Coutinho gone, no Fekir: How Liverpool’s title hopes could fall apart without a goalscoring midfielder

Joint-top of the Premier League heading into the second international break of the campaign, on paper Liverpool’s season is progressing just as their fans would have hoped.

There is, however, a potential cloud on the horizon and, unthinkably really given last season’s heroics, it concerns a relative lack of cohesion from the Reds’ front three.

Last season Mohamed Salah (32), Roberto Firmino (15) and Sadio Mane (10) accounted for 68% of Liverpool’s league goals, as well as adding a barely credible 30 between them in the Champions League (more goals than 74 of the other 76 Champions League campaigns by English clubs).

Such productivity is not only unlikely to be sustainable, but points to the fact that Liverpool do not have a midfield stocked with reliable goalscorers who can chip in when the forwards are labouring.

Jamie Carragher added heft to the debate recently, suggesting that Liverpool are yet to replace Philippe Coutinho.

“We need a bit more quality in midfield, I think. That’s all. Maybe he’ll revisit that in January,” he told This is Anfield.

“I just look at that midfield and I think we’re missing that Coutinho type of player. We went in for [Nabil] Fekir, so we’re obviously looking for someone like that.

“We’re trying to compete with City, and I look and they’ve got De Bruyne and Silva in there. I don’t think we’ve got that sort of player.”


Liverpool midfield/forward stats (2017-18 Premier League)


Player Name Goals Scored Assists
Mohamed Salah 32 10
Roberto Firmino 15 7
Sadio Mane 10 7
     
Philippe Coutinho 7 6
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 3 7
Emre Can 3 4
Daniel Sturridge 2 1
Georginio Wijnaldum 1 2
Jordan Henderson 1 1
Dominic Solanke 1 1
Danny Ings 1 0
James Milner 0 3

And when you look down a list of Liverpool’s top goalscorers in the Premier League last season, after the industrial hauls of the celebrated front three, the next highest scorer was Coutinho himself with seven, even though he started the season in mid-September and played his final match for the club in December.

It’s not that 10-goal-a-season midfielders are common (Liverpool have had only four such players in the Premier League era: Steven Gerrard four times, Steve McManaman in 1997-98, plus Maxi Rodriguez and the transformative Dirk Kuyt in 2010-11), it’s just that having one could be the factor that tilts the title towards Anfield rather than the Etihad Stadium or Stamford Bridge.

Think of the great title-winning sides of the last 30 years and a steady supply of goals from midfield is a key ingredient – from the 45 scored by Chelsea in 2009-10 (34 of them from Frank Lampard and the lesser-celebrated Florent Malouda) to the 42 from Manchester United in 1993-94 when Ryan Giggs, Andrei Kanchelskis, Lee Sharpe, Roy Keane and Paul Ince all contributed at least five goals each.

Marc Overmars offered 12 for Arsenal in 1997-98, Robert Pires 14 in 2003-04, Manchester City’s eventual hunting down of Liverpool in 2013-14 would not have happened without Yaya Toure’s 20 goals, while Riyad Mahrez’s 17 for Leicester in 2015-16 was only seven fewer than Jamie Vardy’s famous total.

Yaya Toure Manchester City 2013-14

Even among Liverpool’s long-past league wins you can find John Barnes scoring 22 in 1989-90, along with 11 from Steve Nicol and Steve McMahon. Two years earlier Barnes had scored 15 in his first league campaign with the Reds, with the trio of McMahon, Ray Houghton and Craig Johnston adding 19 between them.

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There is an exception to the rule, however, with the most notable example in the Premier League era being Blackburn in 1994-95, where Kenny Dalglish guided his side to the title with a midfield contribution of less than 20 goals – the only team to achieve that feat.

Of course, that Rovers side were understandably reliant on Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, who scored 49 between them, 61% of their total, and were one of the first set of forwards to have their own acronym.

So from the SAS to MSN and BBC and whatever you want to call Liverpool’s trio; it’s all well and good having a blue-chip frontline, but sometimes you really do need your pals behind to help out.

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Liverpool haven’t replaced Coutinho and need to find a De Bruyne or Silva – Carragher

Liverpool need to be in the market for a Kevin De Bruyne or David Silva, says Jamie Carragher, with the Reds considered to be in need of a “bit more quality in midfield”.

Jurgen Klopp did add in that area of the field over the summer, with Fabinho and Naby Keita drafted in from Monaco and RB Leipzig respectively.

There had, however, been departures from Anfield, with Philippe Coutinho leaving for Barcelona and Emre Can linking up with Juventus.

Carragher believes creativity is still missing in a key department , with Liverpool needing to look to Premier League rivals for inspiration when it comes to the next transfer window.

“We need a bit more quality in midfield, I think. That’s all. Maybe he’ll revisit that in January,” the former Reds defender told This is Anfield .

“I just look at that midfield and I think we’re missing that Coutinho type of player. Obviously, we went in for [Nabil] Fekir, so we’re obviously looking for someone like that.

“We’re trying to compete with City, and I look and they’ve got De Bruyne and Silva in there. I don’t think we’ve got that sort of player.

“We’ve got different types of players and we don’t play the same as them. But, now and again at Anfield, you’re going to need someone to open up teams and do something a little bit clever.

“That’s my only worry with this squad, but besides that, I think this could be Liverpool’s greatest squad for the last 30 years.”

Liverpool spent big in the last window , with Alisson and Xherdan Shaqiri also brought onto their books.

They did, however, have disposal funds following the £145 million ($192m) sale of Coutinho and Carragher doubts that they will invest so heavily again in January or over the summer of 2019.

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He added: “I mean there’s no doubt we’ve spent big in the last 12 months. But my argument to that is we had to sell our best player to spend big. Manchester United didn’t have to sell anyone to buy Pogba, you know.

“City didn’t have to sell anyone to buy Kyle Walker. We could only spend that much money because we sold Coutinho for an astronomical fee really.

“So, I don’t expect Liverpool to be spending that type of money going forward, every single season, on two or three players.”

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‘I want to beat Argentina whether Messi is playing or not’ – Coutinho can’t wait for South American derby

Philippe Coutinho avoids discussing international football with Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi but is determined to inspire a Brazil victory over Argentina next week.

Messi has not been included in either of interim coach Lionel Scaloni’s two Argentina squads following the country’s World Cup campaign that ended at the last-16 stage, leading to questions about his future with the Albiceleste.

It is not a subject Coutinho has any inside knowledge on, given that he and the five-time Ballon d’Or winner try to refrain from talking about their respective nations while on club duty.

Although Messi will not be playing when the two countries renew their rivalry in Saudi Arabia on October 16, it is a match the former Liverpool midfielder is looking forward to.

Coutinho said: “Messi and I don’t speak much about our national teams.

“Despite him not playing, the game will be massive – it’s one of the biggest rivalries in international football.

“I want to beat Argentina whether Messi is playing or not. What is most important for me is to play well and win the game.”

Coutinho played down the impact of Barca’s recent indifferent form on his readiness to perform well for Brazil.

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Following an impressive 4-2 Champions League win over Tottenham at Wembley, Ernesto Valverde’s side saw their winless run in La Liga extended to four games with a 1-1 draw at Valencia.

“It doesn’t affect me that Barcelona haven’t started well,” Coutinho said. “Barcelona are among the top positions in LaLiga and in the Champions League.

“It’s true that it’s not normal being winless for four games in a row. However, this is the beginning of a long season, where a lot of things can happen.”

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Fantasy Football: Hat-trick heroes headline our Goal Champions League Team of the Week

This was the week of forwards in the Champions League. Three players scored hat-tricks during the latest round of play, with each propelling his side to a much-needed win. Paulo Dybala stepped up when needed as Juventus had to play without Ronaldo, Edn Dzeko broke his six-match drought in front of goal helping Roma pick up their first win of the tournament, and Neymar helped PSG get back on track after their opening loss to Liverpool.

Below you can find the eight other players that put in big performances for their clubs and your Fantasy sides this week!

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GK: Roman Bürki – Dortmund – 1 Game, 5 Saves, 1 Clean Sheet = 9 Points

DEF: Leonardo Bonucci – Juventus – 1 Game, 1 Assist, 1 Clean Sheet = 10 Points

Bonucci’s performance against Young Boys was impressive and earned him a second consecutive spot in our Champions League Team of the Week. He didn’t just luck into his assist either, as he completed a team-high 83 passes on the day. Given their tendency to keep clean sheets and Manchester United’s struggles in front goal, Bonucci is someone you can feel confident in playing every week.

DEF: Aleksandar Kolarov – Roma – 1 Game, 1 Assist, 1 Clean Sheet = 10 Points

DEF: Alex Telles – FC Porto – 1 Game, 1 Assist, 1 Clean Sheet = 10 Points

Alex Telles Porto

MID: Cengiz Under – Roma – 1 Game, 1 Goal, 2 Assists = 14 Points

Under was inches away from scoring the goal of the round but will have to just settle for his goal and two assists. The Turkish international isn’t known for his finishing, but the assists may well be here to stay as he leads the club in that category in both Serie A and the Champions League. It’s hard to imagine not owning at least one Roma player for the next round as they will get another opportunity to pile on the goals against Plzen.

MID: Marco Reus – Dortmund – 1 Game, 1 Goal, 1 Assist = 11 Points

MID: Erik Lamela – Tottenham – 1 Game, 1 Goal, 1 Assist = 11 Points

The Tottenham man is in remarkable form right now, having scored or assisted in every appearance he’s made for the club this season. Lamela is now tied as the third highest point earning midfielder in the Goal game and, assuming his injury isn’t too bad, he could have even more luck against Group B minnows PSV.

Erik Lamela Tottenham

MID: Philippe Coutinho – Barcelona – 1 Game, 1 Goal, 1 Assist = 11 Points

FOR: Neymar – PSG – 1 Game, 3 Goals = 17 Points

There’s been a lot of controversy and debate surrounding Neymar after the World Cup, but he certainly showed the goods on Wednesday. The Brazilian led all players in shots on target and touches in the box this round, as well as obviously bulging the net three times. We will see how PSG fare when they inevitably make it to the knockout stages but, for now, Neymar is a must own and a solid captain option every week.

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FOR: Paulo Dybala – Juventus – 1 Game, 3 Goals = 17 Points

FOR: Edin Dzeko – Roma – 1 Game, 3 Goals = 17 Points

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Messi is the best ever – Coutinho hails Barcelona star

Lionel Messi’s masterclass in the 4-2 Champions League win at Tottenham prompted Barcelona team-mate Philippe Coutinho to describe him as the “best ever”.

Coutinho gave Barca a second-minute lead at Wembley on Wednesday but it was Messi’s brace in the second half that ensured Ernesto Valverde’s men ended a run of three games without a win.

Messi was also involved in Barca’s opener before taking his Champions League tally to 64 goals from 65 appearances in the group stage, while Jordi Alba recorded a trio of assists.

Former Barca striker Gary Lineker described Messi as the best player in history on social media and Coutinho was quick to agree with that assessment after scoring his first Champions League goal for the club.

“Messi is the best ever,” Coutinho said to beIN SPORTS.

“He always does new things on the field, I’m glad he scored two goals.

“All Champions League matches are like that. We have to be at 100 per cent. Today we deserved the victory.”

Tottenham defender Kieran Trippier accepted Barca earned their victory but said his team, without star men Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Jan Vertonghen due to injury, can be satisfied with a second-half fightback that saw goals from Harry Kane and Erik Lamela.

“These are the games you want to be involved in, that you dream of playing in,” Trippier said to BT Sport.

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“[Messi] was unbelievable. When he’s in that form he’s magic to watch.

“Barcelona were the better team on the night but we’ll take plenty of positives out of it.

“We’ve got another game around the corner, so we’ll recover and see where we went wrong.”

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Tottenham 2 Barcelona 4: Rakitic rocket helps Valverde’s men bounce back

Ivan Rakitic scored a wonderful volley and Lionel Messi struck twice to inspire Barcelona to a thrilling 4-2 win at Tottenham in the Champions League.

Philippe Coutinho took only 92 seconds to give Barca the lead at Wembley on Wednesday, with Rakitic’s unstoppable 25-yarder doubling the Catalan side’s first-half advantage.

Harry Kane’s 10th Champions League goal gave Spurs hope and, although Messi soon put Barca 3-1 up, Erik Lamela struck to set up a grandstand finish.

Ernesto Valverde’s men had failed to win their last three games and looked nervy in the closing stages, but Messi capitalised on poor defending in the last minute to ensure his team join Inter on maximum points after two games in Group B.

Hugo Lloris was playing for the first time since August after recovering from a thigh injury but the Tottenham captain’s mistake contributed to Barca’s second-minute opener.

Messi produced a gorgeous ball to send Jordi Alba scampering clear down the left channel and, with Lloris having raced out and left his goal unmarked, the left-back squared for Coutinho to tuck away his first Barca goal in the Champions League.

The visitors, returning to Wembley for the first time since lifting the Champions League there in 2011, extended their lead in stunning fashion soon after Kane had Spurs’ first shot.

Coutinho performed a minor miracle to keep the ball in play on the byline with Rakitic launching himself into a sensational 20-yard volley that clipped the post on its way into Lloris’ net.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen made a great save to keep out a Son Heung-min cross that sharply deflected off Gerard Pique, who was making his 100th Champions League appearance, and Messi hit the post twice in five minutes after the restart before Kane gave Spurs a lifeline.

A long throw from Lloris set up a counter, with Lamela feeding Kane to turn Nelson Semedo and bend a fine finish into Ter Stegen’s bottom-left corner.

Messi would not miss again, though, sending Alba clear down the left with a trademark curling pass and timing his run into the box perfectly to slot a first-time finish past Lloris to restore Barca’s two-goal lead four minutes later.

Lamela’s deflected strike wrongfooted Ter Stegen and ensured a fantastic finale but, with Spurs committing men forward, Alba seized on a loose pass to set up Messi to sweep home his second.


What does it mean: Crisis over for Valverde

Valverde said after Barca lost at Leganes last month that every defeat is an “earthquake” for the club, with talk of crisis intensifying after he rested Messi and saw his side held by Athletic Bilbao at the weekend. Spurs put up a better fight after the interval, but Barcelona’s second win in eight away Champions League games is a positive sign the LaLiga giants are getting back on track.

Arthur lives up to Xavi and Iniesta comparisons

Being dubbed a cross between Xavi and Andres Iniesta must be a huge weight on Arthur’s shoulders, but the Brazilian midfielder is living up to that lofty billing. Arthur plays like he knows he belongs on this stage. He is just 22 and it is frightening to think how good the former Gremio man could become.

Another rare Lloris error costs Spurs

The return of World Cup winner Lloris should have given Spurs a boost, especially as Mauricio Pochettino was without Dele Alli, Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen, among others. But Lloris made a calamitous misjudgement in only the second minute to give Barca a lead they were never likely to give up. Previously reliable, Lloris errors are now far too regular.

What’s next?

Spurs host Cardiff City in the Premier League on Saturday, while Barca are at Valencia in LaLiga the following day. Matchday three of the Champions League sees a blockbuster between Group B leaders Barca and Inter at Camp Nou, with Spurs travelling to PSV.

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Alisson explains Coutinho’s influence on Liverpool move

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson revealed Brazil team-mate Philippe Coutinho played a big role in his decision to join the Premier League giants.

Alisson, 25, joined Liverpool from Roma in July, and has made a fine start in England.

The shot-stopper was linked to the likes of Real Madrid before his move to Anfield, and the goalkeeper now says Coutinho – who left Liverpool for Barcelona in January after five years at the club – played a part in his decision.

“He spoke highly of Jurgen [Klopp, Liverpool manager] and about the players,” he told reporters.

“He said there is no vanity in the squad but it’s a very ambitious squad with a strong desire to win.

“Coutinho also said he was very happy here with his family, which is really important. Our wives spoke to each other too and they said they had a great time living here, and we are very happy.”

Alisson has helped Liverpool win all six of their Premier League games to start the season, despite a howler against Leicester City earlier this month.

The Brazilian was dispossessed by Kelechi Iheanacho, leading to Leicester’s goal and plenty of criticism.

Despite that mistake, Alisson, whose team visit Chelsea on Saturday, said consistency was his biggest strength.

“I am more mature today, so I deal better with the mistakes than the many times when I locked myself away and wanted to be alone,” he said.

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“But if you look at my professional history as a goalkeeper, I am not somebody who makes many mistakes. My game is characterized by consistency.

“That is what has brought me to Liverpool. I like to make simple saves. I don’t make saves for the camera. If the ball is in front of me, I won’t dive. If it’s to the side of me, I will dive to the side.

“My saves are not to show off or Hollywood saves for the camera.”

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Leganes 2 Barcelona 1: Real Madrid loanee Rodriguez caps dramatic turnaround

Quickfire goals from Nabil El Zhar and Real Madrid loanee Oscar Rodriguez stunned Barcelona and handed Leganes a shock 2-1 LaLiga win.

Barca had gone in front through Philippe Coutinho’s fine 12th-minute touch and volley and looked in control until the home side struck in quick succession at a boisterous Butarque.

El Zhar set the turnaround in motion with a thumping back-post header soon after half-time and it was Rodriguez who capitalised on Gerard Pique’s dreadful error before Barca had been given time to take stock.

Ernesto Valverde introduced Luis Suarez, Malcom and Jordi Alba off the bench but it was to no avail as Leganes, who came into Wednesday’s clash bottom of the table, upset the form book in dramatic fashion.


Lionel Messi was making his 700th Barca appearance – including non-official matches – and his assist for Coutinho, who flicked the ball up and volleyed into the bottom-right corner from 20 yards, put the champions ahead.

The captain struck the angle of post and bar five minutes later as the visitors dominated the opening stages although Leganes did grow into the contest and saw Youssef En-Nesyri head a presentable chance straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen late in the half.

Ter Stegen could do little about the equaliser seven minutes after the restart, though, as El Zhar planted Jonathan Silva’s looping cross into the net from close range.

And 69 seconds later Leganes were in front as Pique dispossessed En-Nesyri but, under little pressure, the defender could only stab the ball into the path of Rodriguez, who steered home for his first Leganes goal.

Barca were further frustrated 10 minutes from time as Ivan Cuellar pulled off a sensational double stop to deny Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic and secure a famous win – Leganes’ first over the Catalan giants.

What it means: Madrid poised to capitalise on early slip

Madrid and Barca were separated only by goal difference heading into Wednesday’s games but the champions’ first loss of the season opens the door for their rivals to go three points clear if they win at Sevilla in the later kick-off.

Coutinho’s touch of class

The opener was not Coutinho’s trademark finish – the cut in from the left and curl into the top-right corner – but there was no less skill involved and the Brazil international continues to shine in a Barca shirt.

Ponderous Pique at fault

It was not a happy outing for the defender, who was stretched by En-Nesyri’s running throughout but was not being hassled unduly when he handed Rodriguez the winner on a plate.


What’s next?

After one point from two matches, Barca will hope to get back on track against Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou on Saturday, while Leganes visit Real Betis on Sunday with a spring in their step.

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Coutinho lauds ‘unpredictable’ Messi while admitting to Champions League nerves

Philippe Coutinho has lauded the “unpredictable” ability of Barcelona talisman Lionel Messi following another memorable performance from the Argentine.

Champions League competition returned to Camp Nou on Tuesday, with PSV paying a visit to Catalunya.

The Eredivisie outfit were to find themselves on the receiving end of another Messi masterclass, with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner setting more individual records as he helped himself to a hat-trick in a 4-0 win.

Such exploits no longer come as a surprise, with the 31-year-old having starred for over a decade now, but Coutinho is among those who continue to be amazed by the mercurial talent of a modern-day icon.

The Brazilian midfielder told reporters in the wake of a stunning showing from Barca’s skipper: “Messi always shoots and scores goals, which is what is important – to score goals and win games.

“It’s amazing what he does. The truth is he is an unpredictable player, he always does new things.”

Coutinho also caught the eye again during a meeting with PSV, with the South American contributing a second assist of the 2018-19 campaign.

The 26-year-old was making his continental bow for Barca having been cup-tied in the competition last season following a January transfer from Liverpool.

Philippe Coutinho Barcelona Champions League 2018-19

He said of his pre-match nerves: “Making my Champions League debut was a unique feeling.

“I was very anxious before the game. Last year I couldn’t play in this competition and I hope that as time goes by I can improve and help the team.”

Coutinho has already seen his decision to move to Camp Nou justified by La Liga, Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup success, but he is determined to get his hands on even more silverware this term.

“I hope we can fight for all of the titles and lots of big things,” he added.

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“Everything has just begun but we have big objectives and hope to win important things. I hope to help the team every way I can.

“The fans and all the players really want to win. The match against PSV was special, like all games in the Champions League, and also because it was in front of our fans it was a fantastic feeling.”

Barca return to action on Sunday with a home date against Girona.

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