Coutinho cracker rescues Reds stat attack movers & shakers
Brazilian's wonder strike lifts dreadful contest and cheers Rodgers
STOKE CITY 0
(Philippe Coutinho 86)
Philippe Coutinho pulled off an act of escapology straight from the Houdini textbook this morning.
The Brazilian's 86th-minute strike rescued Liverpool at the Britannia and pulled a contest from the jaws of tedium, earning the fixture a glossy finish it scarcely deserved.
Wriggling free on the edge of the box, the Reds midfielder curled a bending, balletic strike into the top corner to earn his manager an undeserved get-out-of-jail-free card at Stoke.
Liverpool were lucky. Mark Hughes' men had edged an otherwise dreadful contest.
Not that Brendan Rodgers will care. He achieved a small amount of redemption and a good deal of closure.
Seventy-seven days and £80 million ($171m) ago, Liverpool were essentially lobotomised by Stoke. The Reds played with neither brains nor brawn and had their faces ripped off in a 6-1 mauling.
Rodgers called the defeat his worst in football. To be fair, there was some stiff competition last season.
He vowed to make amends and radically decided to sign players in the right positions.
Nathaniel Clyne slotted in at right-back, with his predecessor Glen Johnson lining up for new club Stoke.
Joseph Gomez enjoyed the odd gallop along the left, defying his birth certificate. At 18, he was one of two teenagers in a Liverpool shirt, the other being 19-year-old Jordon Ibe.
With James Milner just ahead of Jordan Henderson in midfield and Christian Benteke skulking around the box with all the subtlety of a polar bear hunting fish on an ice floe, Liverpool promised youthful vigour mixed with real, physical force.
The only flaw in Rodgers' master plan was Benteke.
One swallow doesn't make a summer, but one striker can make a season.
Benteke may struggle to live up to the billing.
Brendan Rodgers spent £32.5 million on the Belgian, but then left his striker flailing in a formation utterly unsuited to his strengths.
Benteke scores most of his goals in the air. Liverpool rarely crossed. The forward thrives on balls played over the shoulder of the last defender, but the Reds played tippy-tappy around the box, in a fashion that was neither penetrative nor pretty.
Coutinho and Adam Lallana slipped in passes for a striker who isn't particularly slippery, leaving all three men looking like round pegs in square holes.
Benteke drifted away from the game, his threat diminishing with every misplaced pass. Either he drops deeper to gain possession or Lallana and Ibe float more crosses from the flanks.
The other alternative is to offer Roberto Firmino more than the 12 minutes he got.
Something's got to give because apart from Coutinho's freakish, late strike, Liverpool were mostly laboured, slow and maddeningly dull.
It's always worth reiterating that Rodgers has spent £300 million in three seasons.
He shops in first class, but the Reds are still stuck in economy. It was congested, low-frills stuff. Expect further turbulence in the weeks ahead.
Somewhere in Los Angeles, a departed legend recognised the jersey but not the lack of application.
Steven Gerrard's legs betrayed him but he left with a priceless commodity still intact, something missing from the plodding Reds.
They played with so little heart.
For Stoke, Charlie Adam grew in stature against his former team. Marco van Ginkel did enough to justify Hughes' decision to build his side around the Chelsea loanee and Ibrahim Afellay showed flashes of the kind of inspiration that Rodgers struggles to find in his own squad.
At the very least, the Reds didn't trudge from the Britannia turf 5-0 down at half-time this time around. Apparently, that's what £80 million buys Liverpool these days. There were no other straws to clutch.
The game's first presentable chance didn't arrive until the 64th minute, when Simon Mignolet tipped around Adam's cross-shot.
His save was decent, but certainly not worth the 63 eye-meltingly tedious minutes that preceded it.
A 0-0 draw would've been a fair result, but Coutinho cultivated enough space in the dying minutes to wave his magic wand.
Rodgers got away with it. If he doesn't fix his striking issue, he won't be so lucky next time.