Liverpool still seeking star quality

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For his 31 goals and his breath- taking displays, the gong could only have gone to the Uruguayan, who last night ironically scored twice for Barcelona in a 4-0 win over Almeria. It was not, though, a case of him operating alone.

Had it been a ‘normal’ season, Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling would all have been worthy recipients.But it didn’t end there. Jordan Henderson was outstanding, Martin Skrtel was a big presence — it wasn’t stretching things to say the voting for the club’s in-house award was more competitive than it was for the PFA accolade.

Now fast forward to the present and ask the same question: who has been Liverpool’s player of the season? This time there is no obvious candidate, and as the campaign reaches its conclusion there isn’t even a clear favourite.

Henderson, of course, would have his supporters. The England international has excelled since the turn of the year, scoring some crucial goals and doing his best to provide leadership and inspiration in the absence of Gerrard.

Coutinho would command his share of the vote. Brendan Rodgers suggested after the Brazilian’s fabulous goal against Manchester City on March 1 that he might be a contender to be named PFA Young Player of Year, but his flame has only flickered since.

How about the others? Sterling had three months when his goals were key to reviving fortunes. Emre Can has caught the eye since Christmas, while results have been better with Lucas Leiva in the team; Liverpool have only lost three times in the 23 matches he has started.

And that explains why Liverpool are where they are at the moment. There have been lots of adequate contributions — a few, it should be stressed, have been excellent — but there hasn’t been anywhere near enough consistency.

It is why, most likely, they will find themselves on the wrong side of the line when the Champions League places are decided come the end of the campaign, and why they have made such heavy weather of this FA Cup campaign.

Having been held to a goalless draw at Anfield by Blackburn Rovers, this replay was crying out for someone in red to stamp their authority on it —for Sterling to buzz about with brilliance or Coutinho to cast magic spells all over the pitch, or Sturridge to demonstrate his penalty-area ruthlessness.

For long periods, however, they flattered to deceive. Sterling, so potent when he goes through the gears, saw little of the ball and Sturridge continued to show how out of form he is; this has been a wretched campaign for the striker, one decimated by injuries.

The goals have dried up for Rodgers’ side over the course of the last month — they had only scored seven in their previous six matches before last night — and, despite a formation change here, switching to a flat-back four rather than a three-man defence, Liverpool lacked punch.

As he stood anxiously in his technical area, watching Simon Mignolet keep his side’s Wembley dreams alive with two stunning saves early in the second period, Rodgers must have thought that would cost his side dearly. Much to his relief, up popped Coutinho. Having scored a late winner in the fourth round at Bolton, he repeated the trick in another Lancashire town.

Exchanging passes with Henderson, the Brazilian’s finish from a tight angle was emphatic.

There is still time, of course, for one of Rodgers’ squad to emerge as the absolute best of this bunch; on May 19, a gala dinner will be held at the city’s Echo Arena when the successor to Suarez will be announced.At this moment nobody is better positioned than Coutinho.

If Liverpool are going to clamber into the top four — and that might not be beyond the realms of possibility if Manchester City’s implosion continues — and win the FA Cup, much will depend on the Brazilian.He proved he had what it takes to settle a frantic clash at Ewood Park. Rodgers needs him to show that right through until the end of May.– Daily Mail

Original source: Liverpool still seeking star quality

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