Thursday 22 March 2018

Coutinho ready to spearhead Reds' top-four ambitions

Coutinho: Impact. Photo credit: Nigel French/PA Wire.
Coutinho: Impact. Photo credit: Nigel French/PA Wire.

John Percy

Philippe Coutinho could prove the crucial figure in Liverpool's Champions League mission and has surely killed off any lingering doubts over his commitment.

It would have been easy for Coutinho to stay at home on Saturday, after losing over three kilos through illness, but his desire to make himself available will not have gone unnoticed by Jurgen Klopp.

The Brazilian's appearance as a second-half substitute breathed fresh hope into Liverpool's top-four ambitions and he is running into form at a crucial stage of the season. Coutinho was probably rushed back too soon from the ankle injury in November, but is now showing glimpses of the form that had him earmarked as a potential PFA Player of the Year earlier in the campaign.

Sadio Mane's absence from the final six games has placed increased pressure on Coutinho to step up, but he appears willing to embrace that burden.

"I joined up in the morning (of the game). They asked me to stay at home because I was not feeling well, but I wanted to be here," he said.

"I wanted to be involved with the team. The manager decided because I was not 100 per cent. I want to keep going, to keep scoring and helping my team and keep learning from my manager. This was a big win. There are a lot of points to fight for and every game for us is important."

Klopp was acutely aware of the significance of this victory and arguably got out of jail after opting for a bewildering line-up, starting with Coutinho and match-winner Roberto Firmino on the bench.

Liverpool were lacklustre in the first-half, but the introduction of the two Brazilians completely altered the direction of the game. Coutinho's equaliser was beautifully taken, while Firmino's winner 18 minutes from time was excellent, lifting the club into third place.

It was also a day for Liverpool goalkeepers. Simon Mignolet produced a brilliant save from Saido Berahino while goalkeeping coach John Achterberg won the sweepstake for the Grand National.

"My life is making decisions, and some of them are good, after the game you can see it obviously worked, and some of them are not," said Klopp.

"So if we lose today 1-0 then the whole world probably would have said 'what have you done?'"

Stoke have lost four games in a row and appear in freefall, but should have enough points to avoid a relegation battle.

Jon Walters gave them the lead, but they faded badly in the second half, with Marko Arnautovic producing one of his most frustrating performances in a Stoke shirt.

Midfielder Geoff Cameron said: "We've got to start getting some wins under our belt and we know that.

"We should be a lot higher than where we are when you look at the talent in the changing room." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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