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Not sick and tired any more! Coutinho and Firmino rouse Liverpool logo 08-04-2017

Philippe Coutinho was taken ill against Bournemouth on Wednesday. Roberto Firmino was too tired to start here after a recent heavy workload according to Jurgen Klopp. The Brazilians were sick and tired respectively but fortunately for Liverpool they were up to delivering a second-half rescue act at the Bet365 Stadium.

Indeed this was a defiant message from Klopp’s team – in one of the Premier League’s toughest away grounds – that they are not ready to give up on the top-four chase just yet with Arsenal and Manchester United held at bay once more.

It was a patched-up Liverpool but one which pulsated with the defiance of their manager. It might have been easy for any fan to take one look at their starting line-up and worry.

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The jitters began here an hour before kick-off when the team sheets were distributed. Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana – as well as long-term absentee Jordan Henderson – were already ruled out but there were two more blows for Liverpool fans in the absences of Coutinho and Firmino.

It meant for the first time this Premier League season Jurgen Klopp was starting a match without any of his crucial front four – not to mention his captain. Liverpool’s record without Mane is patchy – no wins this season – but together the Brazilians had provided 17 goals and 15 assists between them.

The Reds went to a back three from the outset; usually an in-game option for Klopp and not one he had tried from the outset in any league game this season before now. It was an odd time to call for it.

It meant significant reshuffling of the team where Nathanial Clyne switched to left wing-back in order to accommodate Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right while usual left-back James Milner went to centre midfield.

From down that left side, Stoke scored the opener.

It was a day on which the stark limitations of Klopp’s squad threatened to come into full view and not many rival clubs would have been able to cope with the loss of so many first-choice players.

Despite the best endeavours of Ben Woodburn – Liverpool’s third-youngest starter - it was hard to know where the goals would come from in the Liverpool XI. Divock Origi was supposedly the senior partner in the strike partnership but offered little.

Half time saw Klopp summon the cavalry. Clyne went to the right side, Milner to the left and Coutinho and Firmino were on. Immediately Liverpool improved.

Stoke had too much control of the ball in the first half and were allowed to play their game with too much ease – but were backed into a corner in the second half.

There was a palpable sense that Stoke’s lead with not last. Firmino drew Lee Grant into action straight away. Coutinho stretched the Stoke goalkeeper with a solid effort shortly after and it was clear that the playmaker was having some influence.

Stoke looked edgier and edgier every time he picked up the ball and his ability to carry it deep meant the hosts were defending a lot deeper than they’d have liked.

He was - of course - the man to draw Liverpool level after Stoke failed to deal with a Can cross. His shot on the bounce nestled nicely in the corner. Then 126 seconds later Firmino rifled his 10th league goal of the season after Wijnaldum lobbed over a through ball.

Liverpool might not be possessed of many threats beyond their favoured front players but boy do those ones have power. Firmino whipped his shirt off to celebrate and it’s hard to imagine that Klopp did not feel like doing the same. How important these three points might be come the end of the season.

Had they lost this one, no doubt Klopp would have pointed to one key incident at the end of the first half. One minute Liverpool should have had a penalty – as good as a goal when James Milner is around – and the next they were 1-0 down.

Woodburn’s shielding of the ball from Erik Pieters just inside the Stoke area at the end of the first half drew a rash challenge from the Dutchman and although referee Mike Dean had a good look at the tangle he allowed play to continue.

Glen Johnson immediately chipped Xherdan Shaqiri in down the right flank and his cross found the evergreen Jon Walters at the front post to nod in.

It was the kind of sequence that could have only happened to Liverpool on a day like today – when too many of their big players were missing and when nothing appeared to be left in the tank.

They were without a win away from home in five matches now and are contemplating a trip to the Hawthorns against West Bromwich Albion next week. They were losing players and in danger of losing momentum right at the wrong time.

But the goals from Coutinho and Firmino – not to mention a miracle save by Simon Mignolet from Saido Berahino in the second half to preserve the lead – did the trick.

This was not the prettiest of victories but certainly one of the more satisfactory ones.

More: Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal still in Kessie hunt, admits agent | TEAM NEWS: Alexander-Arnold & Woodburn start for Liverpool as Coutinho makes the bench at Stoke

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