Joseph Kavaloski discusses how, in Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mané’s absence, Liverpool have lacked attacking cohesion.
Throughout Liverpool’s flying start to the 2016/17 season, the core of the team’s attacking unit was largely able to stay off the treatment table. It is no surprise that the Reds rarely had any issues picking apart the league’s top defences. However, with Sadio Mané having been absent the past few weeks and Philippe Coutinho still struggling to find form after his serious ankle injury, the Reds have struggled.
Coutinho and Mané’s absences have had a huge impact on Liverpool’s ability to score goals. This is partially to be expected when two players of their calibre are out of the team, but I don’t believe many fans would have believed three months ago that the Reds would score a total of two goals in four matches against Southampton, Plymouth Argyle, and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Liverpool has really struggled without Mané, especially considering that Coutinho is still not in top form. Squad players like Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi have been asked to contribute far more than at the beginning of the season, and neither have been able to rise to the occasion.
Sturridge and Origi’s poor performances have forced Jürgen Klopp’s hand. Adam Lallana has had to shift out of central midfield and into positions further up the pitch. The Englishman has not adjusted well to the change as he has not scored or assisted since moving into attack.
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Coutinho’s injury and Mane’s international commitments have left the Reds exposed. The team’s performance levels have dipped and it has become clear that certain players are very reliant on specific teammates for them to be effective.
The most obvious example of this development within the team is the relationship between Coutinho and his Brazilian compatriot, Roberto Firmino. Prior to Coutinho’s time on the sidelines, Firmino had chipped in with an impressive seven goals and five assists. Since Coutinho was stretchered off against Sunderland though, Firmino has scored only three goals with no assists.
Part of Firmino’s issues can be attributed to being moved to the wing to help fill-in during his teammate’s absence, but the Brazilian has also looked completely devoid of creativity without Coutinho. Firmino clearly loves playing with Coutinho, but the Reds needed Firmino to step up his game without their talisman and he has not delivered.
Another similar connection is between Lallana and Mane. Before Mane departed to AFCON, Lallana excelled on the right side of central midfield. However, Lallana was forced to play further forward while Mane was away and the Englishman has not been the same.
With Mane in the team, Lallana delivered an impressive seven goals and seven assists in the Premier League. Without the Senegal international, Lallana has not scored or assisted and his form has begun to resemble the disappointing player from his first season on Merseyside rather than the Lallana who was being praised as one of the best midfielders in Europe to start the season.
One of Liverpool’s most identifiable attributes is the togetherness that the team plays with. Jürgen Klopp asks his team to defend and attack as a unit, so it is not surprising that the team’s best attackers have proven to be reliant on one another for form.
This attribute can be fantastic when everyone is fit and firing, but as Liverpool fans have seen over the past month when certain key players are out, the team is left exposed. Going forward, the Reds should be able to avoid long-term absences from their best attackers, but injuries can be very unpredictable.
There is no doubt that Liverpool is one of the best teams in England when everyone is fit. That being said, the struggles the team has endured without Mané and an in-form Coutinho have been surprising and disheartening as the club seeks to end its 27-year title drought.
Even if the Reds are able to avoid having to replace a key member of the starting eleven again this season, the players will need to figure out how to play without certain players in the future. Next year, Liverpool will be competing in Europe making it impossible for Klopp to play the same starting eleven each and every match. If the Reds do not solve these issues, the squad rotation necessary to compete on multiple fronts could doom not only this season but next season as well.