THERE has been a common thread throughout Liverpool’s improved results since January 2013 and that has been the signings of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge. But with Coutinho now facing a spell out of the side after suffering an injury to his acromioclavicular joint, or top of the shoulder to you and me, Brendan Rodgers faces a selection conundrum that he had probably hoped to avoid until January: How to replace the diminutive Brazilian.
At just 21 years of age, Coutinho has shown such a level of intelligence as well as skill that his place in the first team is completely unquestioned. He has borne the burden of providing the link between midfield and attack without so much as a shrug of the shoulders and Liverpool have looked far more dangerous since the midfielder swapped Milan for Merseyside.
The relief for Liverpool fans is that a certain Uruguayan will almost certainly fill that void after Saturday and as much as the Reds will miss the intricacy of their no.10, the team may actually be even better than it has been once Suarez returns to the team. While most fans have been very excited at the prospect of Suarez, Coutinho and Sturridge combining again, a line-up that seemed unlikely for a large part of this summer, waiting a little longer to see the trio might not be such a disaster.
Firstly, it offers Suarez the opportunity to return to the centre of the pitch, the area where he has performed so well for Liverpool before. Secondly, it ensures that Henderson will retain his position in the first team, which is no less than he deserves. Not only has he played particularly well but Henderson has also offered an extra solidity to the team and has the engine to lighten the load for Gerrard and Lucas.
The temptation for Rodgers must be to play Sturridge, Coutinho, Suarez and Moses all in the same team and that is certainly a tantalising proposition. However, the loss of Henderson could upset the balance of the team and some of the defensive resilience we have seen so far this season could be lost. Coutinho’s injury means that Henderson will keep his place and holds off that particular selection dilemma until late October.
The challenge for Rodgers now is who Coutinho should be replaced by on Saturday. In all likelihood Iago Aspas will be that man but this is a potential concern for the manager. So far Aspas has not really done much to prove that he can bridge the gap, in fact he has barely touched the ball despite playing for most of the games this season. That said he has also been a member of the team that is unbeaten so far this season, so perhaps he is contributing in less tangible ways. What’s certain is that if he is to fill Coutinho’s void, he will have to be much more involved with the ball than he has been in this early part of his Liverpool career.
The other options open to Rodgers is either to play Moses in the centre who, although naturally a winger, showed some of the ingenuity required to break down teams or bring Alberto back into the squad. Alberto has not quite carried the spectacular edge that I was hoping to see in his brief cameos since his move but he proved to be completely destructive in the recent under 21’s match against Sunderland, grabbing a hat-trick as well as the plaudits.
Rodgers will probably prefer to take the safe option of Aspas in the centre for Southampton’s visit and it would take a brave manager to either play Moses out of position or put faith in Alberto to handle such a demanding position on the field. But with Alberto’s confidence sky high and Aspas struggling to impress, perhaps it could be a gamble worth taking.
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