This past week has been the most difficult week of Liverpool's season to date. They have seen slipped off of the top of the Premier League, suffered defeat at home to Southampton, and have been knocked out of the Capital One Cup to rivals Manchester United.
Granted, the return of Luis Suarez is a minor boost, but seeing as Liverpool started the season with three wins from three and a dramatic win in the Capital One Cup against Notts County, disappointment is well warranted.
Some may say that this kind of dip in success was bound to happen, that Liverpool had been punching above their weight all season and had been lucky to be top of the table at all (most of these people happen to be speaking out of spite as their allegiances lie with Liverpool's rivals, I might add). But, after watching the team's performances throughout the season, this dip might not have been inevitable.
Liverpool had found a way to preserve leads and grind out victories in a way that had not been seen for several seasons. Daniel Sturridge has been immense and the team finally looked to be buying into Brendan Rodgers' system. So what happened?
The beginning of the downturn came in the 60th minute of the Swansea match, when Philippe Coutinho had to be substituted due to a shoulder injury. Coutinho has been one of, if not
the most, important player for Liverpool going forward this season. He is the link between the defence and attack - more so than even Steven Gerrard - who has been dropped deeper into midfield.
His understanding with Sturridge led to most of his goals and his vision and creativity led to numerous scoring opportunities. Without Coutinho, Liverpool seem lost and one dimensional, going much more direct with far less success.
Now, along with questions about Liverpool's consistency, the question must be asked if Liverpool can win, or even score, without their fulcrum. Again, the return of Suarez will boost hopes of continued success, but it has yet to be seen that he and Sturridge can truly play well together.
There were a few promising moments in the game against United, in which to two formed a sort of understanding, but it remains to be seen if that can be developed further. Suarez is a much different type of player than Coutinho and will ultimately not be a direct replacement. Liverpool will just have to find another way.
This will be a challenge for Rodgers, not just his team. His plan relies heavily on passes from Coutinho to supply the strikers and he must find someone or some way to keep that service
up if Liverpool are to keep pace at the top of the table. This weekend, against a struggling Sunderland, Rodgers must play his cards right in order to prove to his team and himself that he can win without his most creative player.
Liverpool have a tendency to rely heavily on one player, whether it be Suarez, Sturridge, or Coutinho, and the Sunderland match provides an excellent opportunity for not just one person to provide the creative spark, but the whole squad.
This weekend's match could be a sort of turning point for Liverpool, where the entire team shoulders the responsibility of being extraordinary. By doing so, they can overcome many of their self-imposed obstacles on their way to returning to England and Europe's elite.
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