Sturridge the perfect spearhead for new-look Liverpool

ANALYSIS: The England striker will dovetail with Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho, who themselves are striking up a dazzling understanding, for the rest of the season

By Greg Lea

For a split second there was silence, until one small corner of Anfield erupted with joy. The delay was likely a combination of distance from the event and sheer shock, with Phil Jagielka the unlikely scorer of a sensational 30-yard half-volley that flew into Simon Mignolet’s top corner before the Liverpool goalkeeper could react. Everton had a last-minute equaliser in the Merseyside derby, and Liverpool’s sluggish start to the season continued.

That was back in September and, while only one point separated the rivals following that encounter, the pair appear to be heading in divergent directions. Despite last weekend’s gritty 1-0 defeat of Crystal Palace, the Toffees are in lower mid-table; Brendan Rodgers’ side, conversely, are just four points and three places outside the top four after a run of seven league games without defeat. With Daniel Sturridge set to return to the starting XI for the first time since August, Liverpool are on an upward trajectory.

The Reds’ indifferent first half of the campaign was largely attributed to the sale of Luis Suarez and the failure to adequately replace him, but Sturridge’s absence cannot be discounted. Indeed, Liverpool were not just suffering from the loss of last season’s top scorer in the shape of the Uruguayan, but also the Englishman who contributed 21 Premier League goals and seven assists.

Although Sturridge was often deployed out wide early in his career, he will play as a central striker against Everton on Saturday. His 20-minute cameo and excellent finish against West Ham last weekend was enough evidence of his potential as the focal point of Liverpool’s new-look 3-4-3.

                                                                                                       *Since Sturridge joined Liverpool

Since Rodgers shifted to that formation in mid-December, the team have recaptured some of the energy and pace that almost carried them to the title in 2013-14. Such a configuration – which is used by the likes of Marcelo Bielsa at Marseille and Genoa’s Gian Piero Gasperini – tends to be based on speed, verticality and dynamic flurries of movement. That description also fits the Liverpool of last season, who at their best were a rapid counter-attacking outfit who focused on the quick circulation of ball and players.

Phillipe Coutinho, Lazar Markovic, Emre Can, Mamadou Sakho, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling are some of the names who have benefited from the tactical change. Sterling has been fielded as a central striker and, while his movement and general play has been excellent, Sturridge will prove a more natural fit.

In some ways, the 25-year-old’s interpretation of the role will not be too different to Sterling’s. Sturridge is much more than just a fox in the box, capable of dropping deep and wide to get on the ball and happy to interchange fluidly with Liverpool’s other forwards. His average positions in his three Premier League appearances this term indicate someone who, while clearly a centre-forward, is happy to drift across the line.

Sturridge, however, will provide more of a cutting edge, bringing a natural striker’s instinct to the line-up while also offering the thrust and mobility lacking in Liverpool’s other options Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli.

The prospect of the new SAS linking up with Coutinho once more is exciting. The Brazilian, along with Adam Lallana, has largely played as an inside forward since the move to 3-4-3; Coutinho has been Liverpool’s creative hub in recent weeks, finding room in between the lines to feed his team-mates in dangerous positions. His assist for Sturridge against West Ham may have looked a simple enough ball, but it was typical of the 22-year-old: picking the ball up in space, dribbling forward with quick feet and supplying an accurate pass. Not to mention the quick thinking which played in Sterling for the first.

The Coutinho-Sterling-Sturridge triumvirate was a productive one last year. Coutinho provided six assists for the pair, while Sterling laid on three goals for the other two. It is interesting to note how much more Sterling and Coutinho have linked up so far this season, however. According to Opta, the Brazilian played 97 passes to his team-mate all throughout 2013-14, with Sterling returning the favour with 85; since August, those figures read 116 and 80 respectively, with 15 top-flight games still to play. If the duo can continue to combine as well as creating chances for Sturridge, things bode extremely well for the red half of Merseyside.
Liverpool go into Saturday’s clash without having tasted a Premier League defeat since they went down 3-0 to Manchester United on December 14, the first time that Rodgers set his side out in a 3-4-3. That comprehensive scoreline did not really tell the full story: the Reds put in a decent performance as Sterling – who got himself into good goalscoring positions but lacked a natural frontman’s finishing touch – missed four excellent chances.

As Liverpool prepare to take on another rival in Everton this weekend, Sturridge will surely not make the same mistake.

Rodgers: Coutinho is our new Suarez

The Brazilian curled in an injury-time winner to send his team into the FA Cup fifth round, with his manager hailing him as an inspiration for younger players

Brendan Rodgers has compared Philippe Coutinho to Luis Suarez after the Brazilian’s late stunner saw Liverpool reach the FA Cup fifth round.

Late goals from Raheem Sterling and Coutinho cancelled out Eidur Gudjohnsen’s earlier opener for Bolton, who had Neil Danns sent off when they led 1-0.

And Rodgers lavished praise on Coutinho after the game, predicting the former Inter man to match Suarez’s “world-class” talent in the years to come.

“You just pay money to watch that kid,” he told reporters.

“Watch how he plays football. He can be a great role model for young British players who, for many years, may have been discarded because they didn’t have the stature. He’ll become world-class in the next few years.

“With Luis Suarez, he was at a level when he played in this team, and he grew with the model before getting into that world-class bracket.

“I can see Coutinho following in a similar sort of line. He may not be as prolific but he’s on his way to that level. He’s a wonderful player.”

It was a nervy end for Liverpool, who were staring at an embarrassing exit, until an exquisite pass from Can after 86 minutes set up Sterling for the equaliser – and Rodgers singled out the summer signing.

He added: “He’s a kid that’s going to go on and be a big player for this team and Germany. He can defend, pass, he’s quick, he’s powerful. A lot of these young players are standing up to be counted now.”

Liverpool now travel to Crystal Palace on February 14 for a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals, with Rodgers noting the 3-1 Premier League loss at Selhurst Park in November.

“[Going back] is a great thing,” he said. “We didn’t play anywhere near our level and that the lowest point of the season in terms of performance.

“We go back there very soon with a different frame of mind and level of performance. Alan has lifted the club since he’s gone there but we go with big confidence.”

Rodgers: Coutinho can become Liverpool's Modric or Kroos

The former Inter man has struggled for goals this season but his manager claims his all-round impact on matches has been highly impressive

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has hailed Philippe Coutinho, comparing the midfielder to Real Madrid pair Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

The former Inter man signed a new contract with the Anfield outfit on Tuesday that saw him commit his future to the Reds until 2020.

And Rodgers does not feel that the 22-year-old needs to improve his goalscoring record to be a success given how Modric and Kroos have advanced their careers.

“If you look at that type of player he is, you look at Modric,” he told reporters.

“He doesn’t have a big goalscoring record, but he is a world-class player, a continuity player. He can make passes and put the ball in behind and he gets the odd goal from outside the box.

“He is a top-class player who can create the game who is so important in opening up doors for the team.

“Toni Kroos is another of that type; a wonderful footballer and great passer.

“They maybe don’t get as many goals for what their technique is, but their role is to sit behind the ball and create goals for others.

“Their role is not to score 20 a season. Phil’s numbers will improve, but it is not the be all and end all if he doesn’t get 20 a season.”

The Brazil international has found the net on just two occasions this season, though his all-round performances in recent weeks have caught the eye.

And Rodgers is under no doubt that the the greater responsibility the player is showing in attacking areas will lead to more goals.

“He has a wonderful strike on him, so it will be about arriving into areas where he can make movements without the ball.

“There are areas to improve in the accuracy on his shooting; he has a wonderful move to work the space but at times you see him dragging the shot.

“At the minute I don’t have too many complaints about him as he’s pressing the game really well, he is being aggressive in hunting the ball and his two assists at the weekend were sublime.

“Hopefully in years to come the goals will come more readily for him.”

Coutinho signs new long-term Liverpool deal

The Brazilian midfielder, who joined from Inter back in 2013, has agreed a new contract at Anfield and insists that it is a dream come true to play for the Merseyside club

Liverpool have confirmed that Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho has signed a new long-term contract with the club.

The 22-year-old, who arrived from Inter back in 2013, has flourished under Brendan Rodgers and been one of the club’s stand-out performers in the 2014-15 campaign.

Speaking after having put pen to paper over a new deal, Coutinho told the club’s official website: “I’m really happy. It’s a dream come true playing for this great club and being part of this squad.

“Today I’ve committed my future to the club and for this I’m feeling very pleased. This club is great and the fans have always supported me, so I’ve been eager to sign this new deal since conversations started. Today is a very happy day.

“It means so much. This club has given me the opportunity to play and believed in me even though I hadn’t been playing regularly at my previous club. I’ve had a great reception since my first day here. As I always say, Liverpool is a big family and I’m a happy person here.”

#LFC are delighted to confirm that @Phil_Coutinho has signed a new long-term contract with the club #CoutinhoLFC

— Liverpool FC (@LFC) February 3, 2015

Rodgers: Coutinho improving in Liverpool system

The former Inter midfielder registered two assists against West Ham and his manager believes the Reds’ 3-4-3 formation is bringing the best out of the Brazilian

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers singled out Philippe Coutinho for praise after the midfielder produced another impressive display in Saturday’s win over West Ham.

Brazilian playmaker Coutinho showed great vision to set up goals for Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge in a 2-0 Premier League triumph at Anfield.

While Liverpool have failed to hit the heights of last season in this campaign, Coutinho has been a standout performer and his contribution has not gone unnoticed by Rodgers.

He told the club’s official website: “He has been at a really top level of performance over the last couple of months.

“His pass for the first goal was sublime; he was half looking the other way and lifts it over the defender. He has got a lovely weight of pass.

“He needs players to run beyond and that was our problem at the beginning of the season, we had no penetration. We have moved it and put Raheem through the middle, and for guys like Phil it has a knock-on effect – he can then play passes through.

“Offensively we were very good, but very compact and defensively solid against a good side.”

The win saw Liverpool move above West Ham into seventh, four points off the top four.

Coutinho: Winning run has restored Brazil's belief

The Liverpool attacking midfielder believes that the Selecao have put their World Cup anguish firmly behind them after victories over Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina and Japan

Philippe Coutinho says Brazil have got their self-belief back thanks to a four-game winning streak under new coach Dunga.

The Selecao were left in a state of shock following their devastating 7-1 loss to Germany in the semi-finals of World Cup 2014 – a defeat which eventually prompted the departure of former boss Luiz Felipe Scolari after they were also beaten in the third-place play-off by Netherlands.

However, Brazil have looked reinvigorated since the return of Dunga for a second stint with the Selecao, winning all four of their games to date under the 51-year-old, who previously led the national team between 2006 and 2010.

Coutinho was not included in the World Cup squad, but he says that there has been an improvement in the atmosphere in the dressing room since the players first got together after the trauma of the summer and revealed that they are all now looking forward to next year’s Copa America with renewed optimism.

“The wins, and the fact that the team is playing well, gives us self-belief,” the Liverpool attacker is quoted as saying by

“The players feel confident. It helps to have a good mood in the squad.

“Everyone has to be focused in order to keep this winning streak going until the tournament.”

Coutinho faces fierce competition for a place in Dunga’s starting line-up but he says that he is determined to make the most of every single second he spends with the Selecao – whether he plays or not.

“I see being here as a great opportunity,” the 22-year-old explained.

“We have to give everything in order to grow in our careers and it’s important to learn from everyone. So, I just want to keep working hard.”

Coutinho will be hoping to prove his worth to Dunga this month, having been called upon for the Gillette Brasil Global Tour clashes with Turkey and Austria on November 12 and 18, respectively.

Coutinho vows to improve after Liverpool's shaky start

The Reds have endured a shaky start to the 2014-15 Premier League season but the Brazil international is keen to kick-start his side’s season by improving his own performances

Philippe Coutinho is determined to step up his performances in a bid to kick-start Liverpool’s lacklustre season.

Despite currently sitting fifth in the Premier League standings, Brendan Rodgers’ side have made a shaky start to 2014-15, with the fluid football of last term having gone missing.

A host of new players arrived at Anfield in the wake of Luis Suarez’s departure to Barcelona in the close-season, including misfiring forward Mario Balotelli, but playmaker Coutinho has put the onus on himself to create more goal-scoring opportunities.

“We haven’t had a good start to the current season. We all acknowledge the team are not currently in our best form,” he told the club’s official website.

“Each striker has their own style and training sessions help me understand how they prefer the ball to reach them. In my position, it’s important that I create clear opportunities for them.

“I have to adapt my style to all strikers – as does any player who is in charge of playing in the No.10 role. We have to create open chances regardless of who the strikers are.”

After making a flying start to his Liverpool career upon his arrival from Inter in January 2013, Coutinho struggled to have the same impact last term.

But the diminutive midfielder has improved this season, notching a crucial goal in last weekend’s scrappy victory over QPR before providing a bright spark during the midweek Champions League defeat to Real Madrid.

However, the 22-year-old, who has retained his place in Brazil’s squad for their November internationals, admits that his performances are irrelevant if the Reds are not winning.

“Football is a team game and everyone has their own responsibilities. My role encompasses creating goal-scoring opportunities and scoring goals myself,” he continued.

“It’s difficult to say anything on a personal level when you lose the game, no individual performance really matters when the team doesn’t win.

“The most important thing for me is that the team deliver and win games. We want to be performing well again soon and we must keep working hard to achieve that.”

Premier League Team of the Week: Aguero & Pelle star alongside Oscar & Fabregas

In a bumper week for goals, the stars of wins for Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool take their place in our composite team from the most recent round of matches

While closest challengers Manchester City and Southampton racked up the goals, Chelsea were able to solidify their spot at the top of the Premier League table with victory over Crystal Palace.

In a weekend in which 40 goals were scored, Jose Mourinho’s side hung on for a 2-1 win at Selhurst Park as they coped admirably without Diego Costa, while Manuel Pellegrini’s men beat Tottenham 4-1 and Ronald Koeman’s charges thrashed Sunderland 8-0.

Elsewhere, Arsenal and Manchester United needed late equalisers to claim 2-2 draws with Hull City and West Brom respectively while a remarkable finish at Loftus Road saw Liverpool secure a 3-2 win over QPR.

But with so many thrilling attacking showings, as well as the odd fine defensive performance, who makes it into our line-up?

Starting in goal, Joe Hart (4.5) continued his fine form between the sticks as he pulled off three world-class saves, including one to deny Roberto Soldado from the penalty spot, at the Etihad Stadium.

In front of him sits a back four, with Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne (4.5) able to build on his first senior England call-up with a fine showing as he got forward with regularity and caused opposing full-back Patrick van Aanholt many problems.

Before hobbling off with an injury late on, Michael Dawson (4) put in a superb showing up against Danny Welbeck as he made a number of recovery tackles, while Phil Jagielka (3.5) made it three goals in five appearances for club and country with the opener against Aston Villa.

Jagielka’s Everton team-mate, Leighton Baines (4), took his assist tally to five for the season at Goodison Park and, having only created four goals last term, he is certainly showing signs of being back to his best.

Despite only coming off the bench for the final 24 minutes, Philippe Coutinho (4) added some real impetus to Liverpool’s play in the capital as his direct running caused a whole host of problems – no more so than ith his 90th-minute goal.

Cheslea’s midfield pair of Oscar (4.5) and Cesc Fabregas (4) form the engine room, with the duo both getting on the scoresheet against Neil Warnock’s side. Despite his fine start to the season, this was Fabregas’s first goal after providing seven assists in as many matches.

Dusan Tadic (5) became only the sixth player to assist four goals in a Premier League match as he also got on the scoresheet at St Mary’s Stadium, with Graziano Pelle (5) able to take advantage with two goals of his own as he took his own tally to six for the season.

The Italy international is partnered by Sergio Aguero (4.5) up front as the he joined Diego Costa on nine goals and in turn became Manchester City’s record Premier League goalscorer with four strikes against Spurs.

Rodgers predicts greatness for Coutinho

The 22-year-old Brazilian has made a big impression in pre-season this summer and his manager expects big things from the former Inter midfielder both at home and in Europe

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers believes that the “magical” Philippe Coutinho can take the Champions League by storm.

The Brazilian playmaker has regularly shown glimpses of his ability since arriving at Anfield from Inter in January 2013.

He made 33 Premier League appearances as Liverpool went agonisingly close to winning the title last term and was one of their standout players throughout pre-season after missing out on a place in his country’s World Cup squad.

The Reds will return to the Champions League in 2014-15 following a five-year absence and, after watching a virtuoso Coutinho display in his side’s 4-0 demolition of Borussia Dortmund on Sunday, Rodgers tipped the 22-year-old to shine on European club football’s biggest stage.

“He’s so gifted – his ability is magical [and] the weight of his pass is phenomenal,” Rodgers purred to the press.

“He’s come into the country and lit it up with his quality. [The important thing for his development] is sustaining that level of performance.

“He’s got the opportunity to show he’s a top-level player in the Champions League and he’ll do that.

“Over the next four or five years, he’ll be a big talent in world football for Brazil and Liverpool. We’re lucky to have him.”

Coutinho – whom the manager hopes to tie down to a new contract – was among the scorers as Liverpool routed Dortmund at Anfield and Rodgers was thrilled with his team’s performance.

“[I’m] delighted with the result – they [Dortmund] have been one of Europe’s best teams for the last three or four years,” he added. “We were excellent and this brings to an end what has been a very good pre-season.”

Coutinho to be rewarded with new Liverpool deal, reveals Rodgers

The Anfield boss says that the playmaker is “a great asset to the club” and is keen to secure his long-term future, while he hopes for more goals from the Brazilian this season

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has revealed that Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho will be offered a new contract before the start of the upcoming season.

The 22-year-old has shone at Anfield since joining the club in an €11 million move from Inter in January 2013, scoring and assisting 20 goals in 46 Premier League appearances.

Rodgers believes that Coutinho is a player around whom he can build his side, with his best years still ahead of him, and is keen to reward the former Vasco da Gama star with an extension.

“A new contract for Philippe is something we will look to do over the summer,” the Northern Irishman told reporters.

“It’s all in hand. He’s certainly on that list. He’s a valuable player and a great asset to the club. He’s come in here and shown his quality, and really developed as a young player.

“Now he’s moving into the best years of his life as a footballer. He’s 22 and hopefully, by the time the next World Cup comes around, he will be an important part of the Brazil team. I’m sure his best years will be at Liverpool.

“He came back to pre-season with a great level of fitness – right on the limit of his weight. He’s in great condition, clearly worked hard in the off-season and, since he’s come back, we’ve seen in the games how strong and aggressive he is.”

Coutinho bagged just five goals last term, fewer than defender Martin Skrtel, and the Liverpool boss expects the Brazilian to hit the back of the net more often next season – though he refused to set him a target.

“He’s a player I don’t want to put too much pressure on with goals,” Rodgers explained. “When you have that quality and technique you’ll hope to score more goals and I’m sure that’s something he will improve on this season.”