Liverpool's Phillippe Coutinho leaves the field with an injury against Swansea (PA)
Despite jibes from some opposition fans regarding their history, Liverpool are enjoying life at the top of the Premier League.
We are finally starting to see the seeds that Brendan Rodgers scattered in the early stages of his Reds stint come to fruition, but the club's fine form has intertwined with the arrival of Philippe Coutinho back in January and this is no coincidence.
With the news that the 21-year-old will be sidelined until the end of October with a shoulder problem, it's left Rodgers with a puzzle to solve this weekend as his side host Southampton on Saturday. How will Liverpool set-up without their Brazilian keymaster?
The nimble Brazilian arrived at Merseyside in need of a fresh start and he slotted into Liverpool’s midfield effortlessly. He was involved heavily as soon as he arrived at the club, making 13 league appearances between February and the final day in May, and he was instrumental in Liverpool's form.
Coutinho Liverpool Stats From Last Season
As well as scoring on three occasions, Coutinho claimed five assists and made an additional 15 key passes during his playing time, flourishing when Luis Suarez was taken away from the first-team equation by linking up with Daniel Sturridge to generate massive hope for the new season ahead.
And although he hasn't sparkled as much as he did last-term in his opening four games, the difference when he's on the pitch is substantial to that when he's replaced. Combining with Victor Moses and Sturridge, Coutinho pulled the Swansea defence apart on Monday evening. They were unable to deal with his creativity and the way in which he uses the ball, and just before the hour mark the host’s frustration was visible. Ashley Williams took it into his own hands to take the former Inter playmaker out of the game with a trailing foot.
The graphic (above) shows just how much the game changed as a result of Coutinho's departure after 55 minutes, with Liverpool's dominance being completely overtaken by the Welsh side. In-fact, after Coutinho came off, Liverpool did not create a single goalscoring chance.
The loss of Coutinho is undoubtedly a big one for the Reds and their top-four aspirations, although the timing of the injury could have been worse. With Luis Suarez coming back into contention after this weekend, Rodgers has the opportunity to release Luis Alberto from his shackles.
Rodgers has set his side up with Steven Gerrard and Lucas in the double pivot this season, with Jordan Henderson, Iago Aspas and Coutinho as the trio behind Sturridge. While the holding two are likely to remain in their roles for the Southampton clash and Henderson's energy being key meaning he will start again, it's the left-wing and the number 10 role that Rodgers will be pondering seriously about.
Victor Moses' spell at the club has started brightly, scoring on his debut in the draw with Swansea, and he is favourite to get the nod on the flank.
Aspas is another name in the mix, as he has been a part of all four of the Reds' fixtures so far.
However, unlike Moses, the 26-year-old has been largely disappointing so far. He has claimed an assist, but struggles to complete his passes and is easily stripped of possession.
Only one of his four take-ons have been successful this season, while going back to the Liberty Stadium on Monday we can see he completed a measly eight accurate passes and he didn’t create a single chance.
Iago Aspas Passes v Swansea (8 Completed Passes, 62% Pass Accuraccy)
Brendan Rodgers had his eye on the Liverpool U21’s on Wednesday as they took on leaders Sunderland U21’s, and a certain Spaniard would have caught his attention. The forward who arrived from Sevilla this summer, Luis Alberto, struck a hat-trick in front of the boss and shot himself into contention for a place in the first-team this weekend.
However, if I were Rodgers, I would pick a midfield of Gerrard and Lucas in the deeper roles, and Henderson on the right, with Alberto playing off Sturridge and Moses continuing on the left. While Aspas should start on the bench, as Luis Suarez licks his lips at the thought of returning to action next week.
How Liverpool Should Set-Up v Southampton