Red Letter: Counting on Coutinho to overshadow Sterling

Date published: Thursday 19th November 2015 2:44

In his weekly Liverpool blog, lifelong Reds fan Dave Tindall is hoping in-form Philippe Coutinho can grab the headlines when Raheem Sterling faces his former club with Manchester City.

Games against Manchester City used to be a bit of a doddle.

Once, back in 1995, we beat them 4-0 (League Cup) and 6-0 (Premier League) in the space of four days.

Then they came into money and it’s been a lot harder ever since. Now they nearly always start as bookies‘ favourites.

Not that they’ve had our number exactly; in fact, in the last 12 meetings it’s four wins each and four draws, and, when the stakes were highest, Liverpool’s dramatic 3-2 win at Anfield in 2014 put us in the driving seat to win the title.

That epic encounter started with a brilliant shimmy of the hips and opening goal from Raheem Sterling and ended with another blow-the-roof-off moment as a Philippe Coutinho special won Liverpool the match after City had fought back from 2-0 down.

Small in stature but big in reputation, the spotlight will be shone firmly on that high-profile duo in the build-up to Saturday’s showdown, but this time, of course, they’ll be rivals not team-mates.Raheem Sterling

Sterling will get all kinds of abuse hurled at him from many Reds fans at the Etihad and, to be honest, he’s fair game. Sorry Raheem, but Liverpool fans are fiercely loyal and if you mess them about you’ll get it back.

I’ll admit, I hope it puts him off his game, although I left any bitterness behind a long time ago.

My emotions during his long-winded and classless transfer saga went from dread that a possible future superstar was leaving, to anger that he was disrespecting the club, to pleasure that he’d gone and we’d banked a massive fee for someone who might not be that good anyway. Now, it’s indifference. He’s not our player; let’s move on.

By contrast, there are many ex-Liverpool stars I still cheer on when they’ve gone. I see them as Reds just running around in a different shirt.

Despite his own difficult exit, I was chuffed when Steve McManaman scored in the Champions League final for Real Madrid because he was still ‘one of ours’ and had delivered many years of service. I still wish only good things for Luis Suarez. He gave us not just extraordinary brilliance but ran himself into the ground for the Liverpool cause.

Perhaps it’s also because McManaman and Suarez moved abroad and their continued excellence couldn’t directly hurt Liverpool on a weekly basis. Then again, such was my adoration for Robbie Fowler that I’d have indulged whatever he did. Hat-trick for Leeds at Anfield? Be my guest Robbie, it wasn’t personal.

Sterling didn’t hang around long enough for deep, emotional ties to be formed. He shone briefly, p*ssed away any goodwill via his gobby agent Aidy Ward and then he was gone.

Pantomime boos for Sterling will be funny/cathartic for a while, but what I want to hear on Saturday is real and raw emotion of a different kind, of supporters getting behind the team. You can guarantee Jurgen Klopp will ooze passion and positivity, and I hope the fans follow suit and not get overly sidetracked with the anti-Sterling stuff.

Liverpool suited to playing away?

Obviously, that depends on what the players serve up on the pitch, but I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about Saturday’s game.

As discussed last week, our early attempts to adopt ‘gegenpressing’ have had their most successful results on the road.

The 0-0 draw at Spurs looks better by the week, we deservedly beat Chelsea 3-1 at Stamford Bridge and totally bossed the game in the 1-0 win at Rubin Kazan.

The loss to injury of Mamadou Sakho is obviously a blow, but Dejan Lovren has the chance to wipe the slate clean after looking so ill at ease under Brendan Rodgers. And will Daniel Sturridge play a part after declaring himself fit this week? That would be great, but Christian Benteke is probably the perfect man for the job in this match.

Manchester City’s team news will also be crucial, and the first thing I’ll do when their starting XI comes through is to scour it for the names of Sergio Aguero and David Silva. One bit of comfort for Liverpool is that Aguero tends not to score in his first game back from an injury (just once in six games).

What is guaranteed is that Coutinho will line up for Liverpool and he’s the key man for us on Saturday.Philippe Coutinho shirt number

While so many players from both sides have been away on international duty, Coutinho was able to stay at home with Klopp (not literally, even though the German boss did say “who doesn’t love Philippe Coutinho?” after the little magician’s two-goal salvo at Chelsea).

And while Brazil did without him, Coutinho and fellow snubbed samba star Roberto Firmino played in a behind-closed-doors friendly win against Wolves at Melwood.

Coutinho netted twice (Firmino got the other by the way) and, friendly or not, goals breed confidence. The No.10 is in a rich vein of form at the moment after his double at Chelsea and follow-up effort in the 2-1 home defeat by Crystal Palace.

Even better, he loves a goal against Manchester City. As well as the winner in the (not) title-decider in 2014, he repeated the trick with the decisive strike in the 2-1 win at Anfield back in March and also opened the scoring in the 2-1 defeat at the Etihad on Boxing Day 2013.

That’s three goals in his last four games against Man City.

If I’m writing the script, Nathaniel Clyne has Sterling in his pocket for 89 minutes before Aidy Ward looks up from his gold-plated iPhone to watch his client miss an open goal in the last-minute with City 1-0 down. See, if you’d stayed at Anfield, Raheem, Klopp would have been able to teach you what schadenfreude meant (did I really say earlier I wasn’t bitter?!).

In reality, this is a seriously big test for Liverpool, and Sterling and Manchester City will be tough and dangerous opponents.

However, West Ham won there and this is a game that the Reds can take something from.

And it’s a game where I’m hoping that Philippe Countinho will provide another decisive moment of class and continue his journey towards becoming a Liverpool legend.

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