With both Sterling and Coutinho taking knocks in the 0-0 Merseyside derby draw with Everton, and the former missing out on the following clash at home to Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool have been effectively without two of their most influential attacking players.
Coutinho was deployed at Anfield on Tuesday, but he and Henderson both looked far from their best. This is no surprise, given each has been a prominent feature of Rodgers’ side throughout this season.
Most PL minutes played by LFC outfield players in 14/15:
Henderson – 2086
Skrtel – 1980
Sterling – 1974
Gerrard – 1773
Coutinho – 1631
No Liverpool player has played more minutes than Henderson, while 20-year-old Sterling and 22-year-old Coutinho both feature in the top five most-utilised outfield players.
Ahead of a congested schedule into a trip to Crystal Palace in the FA Cup, the first leg of the Europa League Last 32 clash with Besiktas and a visit to Southampton in a top-four Premier League bout, Rodgers needs to be careful with these players throughout this run, but how should he manage Sterling, Coutinho and Henderson?
Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool, 14 February
Cup-tied: Ibe – Rested: Coutinho
Perhaps unwisely, Rodgers has suggested he will go full-throttle when the Reds visit Selhurst Park on Saturday, as assistant manager Colin Pascoe explained in his Thursday press conference.
“Palace is a tough place to go, we know that, we go there positive and go there for the win,” Pascoe said, later going on to say: “The manager will pick the strongest side [possible].”
Nevertheless, Rodgers should rest at least one of the aforementioned trio in this game.
In Liverpool’s last game, the 3-2 win against Spurs, a bright replacement option announced himself in Adam Lallana.
Lallana’s return from injury is timed well with the fading of Coutinho in recent games, and the 26-year-old would fill the left-sided, advanced playmaker role.
With Jordon Ibe cup-tied for this clash, Sterling would need to slot straight back into the side having missed the Spurs clash, leaving Lazar Markovic to move back into his regular right wing-back role.
Rodgers clearly wants to make a concerted effort to win some domestic silverware this season, to flourish his CV and, arguably, build on last season’s achievements by adding this to a top-four placing.
Liverpool should still defeat Palace with this slightly rotated side, and keep some legs fresh for their midweek bout.
Liverpool vs. Besiktas, 19 February
Suspended: Markovic – Rested: Henderson, Sterling
With Besiktas travelling to Liverpool, Rodgers faces a rather unwelcome challenge in the return of European action — the Reds struggled for form during their spell in the Champions League at the beginning of the season.
In theory, however, the Turkish side should be a less rigorous challenge than that of Real Madrid and FC Basel, and Rodgers should have leeway to rotate some more in this tie.
With Sterling in the side to take on Palace, the 20-year-old could drop out here, and in his place would come the returning Coutinho, with Lallana shifting onto the right-hand side.
Ibe comes back into contention for the Anfield clash, but Markovic is suspended due to the harsh red card he received in the Reds’ last Champions League outing against Basel.
Therefore the 19-year-old can take Markovic’s place at right wing-back, and look to continue the promising partnership with Lallana that heralded Mario Balotelli’s winning strike in Tuesday’s victory over Spurs.
Elsewhere, in the midfield, Besiktas offers the opportunity to rest Henderson, with Joe Allen taking his place.
Southampton vs. Liverpool, 22 February
While the FA Cup offers Rodgers with the chance at winning some silverware, and the Europa League a direct shot at a lucrative European victory, the manager should look to focus his strength on the Premier League and the race for the top four.
Liverpool defeated Southampton 2-1 in their home tie earlier in the season, but Ronald Koeman’s side have progressed significantly since then.
Therefore, Rodgers must go full strength against the Saints.
Previous rest periods for Sterling, Coutinho and Henderson should, in theory, see them back and raring to go, and all three would return in this lineup.
In what represents a truly mouthwatering prospect on paper, a midfield partnership of Can and Henderson would feed the advanced Alberto Moreno, Markovic, Coutinho and Sterling, who will finally support a fully fit Sturridge.
If managed correctly, and with all other factors playing in Liverpool’s hands, Rodgers could see his side go into this important top-four clash with an unstoppable momentum.
Struggles for form and fitness between Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson could be considered negatives for Liverpool going into this tough run of fixtures, but they may just be laid out perfectly to rotate and rest these talents back to power.
Can Brendan Rodgers find a balance by resting Sterling, Coutinho and Henderson? Let us know in the comments below.