Johnson and Coutinho Close

Phil would live to regret that nutmeg on Jonno - Thananuwat Srirasant

Glen Johnson may be close to a return for Liverpool and apparently Philippe Coutinho is close to fitness also. Surely this can only bode well for a team sitting joint-top of the Premier League?

Liverpool fans are a fickle lot. Amidst the perma-groaning of those Reds known personally to me, one name illustrates this point more than any other. When he plays regularly, Glen Johnson is often harangued by said supporters for his reputed lack of defensive solidity. Yet when he is injured, those same fans bemoan the absence of the mobility and creativity the England man offers to the team.

I wonder, sometimes, if people watch the same games I do. Johnson is a far better defender than he's credited with being and perhaps not quite the Dani Alves-style attacker some want him to be. The mixture of both disciplines makes his game unique, however, and a vital element of any long-term ambitions for the season.

When Johnson hobbled off during the win over Manchester United at the start of last month, few would have thought he'd be returning to a team at the summit of the top division. Liverpool have yet to string together two outstanding halves of football and yet they remain stubbornly in that lofty perch.

Recent weeks, however have seen the emergence of some notable changes in the team's style and structure. Brendan Rodgers has gone to a three-man back-line and employed various players as wing-backs. Never has one role more suited the game of Glen Johnson, and yet his injury has prevented us from seeing him thrive in that position. Instead, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling have laboured dutifully, but without the unique ball-carrying and distribution skill-set that Johnson brings.

I am surely not alone in my impatient desire to see Aly Cissokho and Johnson as the two flankers in Rodgers' new system. Both players have the confidence in possession, motility and necessary attacking flair. Either side of three from Martin Skrtel, Kolo Touré, Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho, it is tempting to imagine the pair being hugely effective, if not downright devastating.

Philippe Coutinho is also nearing a reintroduction to the first team following his shoulder injury against Swansea in mid-September. Again, it his hard to believe that Liverpool would not have been a far better side with the Brazilian in it, over the last month. Like Johnson, Coutinho possesses a suite of skills not present in any other player in the squad. Subdued by his incredibly high standards of last season, the youngster was nonetheless influential in the early games and his ingenuity and vision will be a huge boost to Rodgers' charges on his return

With Cissokho and Joe Allen also about to be available again, the manager has one of those fabled 'nice headaches' in store as he ponders selection. This is what it's like when one flirts with success and has the audacity to challenge those at the top. Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool are beginning to believe that they belong in exalted company and a resurgent Newcastle will provide a stiff test of their credentials at the weekend. Perhaps a returning hero will make the difference.

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