Liverpool may be undefeated this season, but they are certainly not without losses. Two weeks ago, after Liverpool gave a 1-0 statement win against Manchester United, fans learned that right back Glen Johnson had sustained an injury that would sideline him for six weeks. Then, in the 50th minute of a tough match at Swansea, Ashley Williams took a dirty shot at the little magician, Philippe Coutinho. Soon, terrible news followed that Coutinho would be going under the knife, hoping to return to the squad in late October.
At first glance, it would seem that the loss of Coutinho is a paralysing blow to the team. In the Swansea match alone, the absence of our star attacking midfielder made an immediate impact; his replacement, Iago Aspas, made only three forward passes in the opponent’s half. Adding in the fact that Philippe Coutinho has been arguably our best performer since joining the team in January, and his injury is seemingly the worst thing that could happen to Liverpool Football Club: possibly even worse than the 10-game ban for our piranha, Luis Suarez.
After all, in the absence of Luis Suarez, another stunning striker has emerged in the form of Daniel Sturridge. Even without our best player, Liverpool have been in top form, enough to propel us to the top of the league. The only like-for-like replacement the squad has for Philippe Coutinho is the young summer signing Luis Alberto, who has impressed in U21s play but lacks solid experience in the first team. Many have pointed to Liverpool’s decision not to pursue central attacking midfielder Christian Eriksen, now at Tottenham, as looking rather foolish after the player we largely rely on has gone down injured.
But despite all this, I still do not think Coutinho’s injury is the greatest loss our team has faced this season: that title, in my opinion, belongs to Glen Johnson.
That seems like an outlandish opinion. Philippe Coutinho is a better player than Glen Johnson. He was on form, while Glen Johnson has struggled since January. After Coutinho was injured, our attacking capabilities collapsed against Swansea. But it is not as much about the players themselves as it is about the squad around them. While there is only one direct replacement for Coutinho in Luis Alberto, Brendan Rodgers has numerous attackers at his disposal, as well as versatile midfielders to fill the gap. Joe Allen could play in the midfield or try filling in directly for Phil. Iago Aspas, Victor Moses, and Raheem Sterling are all viable options for the wings, leaving Jordan Henderson able to fill in elsewhere. Henderson could move back into the midfield and act as the bridge between Lucas and Gerrard and the players up front, and Liverpool can play a 4-3-3. And I haven’t even mentioned that Luis Suarez returns Wednesday against Manchester United.
In the defence, Liverpool have a surplus of center-backs but a dearth of options in the fullback positions. Andre Wisdom is a promising young centre-back, but he is inadequate when playing right fullback. Kolo Toure played right back against Swansea when Wisdom was substituted out, but he is far more comfortable in the middle. Martin Kelly’s match fitness is questionable at best, and while some have suggested that the new centre-back signing Tiago Ilori can play right back, I have never seen him play there, so I am hesitant at best regarding his competency.
Many have been calling for Brendan Rodgers to switch to a 3-5-2 formation, with Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel, and Kolo Toure all fighting for three slots. However, such a major switch to formation seems unlikely for Rodgers. Even if he does choose to make such an adjustment, the right wing-back position would still have no direct replacement. Placing Jordan Henderson there, as has been suggested, would be a mistake; the man who has been one of our top performers this season should be playing where he is more comfortable and can keep the midfield or front 3 full of pace and energy.
While both the injuries to Glen Johnson and Philippe Coutinho are massive blows to a Liverpool team with such a strong start, I think the absence of Glen Johnson will prove to be the more worrying. Though I will miss seeing Coutinho’s magic on the pitch every week, I think it is a competent right back that Liverpool will lament lacking more.
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