Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is looking forward to being able to give Philippe Coutinho a first Premier League start since November against Swansea on Saturday.
The Brazilian, who suffered ankle ligament damage on November 26, was given 30 minutes against Manchester United at Old Trafford last weekend—when he set up Roberto Firmino for a good chance with virtually his first touch—and a further hour in the FA Cup replay win at Plymouth.
Those outings have encouraged Klopp to believe he is now ready for a return to the Reds’ starting lineup.
“He’s had a few minutes in the last two games and I’m really happy. I was happy we could give him 60-something minutes,” said Klopp.
“It was really good for him and us to get a rhythm because even Philippe Coutinho cannot be back on the pitch and immediately be 100 per cent. That is not really possible.
“It is very important for us and I am happy about this. We’ve not had 150 [pieces] of good news in the last few days but that is one of the best for sure.”
The loss of Coutinho and the subsequent departure of Senegal forward Sadio Mane to the African Nations Cup has robbed Liverpool of two of their key attacking options and also put more pressure on Firmino, who has been moved from his preferred central position to do a job out wide where he has been less effective.
In the 13 matches he played alongside Coutinho for at least some part of the game before his injury, Firmino scored five goals.
In the nine matches he played during his fellow Brazilian’s absence he managed just one goal.
Some of that can be attributed to his change of role to accommodate others, and Klopp does not subscribe to the view that Coutinho’s absence has affected Firmino.
“We have a few players who have played nearly every game and Roberto, of course, had a few moments when he lost this ball or maybe didn’t score in this situation, but he does not depend on any other player,” the German said.
“It helps the whole team when Phil is in and at his best but they like each other and everyone can benefit from Phil’s skills.
“[Firmino] has played more on the wing because Sadio is not here and that changes things a little bit, but he is often enough in the right areas.
“He had a pass from Phil in the United game which was one of the best first contacts in a game I ever saw.
“It is good for all of us he is back but Roberto is in good shape. The most important thing is that they don’t just play with each other because that makes it very predictable.
“They are good friends but they are footballers and don’t care [about friendship].
“If Roberto is in the best position then Phil gives him the ball, and if not someone else gets it. That is a real partnership.
“Good understanding in the team helps a lot but they have a good understanding with all their team-mates and not just each other.”