Football

Liverpool set for top four finish?

Coutinho is one of Liverpool's leading lights. (©GettyImages)
Coutinho is one of Liverpool's leading lights. (©GettyImages).

Last season I wrote that Liverpool FC needed Kolo Toure, a player with vision (I thought it should be someone like Chris Brunt or Scott Parker) and a poacher to run the line like Peter Odemwingie, if they were going to break into the top four this season.

They went out and got Toure. A master stroke by Brendan Rodgers, and it appears I have been proven right by the way he has held the line at Liverpool replacing the experience lost following Jamie Carragher's retirement.

Philippe Coutinho has come in to play behind the front two. When I spoke about Liverpool needing a player of vision it's not because of a lack of talent from the like of Steven Gerrard. It's the fact that someone needs to know when a long ball is to be played and when there should be a slew of short touches.

Gerrard can hit a ball from one side of the pitch to the other, avoiding eleven players and making it land on the blade of grass that you ask him to. But what - to me - was missing from Gerrard's game was the ability to know when that was necessary and when he should just slip in the winger who's running on the overlap behind him.

Coutinho is that man. It takes a huge weight off the Reds skipper's shoulders as he no longer has to be the driving force of every attack. In fact it's allowed Gerrard to play slightly deeper, utilising his ability to run in to the box.

Coutinho's link up play with Daniel Sturridge at the beginning of the season before Luis Suarez came back from his suspension showed that he's got the tactical nous to know when players need to be set free, and when the an attacker's run would be better utilised as a distraction for peeling away and a different route to the goal.

I didn't imagine that Sturridge would have had the increase in form that he has over the close season. I spoke about needing someone to take the pressure off Suarez and to make the sort of runs that Coutinho can find. He's been like a new signing. Holding up play as well as contributing all over the pitch, running back when necessary.

The problem Liverpool have now is complacency and resting on their laurels. Liverpool are fighting for a top four spot, which doesn't make much sense when we consider that there are five teams fighting for 'the title'. Liverpool, if they want to get into the top four will need a little bit of luck, and maybe one or two players more.

Recently, The Sun has suggested that Manchester United are willing to offer Wilfried Zaha to Liverpool's Merseyside rivals, Everton, as part of a makeweight for Leighton Baines in January.

I can't believe that this is a possibility, but if (and it's a huge if) this were to happen, given the current squad at the Toffees, I could see Everton being closer to the top four than Liverpool come May.

What Rodgers needs now is someone combative in midfield. Against some of the lesser oppositions Lucas Leiva has looked like a player who controls the play. Against Arsenal, this weekend, Lucas looked lost and confused. His two successful tackles, when compared with Mikel Arteta's six, was a key battle that Liverpool lost in that game.

Considering that Arteta (the former Everton favourite) is a player who excels further up the pitch, and is generally second choice as the barrier between midfield and defence, behind Mathieu Flamini, this is simply not good enough for Liverpool.

A player that will force the midfield to cut out the gaps, which the better teams will exploit, is probably necessary in January for Liverpool.

There are undoubtedly similarities between the Liverpool performances of this season and the Arsenal of the last eight years, as they play wonderful football, but lose matches in the later parts of games, and can't really defend set pieces.

I'm not sure who quite fits the bill at the moment. Lucas could be utilised further upfield in Rodgers' preferred 3-5-2 (3-2-3-2 with Gerard and Lucas holding at the moment).

Perhaps Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye, but I don't think he's up for sale, and I'm not sure he offers so much more than Lucas at the moment. They really need Javier Mascherano back. Alex Song is reportedly looking for a move away from the Camp Nou...

Liverpool have made a huge amount of progress since this time last season, but I fear top four, and Champions League, may be just beyond them. If that does happen Suarez will force a move away from Merseyside (hopefully, for the Reds' sake to Madrid and not London), and that will only make things worse.

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Topics:
Football
Premier League
Liverpool

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