WEST BROMWICH: Philippe Coutinho is proving invaluable to Liverpool as they attempt to secure Champions League qualification and his return to full health is crucial as they travel to West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.
Coutinho has scored in each of Liverpool’s last three matches, yet arguably should not have been involved at all as they won at Stoke City last Saturday.
He had been suffering with illness in the days leading up to that game, yet was still named as a substitute and, with Liverpool trailing 1-0, came on to score an equaliser that set up a 2-1 victory.
Fellow forward Roberto Firmino got the winner, having himself started on the bench to be given a rest after a hectic recent schedule.
With leading scorer Sadio Mane recovering from knee surgery that has ended his season prematurely, and Adam Lallana also sidelined, Coutinho and Firmino have become Liverpool’s main source of goals.
Reds manager Jurgen Klopp is set to name both Brazilians in the starting line-up at the Hawthorns as third placed Liverpool seek a fifth win in seven matches.
Sitting six points clear of fifth placed Manchester United, who have two games in hand, Liverpool can’t afford to ease off as they eye a top four finish.
And Klopp insists his Brazilian stars should not be expected to single-handedly secure Champions League qualification.
“It’s very important that players can play together, but if they are only two then it’s pretty difficult still,” he said.
“Gini Wijnaldum said it after the game, I think — yes, they had a big impact on the game, that’s 100 percent true, but the whole team played better in the second half.
“If we would have played like that in the first half and Roberto and Phil would have been on the pitch, I can only imagine if the difference would still have been that big.
“But with all playing better and these two highest quality players on the pitch, we could change the game. That was fantastic, really good.
“That they are really, really good friends — maybe best friends — and it helps us a lot. That they play together in the Brazil national team helps us.
“That they are both so unbelievably skilled helps us a lot. But, again, if they tried to do it alone, no chance.”
– Resilient –
Since reaching their initial target of 40 points in late-February, West Brom have collected just four points from six games and last weekend’s defeat to Southampton gave the Saints hope of beating Tony Pulis’s side to eighth place.
Senior players have spoken previously about taking the Baggies to 50 points for the first time in a Premier League season.
But Pulis said: “The target is to get as many points as we can. And we want performances.
“We want the players to go out and put good performances in. It’s going to be a really tough game because they have a lot to play for.
“We’ve got to make sure we are resilient and when we get the ball we’ve got to play through the pitch quickly like we did against Arsenal.
“Liverpool will press us and push on to us so we’ve got to make sure that first pass from the turnover, that first pass is important and we’ve got to keep that first pass.”