The omission of Philippe Coutinho from the starting lineup against Stoke was less surprising for Liverpool fans than it was for neutrals who were clearly unaware of the fact he has been ill all week.
Roberto Firmino’s place on the bench was somewhat more eye-opening yet a decision all Reds will have immediately understood.
Jurgen Klopp’s approach to start with teenagers Ben Woodburn and Trent Alexander-Arnold in a 3-5-2 formation didn’t quite work out as he had hoped but certainly marked a fearless approach that deserves respect.
Speaking after the game, the German offered an explanation to his surprise selection. He told Liverpoolfc.com: “Then, half-time, it was a difficult decision to make because it was not clear that Roberto and Phil would be ready for 45 minutes. Roberto, after the last game, a guy who usually never says anything about how he feels, said ‘I’m really done’.”
“After two games for Brazil, last game after injury played Man City, flying immediately to Brazil, played there, in his situation tried to convince the people, coming back and playing the derby immediately. So he was now at a point where it was clear if we tried to bring him through 90 minutes it would cause us real problems.”
“Phil lost three kilos in the last three days. For most of us that would be good news! But for Phil and a professional football player, it is not as good. He came to the hotel this morning and said ‘I’m fine’. But we knew he would have a low energy level, full enough for 30 minutes.”
Firmino rarely misses a game and a rest was coming. Thankfully it was short lived as he returned to help complete a vital turnaround.
Both he and Coutinho provided the quality that we had been missing in the final third and played with the kind of attitude that showed they knew how important they were to their team’s chances of getting anything from the game.
Coutinho finally looks to have rediscovered his form having struggled for some time since returning from an ankle injury. The pair will need to be somewhere close to their best if Liverpool are to stand any chance of securing a top four spot and, in turn, qualifying for the Champions League.