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Liverpool Quartet Key to Long Term Success this Season

By Kody Miller in Sports
| February 3, 2017 12:00 am PDT
Liverpool Cover Feature

After a flying start to the season during which they took the Premier League by storm, Liverpool Football Club have fallen on some hard times since the calendar flipped to 2017. The Reds won just one game out of nine fixtures in all competitions and were ousted from both the EFL Cup and FA Cup in the month of January. The lone victory was a narrow 1-0 win over Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup.

As has been a theme all season, LFC have made a habit of playing up to and down to their competition. They earned encouraging 1-1 draws against both Manchester United and Chelsea in January, but suffered a shocking 3-2 defeat at home against relegation candidate Swansea City after beginning the month with a lackluster 2-2 draw against another bottom-feeder in Sunderland.

Liverpool still leads the league with 52 goals scored in the Premier League on the year, but failed to find the back of the net more than twice in any game in January. To compare, the Reds scored at least three goals in three of the six games they played in December.

Key Absences

The team has not had the same fiery look about them that they began the season with. Much of that can be attributed to a few key injuries as well as Sadio Mané’s departure to the African Cup of Nations.

Philippe Coutinho, Joel Matip, Nathaniel Clyne and Adam Lallana all missed time during the month with various knocks. Mané, who leads the club with eight goals on the season, was available in the squad in only two of the nine January fixtures, as well. He returned and came on late in the 1-1 draw against Chelsea on the 31st of the month.

Barring an injury in training during the week, Liverpool should finally have a full squad ready to roll for this Saturday’s away tilt against Hull City.

Having your best players available is crucial for every team in the league, of course, but Liverpool depend quite heavily on the quartet of Mané, Coutinho, Lallana and Roberto Firimino. So much of what they want to do offensively goes through those four. Whenever at least one of them is missing, LFC’s attack takes a major blow.

Firmino, Mané, Coutinho, Lallana Together Again

Having all four available should allow Jurgen Klopp to re-insert Firmino as his first-choice false nine striker. Firmino has spent most of his time on the pitch recently playing behind a true striker like Divock Origi or Daniel Sturridge, and that style has not suited the Reds this season.

Mané will reassume his role on the right wing and provide the kind of width LFC have lacked during his absence. Too often during January the Reds were trying to break down opponents by running through the middle without a viable player with the pace of Mané to spread the field.

Coutinho was forced to play in the middle with Mané missing, but he now will go back out to the left wing to provide width on that side.

Lallana has thrived in his box-to-box role in the midfield, and with the other three out there he should be able to commit more time to the gegenpress. He has been forced into a role higher up the pitch with the club shorthanded, but now will get to drop back and do more facilitating when the Reds are in possession of the ball.

Potent Quartet

Those four have played together in just 10 games in the Premier League to this point due to a combination of factors. However, the Reds are undefeated over the course of those 10 contests and averaged a whopping 2.8 goals per game. Firmino, Coutinho, Lallana and Mané combined to score 19 of the 28 goals.

Coutinho went down with an ankle injury in a game against Sunderland just after Thanksgiving, which seriously hampered the Reds’ attack. The little Brazilian has since returned, of course, but has been unable to make the same kind of impact on the game he had prior to the ankle problem.

With at least one of those four players out of the lineup, Liverpool are just 6-4-3.

The team has clearly lacked the beautiful fluidity with which they played during the first few months of the season. Much of the Reds’ early success was bred by snatching the ball back via pressing and quickly getting out on the counterattack.

No other team in the league boasts the kind of pace Liverpool has when they are at full health, and the ball looks like it is on a string with the way the team is able to creatively get out an attack. Liverpool were carving their opponents to pieces on a weekly basis early in the year, but they have lacked that cutting edge in recent weeks.

Of the 54 goals Liverpool have scored in league play this season, just 22 have been scored by players not named Firmino, Coutinho, Lallana or Mané.

Transfer Inactivity

Klopp was active in the transfer market over the summer, but the team made no move to bring in a reinforcement during the January transfer window. The Reds have kept a fairly small squad thanks to having no European competition this season, but the relative lack of depth shone through when the team was without some of its stars.

The January transfer window tends to be far more tame than the one during the summer, but the decision was still a curious one. Klopp was forced to dip into the youth squad and put players like Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ovie Ejaria and Ben Woodburn at crucial positions during crucial matches.

Now, at least some depth has been restored. With the team now at full strength, players like Lucas Leiva, Sturridge, Origi and one of Emre Can or Georginio Wijnaldum can return to reserve roles.

Moving Forward

Frimino, Coutinho, Lallana and Mané are likely to start together against Hull for the first time in about three months. The team should have gained some confidence by holding the league leaders to a draw last week, and now they will get to unleash their full complement of attackers this weekend against the side that has allowed the second-most goals of any side in the Premier League.

If the Reds thrash Hull this weekend, as they should, then they will be in great position to finish in the top four once the season is all said and done. They currently sit in fourth place, tied on 46 points with Manchester City. The Reds have the goal differential advantage over the Citizens, so for now they hold that tiebreaker.

They are a full 10 points back of Chelsea, which certainly makes a title challenge supremely difficult, especially with both head-to-head meetings now in the rearview mirror. They are just one point off of second place, however, and four points up on sixth place Manchester United headed into the weekend.

The six clubs most would consider to be the powers of English football are currently holding the top six spots in the table, and barring a collapse those six will finish in the top six. Two are going to be left in the cold when it comes to the Champions League next year, though, and Liverpool will be hoping they can qualify for the first time in three years.

Liverpool have gotten this far on the shoulders of the league’s most potent attack, and recapturing that fluidity and magic will be key for their top-four chances in the long haul.



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