Liverpool haven’t had all that bad of a start of the season despite how some supporters have reacted.
The 3-0 home defeat against West Ham United prior to the international break was one of the most miserable afternoons to be witnessed at Anfield in recent years.
The 3-1 loss to Crystal Palace was bad enough last season, on Steven Gerrard’s final appearance at Anfield, but the defeat against the Hammers has arguably topped it.
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Nonetheless, the Reds are in similar position as expected after four games. Stoke City is a difficult place to travel in any given time of the season, but even harder on the opening day of the campaign.
One point would have been more than welcomed at the Britannia but the Reds’ win saw them two points in profit.
There wasn’t much confidence travelling to Arsenal on the second weekend of the campaign but a resilient performance seen Liverpool take a vital point back to Merseyside.
There have been signs of encouragement for Liverpool’s opening four league games and that they can continue to improve with a squad that is rebuilding. However, there are necessary enhancements that need making and it is time for others to step up to the plate.
Philippe Coutinho was Liverpool’s diamond in the rough last season. The Merseyside outfit finished a lacklustre sixth in the league and ended the campaign trophy-less.
Whilst others faltered, Coutinho sparkled and was voted in the PFA Team of the Year as well as scooping four prizes in his club’s end of season awards, including Players’ Player of the Year.
The Brazilian has continued his good form thus far this term. He produced a wonderful piece of solo magic, curling his 25 yard effort past Jack Butland, to snatch all three points away at Stoke.
Coutinho’s performance in the first half against Arsenal was as good as he’s ever been; he struck the bar within the first five minutes and did so again prior to half time and was Liverpool’s key protagonist.
Unfortunately, Brendan Rodgers will be without the ‘little magician’ for this Saturday’s trip away to Old Trafford to meet rivals Manchester United following the former Inter Milan man’s sending off for two yellow cards against West Ham.
Liverpool and the Red Devils sit on seven points ahead of this weekend’s highly anticipated clash and, with both sides competing for a top four finish, the outcome of the result could be pivotal in the league standings come May.
There’s no point kicking and screaming about Coutinho’s suspension. His second yellow card for a foul on Dmitri Payet was a little harsh; however, Rodgers will have to get on with the task in the absence of his star man.
Captain Jordan Henderson is set to face a late fitness test having missed Liverpool’s last two matches. There hasn’t been a lot of talk about the 25-year-old beating the race against the clock to be declared fully fit for the clash in Greater Manchester and vibes suggest he will once again be on the side-lines.
Rodgers also looks likely to be without Adam Lallana who, like Henderson, has missed the last two games. Lallana would have been Coutinho’s natural successor pulling the strings in the final third given his Premier League experience.
Firmino’s Time To Shine
With limited options, it grants Roberto Firmino the perfect opportunity to stamp his authority in Rodgers’ side.
The £29 million summer signing from Hoffenheim arrived at Anfield with a stellar reputation of having the ability to menace defenders in the Bundesliga and single handily win matches for his team.
Firmino is still adapting to life in England. This is a completely different country for someone just 23 and it is understandable he may take a bit of time to display his best form.
However, unlike other youngsters such as Emre Can and Lazar Markovic, who joined the Reds last summer, Firmino has compatriots Coutinho and Lucas Leiva to help him settle on Merseyside.
For £29 million, Liverpool’s second highest transfer fee prior to Christian Benteke’s summer move to Anfield, Firmino has to adjust swiftly and prove his worth on Saturday.
For such a monumental transfer fee, it’s fair to say he must step up to the plate in the non-attendance of his fellow countryman.
Liverpool Chief Executive Ian Ayre personally flew out to Chile in June whilst Firmino was representing Brazil in the Copa America to tie up a deal with the playmaker. That is how necessary the club felt closing a deal with Firmino was as they looked to fend off any potential competition.
He is only a young player but we’ve witnessed how quickly Memphis Depay – a former Liverpool target – has settled at Manchester United, despite being two years younger that Firmino.
Firmino has portrayed glimpses of his talent in the early stages of the season. He hit a perfect cross to find Benteke against Arsenal and the Belgium international should have buried the chance from close range but was denied by a smart save from Petr Cech.
The Maceio-born attacker too rattled the woodwork from distance against West Ham when there were little options available.
Whereas his shot against West Ham was a fine effort, it is now time for him to build on and increase his outlay. Firmino must show all of the attributes against Manchester United that he did for Hoffenheim.
Instead of shooting from distance, which nine times out of ten doesn’t test goalkeepers fully, he must show the flair and vision he did in Germany.
He must keep the ball for a little longer, beat a man or two and then play the accurate through ball he is capable of and, ultimately, make the difference.