attacking depth issues already showing, I think Rodgers needs to get his shopping list ready for the minute the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve and the transfer window opens again.

Christian Eriksen turned them down and would have been a perfect fit had he chosen to come, but they need to be looking for more players of that ilk. Hopefully Rodgers can pull another Coutinho transfer gem and give Liverpool the depth of the second half of the season required if the dream of reaching the Champions League is to be realised. With Arsenal and Tottenham looking improved with their shiny new toys, Liverpool cannot afford to drop more points as they did last night at home.

But hey, at least Suarez is back right?

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