Life After Coutinho
Liverpool’s start to life after Coutinho has begun, they have lost big players in recent years but resurrections have rarely been so frenziedly glorious as this.
The symbolism of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the man tasked with replacing coutinhho raging through and rasping a right-footed shot beyond Ederson, the Manchester City goalkeeper, would have made a landmark day even sweeter for the Liverpool manager. Of course, the fall-out from a breathless contest is more nuanced than any grand conclusion suggesting: “Who needs Coutinho?” There will be times over the coming weeks when Liverpool do miss the creativity of the Brazil attacker but, psychologically, this was a hugely important victory for those he has left behind.
It is one thing recognising the need to step up, but quite another conjuring a performance that delivers on that promise. “It was the right statement,” Klopp said, unable to suppress a smile at his side’s performance.
“It is not that I said in the meeting, ‘Boys, by the way, it would help if you could win and nobody would speak about Phil Coutinho any more,’ because we like to talk about him actually and he was probably still jumping in his living room in Barcelona happy about the win.
“But it is important for us to show it is possible to play without him and we did that. That is a very important statement, absolutely.”
When Liverpool slip through the gears, hounding opponents into reckless mistakes, the possibilities seem endless the 10 minutes of madness which saw Liverpool rampage into a 4-1 lead has become synonymous with the “full throttle” attack that Klopp promotes. Certainly, second place in the Premier League should be the very least of their domestic ambitions now and the pulse quickens when thoughts turn to the Champions League. Any team that can take the game away from City in almost the blink of an eye would have to be considered contenders.
This was, in so many ways, Klopp’s victory on a day when RB Leipzig’s refusal to allow Naby Keïta to move to Anfield before his July 1 start date brought more scrutiny on the decision to sell Coutinho to Barcelona for £142 million mid-season. Not simply in terms of the bravery of his approach in standing toe-to-toe with a City side, a plan that put José Mourinho’s dour blueprints with Manchester United on the grandest occasions to shame.
Nor the fact that his policy of rotation is clearly paying dividends, so much so that those dissenters after the Merseyside derby stalemate with Everton last month might have to accept that Klopp knows what he is doing. But it was also shown in the reality that the goalscorers were all players who have improved under his tutelage.
Roberto Firmino, Mané and Mohamed Salah have basked in the spotlight at different times this term, but Oxlade-Chamberlain’s increasing output is an example of the German’s work.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was made to wait before contributing properly, but he has set a standard to which he must now continue to aspire. He has now scored three league goals for Liverpool, the same number he managed in 51 appearances in his final two seasons at Arsenal. He never scored more than two league goals in a single season in six years at the Emirates “It’s so nice to see how much he adapted,” said Klopp. “I’m happy. You ask me what is better, the football player or the person, and I would have to think about it.
“He is on a good way and he enjoys it. He can still play on the wing, but he uses his speed in the midfield role. He still needs to adapt it.
“It was more of a dream for him than a reality because he didn’t play it often. Now he is on a really good way.”
Finally after the first domestic loss of the season, it was left to Guardiola to wonder. The City players and staff showed their class at the final whistle and alluded to the joy of playing in a historic game albeit losing. He can take something from how his side continued to play at 4-1 down before their fightback ran aground if there was an extra 5 minutes of play a City equaliser would have been inevitable.
The finale surely would have been an interesting time for Liverpool’s record signing, the Holland centre back spent the afternoon watching from the dugout as Klopp deemed the world’s most expensive defender’s tight hamstring too much of a risk.
As Liverpool wobbled in those closing stages, it was not difficult to imagine how the £74 million man’s presence and organisational qualities might have overcome a frantic finale (although Liverpool need a new goalkeeper, with Loris Karius hardly impressing in place of Simon Mignolet).
Liverpool are close to being a very good team. Life after Coutinho promises to be a blast.
How the great unbeaten runs ended
38 games (in all domestic competitions) from December 2001
Run ended on October 19, 2002: Everton 2 Arsenal 1.
Everton came from behind as Wayne Rooney scored a famous late winner five days short of his 17th birthday.
36 games from March 1978
Run ended on December 9, 1978: Liverpool 2 Forest 0. Liverpool, knocked out of the European Cup by Forest earlier in the season, won thanks to two goals from Terry McDermott.
33 games from April 2017
Run ended yesterday: Liverpool 4, Man City 3. Liverpool held on for victory after conceding two late goals.
31 games from September 1993
Run ended on March 5, 1994: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 1. Gavin Peacock scored the only goal, as he did in a 1-0 home win over United six months earlier.