Sturridge and Coutinho revel in leading roles for Liverpool

The talented duo were in supreme form in the absence of Luis Suarez as they masterminded a 6-0 rout of Newcastle to stretch the Reds’ unbeaten run in the league to five games

By Charlie Scott

Liverpool adjusted to life without Luis Suarez admirably at St James’ Park on Saturday as they thrashed a below-par Newcastle side 6-0. Their biggest league win of the year was a thing of clinical beauty.

Daniel Sturridge – so often ridiculed for his selfishness and poor decision-making – was scintillating, while Philippe Coutinho’s impact on the game was such that at times he seemed to be playing with a different ball from the other 21 men on the pitch.

The Brazilian was the undeniable star as Brendan Rodgers’ side dismantled a Magpies team who have now lost four of their last six league matches. The most important thing, however, was that they did it without Suarez.

Thousands of words have been written analysing the Uruguayan’s misdemeanours, while the FA’s decision to hand him a 10-match ban led many to question what impact his absence would have on the Merseyside club.

The length of that ban means that he misses the remainder of this season and the first six games of the next campaign but any fears that Liverpool’s form might plummet as a result were certainly quelled by the pairing of Sturridge and Coutinho on Saturday.

The Anglo-Brazilian partnership thrived at St James’ Park, albeit against a Newcastle team distinctly lacking in both form and confidence.

Rodgers eulogised about both of their performances after the game, which saw Sturridge score twice and Coutinho slice open Newcastle’s defence again and again with his diverse range of passing.

“I think Sturridge can be one of the best strikers in Europe in a few years. He was phenomenal today,” the Reds boss told reporters after the game.

The former Chelsea striker not only showed his finishing ability but also his willingness to make intelligent runs off the ball to create space for his team-mates and to bring them into play with neat lays-off and well-chosen passes.

When asked about the impact of his young South American playmaker Rodgers was equally complimentary. “Coutinho can play in a couple of positions. He’s a master technician,” the Northern Irishman enthused. “He might be small in stature but you can see his strength. The weight of his passing is incredible.”

Two Coutinho moments in particular stood out. The first was a superb pass with the outside of his right boot that set Sturridge away and allowed him to tee up Jordan Henderson to make it 2-0. The second was when he tussled with Hatem Ben Arfa to win possession on the left wing, then dribbled to the edge of the Newcastle box and scooped a delicious pass through a gap between Steven Taylor and Mathieu Debuchy to Sturridge, who added a third for the visitors.

The game saw both players produce arguably their finest displays in a Liverpool shirt to date and, with Suarez serving the first of his 10-match ban, the timing could not have been better.

However, it is important to acknowledge that, although Liverpool, and their January signings in particular, were very good, Newcastle were also very bad. The Magpies have the most porous defence in the division, having conceded 66 goals in 35 games. Even 20th-placed Reading have been more miserly.

While Pardew and his team now find themselves embroiled in a battle to avoid being drawn into the relegation zone, Liverpool are in a strange position in the sense that, with just three games left to play, they are five points behind Everton in fifth and six points ahead of West Brom in seventh.

The Merseyside derby next time out gives them an opportunity to further narrow the gap and move closer to surpassing their local rivals, yet even that – while giving them bragging rights – would not alter their position in terms of European qualification.

This takes the pressure off and it also gives Rodgers a run of games to encourage Coutinho and Sturridge to forge a relationship without relying on Suarez. The understanding built now must last at least until August.

The young attacking duo have the weight of expectation on their shoulders but, if their showing on Saturday is anything to go by, they should thrive on it.

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