At the time, the exit of Philippe Coutinho was deemed to be something of a disaster for Liverpool. It came at the worst time of the season, midway through the campaign, just as the Reds were starting to find their groove. But as things turned, the sale of Coutinho to Barcelona did little to halt Liverpool’s momentum. If anything, it added to what Jurgen Klopp’s side were building.
Coutinho was never the most natural fit for Klopp’s side. Of course, the Brazilian playmaker’s natural talent meant that he couldn’t be omitted. Klopp had to find a place for him, but at times that actually slowed down the attacking play of the Reds. With a frontline of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, Liverpool quickly became the quintessential Klopp outfit.
The loss of Coutinho to Barcelona was also mitigated by the form of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The England international took some time to find his feet at Anfield following his move from Arsenal in the summer, but the exit of Coutinho acted as a catalyst. Oxlade-Chamberlain became Liverpool’s driving force through the middle of the pitch.
He has found his best form in the Champions League, illustrated perfectly by his performances in both legs of the quarter final against Manchester City. Against the best midfield unit in English football, Oxlade-Chamberlain was dominant. His energy and high pressing game was crucial to securing a semi final passage for the Reds.
This is why his season-ending injury is such a blow to Liverpool as they attempt to make their first Champions League final in over a decade. Without Oxlade-Chamberlain, the true impact of the departure of Coutinho might finally be felt. Klopp will have to find some midfield creativity from somewhere, otherwise his attacking line could be starved of a supply line.
Against Roma, with the scoreline at 5-2, this might not be so much of an issue. While an away goal would surely be enough to send Liverpool into the final, Klopp’s side will be largely focused on keeping the opposition out, but should the Reds make it to Kiev later this month, that’s where their lack of drive and presence through the midfield could be brutally exposed.
Both Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have strong midfield units, particularly in the latter instance. Without either Coutinho or Oxlade-Chamberlain, Liverpool could be outplayed by the duo of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, not to mention Marco Asensio and Mateo Kovacic too.
There’s a sense that Liverpool are currently playing as more than the sum of their parts and much credit must go to Klopp for that. On paper, Manchester City should have knocked out the Reds in the quarter finals, but they were overrun by a rampant Liverpool. Klopp has instilled a certain spirit in his side, but that spirit was largely embodied by the energy of Oxlade-Chamberlain. They will miss him and this week’s game at Roma might be the first indication of that.
How well do you know European Football? Want to challenge the best English Fantasy Managers? Play www.epl-fantasy.com now.