Liverpool have just been dealt a crushing blow with the news that star midfielder Philippe Coutinho will be side-lined until January with an ankle injury picked up in their weekend win over Sunderland. The Brazilian has been at the top of his game this season, and while on the pitch has been involved in nearly 40% of the Reds’ goals. With Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge all with niggling problems as well, could these fitness worries among key players affect Liverpool’s chances of winning the league?
Scans have revealed that the playmaker is expected to be out for five to six weeks. The most important games he will miss are the Merseyside derby away at Everton and the crunch fixture against Man City on New Year’s eve.
Other fixtures that he will sit out are Bournemouth (h), Boro (a), Stoke (h) and Sunderland (a) and potentially also a third round FA Cup clash (opponent yet to be decided)
With a third of the Premier League season already played, Jurgen Klopp’s side have proved that they have what it takes to challenge at the top. The latest football odds have the Reds at 10/3 to do the business, with the bookies just slightly favouring Manchester City and Chelsea. It remains to be seen what kind of effect Coutinho’s absence will have on the team’s performances in the weeks ahead, but you’d expect Liverpool to beat the likes of Bournemouth, Boro, Stoke and Sunderland even without the 24 year old. One of Liverpool’s finest performances this season was their 4-1 dismantling of defending champions Leicester, and that came without Coutinho.
LFC 4-1 Leicester
Although Coutinho has clearly been the standout player at Anfield during the 2016-17 campaign, he is also a member of an interchangeable attacking system that doesn’t rely on an individual to perform. Of Liverpool’s goals scored so far this season, Coutinho, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino all have netted the same number of times- 6. James Milner, who has been playing at left-back, has bagged 5 goals already.
Because Liverpool have so many players that can contribute to goals, Coutinho’s absence should not be a fatal blow to their chances. Other teams that rely on star players to score the majority of goals would be affected more. Tottenham Hotspur were toothless in attack during Harry Kane’s absence, and Manchester City have endured slumps in the past when Sergio Aguero has been laid off through injury. Aguero has been involved in 50% of City’s goals this term, and he would be sorely missed.
Klopp will have to reshuffle the pack, but there is a wealth of options at his disposal. Sadio Mane will be a key player till he leaves for the Africa Cup of Nations, by which time Coutinho is expected to return. This could be a big chance for some regular game time for Divock Origi.
Daniel Sturridge’s constant battles with fitness aren’t so much of a concern to Klopp this season because the England striker is not central to the new attacking format that the German has implemented. Lallana’s niggling concerns are more of an issue, because the 28-year-old has really come into his own this season and is a vital part of Klopp’s machine.
There is also the potential lifeline of the January transfer window. If it proves that Liverpool struggle to cope without Coutinho, or face more injuries to key players, Klopp may decide to dip into the market and seek reinforcements, with Christian Pulisic heavily linked with a switch to Anfield in the papers already.
There is no doubt that Coutinho’s injury is a huge blow to Liverpool, but they should have the firepower to navigate the kind schedule until the Brazilian’s return to the fold in January.