Majesterial Coutinho! / Man Utd 1 – 1 Liverpool (Europa League)

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Coutinho, leaving a trial of Man Utd players on the ground…

Let’s not downplay what a big result this is for J Klopp and Liverpool. If there were doubts previously it is clear now that after a couple months in charge our German manager has got the team playing much better than before. The results will come but we almost won the League Cup and now we have beaten one of our fiercest rivals over two legs. You could say that Man Utd’s play is as bad as it was under D Moyes but if there is one thing L Van Gaal does, it is that he is very good at organising his team defensively and they do not give away easy goals. (Not to mention they have a Spanish spiderman in goal.) But yet we have scored three against them while only conceding one in the two European games. We showed immense character and resilience to remain calm while sticking to the gameplay to attack Man Utd even after going one down to A Martial’s penalty. A lesser team with less courage would have dropped deeper and deeper into their own half in a desperate attempt to hang on.

And the fact is that we should have won the match at Old Trafford. Although they had 17 shots to our 13, only 3 of theirs were on target while we managed to test De Gea 7 times. Central to most of our attack was P Coutinho our lil’ Magician. What an oustanding game he had. Besides making 5 of our team’s 7 shots on target, Coutinho also made 3 key passes (Topping the table with J Mata), 4 dribbles (Second behind A Lallana and M Rashford each with 5) and 1 tackle. His eye for a pass was evident in the 40th minute when after receiving J Henderson’s pass he sent a reverse through ball into the penalty box when everyone thought that he was going to slide it to D Sturridge on the right flank. Unfortunately his one-two was fired over the bar by Hendo who made a run from deep into the penalty box. In the 62nd minute, he also showcased his mesmerising close control when he dribbled through four Man Utd players down the middle before laying the ball off to his right for Sturridge inside the penalty box to hit a (wild) shot on goal. But the best of all was of course his majesterial (In R Hudson’s words) solo-goal on the stroke of half-time. Receiving E Can’s long pass down the left flank, instead of cutting in onto his favoured right foot Coutinho went outside of G Varela instead and then with the slightest of feints chipped the ball over the on-rushing De Gea into the net. What a beautiful goal!

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And at the other end of the field E Can was to put in yet another defensive masterclass and he sure enjoys playing against both Manchester teams. Can was to top the table in tackles and interceptions (Level with C Smalling) with 8 and 4 respectively. Added to that he also made 3 clearances behind M Sakho with a massive 12 and D Lovren with 5. Besides using his pace and strength well to win possession, Can has also improved his reading of the game and thus anticipates danger better than before. But what i really like about Can is that he doesn’t dive into tackles and tries his best to stay on his feet when defending. So even when he fails to win the ball at the first attempt he is still able to run back into defense. If Can continues to develop and grow then we’d have surely gotten ourselves a world class center-midfielder.

D Sturridge looked visibly unhappy when he was substituted in the second half for D Origi. He wants to play which is good for us and i hope he will channel his frustration into scoring a rain of goals. I am also glad that Klopp “dared” to make the substitution. Not just because Origi gives us much needed pace at the top which was especially useful since Man Utd needed to attack and was vulnerable to a quick counter. But also because Klopp’s message has been clear and consistent. Nobody is an automatic starter anymore and you have to perform to be considered for the first eleven. (Just take a look at J Allen fighting his way back into consideration lately and C Benteke becoming a permanent fixture on the substitutes bench.)

And so we march on into the quarter-finals of the Europa League and let’s pray we don’t meet Klopp’s former team in Germany or defending Europa League champions Sevilla, who is the only team in history to have won the Europa League title four times.

And now that the main dish has been served let’s move on to the two side dishes. Firstly, what a wonder goal by L Suarez against Arsenal. Twisting his body in mid-air. Hitting the cross with a first-time scissors kick. Top corner of the far post. Luis Suarez does what Luis Suarez do. And everytime he scores against an English team i take it that Suarez is scoring one for Liverpool.

And secondly, welcome back to the English League R Benitez! I’ve always seen Rafa as the right man at the wrong time for Liverpool. If there was more stability at our club during his time as manager i bet he would have brought home a league title. But it was not to be and a reunion is looking increasingly unlikely. And in his typical let’s get down to work fashion Benitez has surprised quite a number of people by signing a three year contract with relegation-threatened Newcastle. This is a real coup for Newcastle and although they lost to Leicester City in Rafa’s first game in-charge, you could already see that their defensive organisation has improved. I sincerely hope Rafa saves Newcastle from relegation and then go on to win a couple of cups for them because their fans have suffered for far too long. But go easy on us Rafa. We know you still love Liverpool.

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Good luck Rafa.
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