Seven minutes. That’s how much competitive football that Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané, Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah have played together this term. Blink and you will have missed them: Sevilla had just scored a gift of an equalizer when the prodigal Coutinho replaced Emre Can on 76 minutes to give viewers a brief taste of this most potent of attacks before a tiring Mané was withdrawn in the 83rd.
Nothing particularly special happened at the time, and indeed, most of us barely even noticed the big moment since, by that time, the mood on the pitch and around the grounds was as somber and drab as that 2-2 final scoreline on the day.
This time however, in today’s Champions League group fixture away to Spartak Moscow, things will be different. Or at least they could be different. Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp of course has to give some air of mystery to the team sheet and has expressed some hesitation as to whether an away Champions League tie to a scrappy opponent in an hostile environment is the ideal moment to debut what he calls a “team of artists.”
However, if the German boss does choose to give us what we all want, then fans will finally get a glimpse at the actual Liverpool we can expect to enjoy this term. If the offensive juggernaut of 2016-17 already had teams quaking in their boots, then even just the prospect of seeing those four names together on a Liverpool team sheet will might make defenders reconsider even taking the field.
Let’s take a few moments to salivate over the few glimpses we’ve seen so far of the potential:
Preseason against Hertha Berlin with Coutinho dropping dimes in the midfield role he was born for:
...almost instantly forging a telepathic link with Salah. You make the run and I will find you:
...and Firmino and Mané displaying their best traits in the demolition of a near full-strength Bayern Munich:
Of course, none of these were competitive; but much like when Klopp’s men walloped Barcelona two preseasons ago, these dominant displays have primarily served to provide insight as to how exactly a season’s side plan to devastate opponents over the course of a campaign.
This season, all hinges what is most likely the final act of the one they call O Mágico. From the sorely needed balance that Coutinho gives to what is currently a creatively-bereft midfield in Can, Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson; to the control in the center of the park and the world class service he provides to the Senegalese-Egyptian-Brazilian front three; to the long-range shooting that will naturally open up for him with defenses preoccupied with the forwards—the piece to the puzzle the diminutive maestro represents to this team barely necessitates debate.
Yes, defensively, this Liverpool side is still doing that thing where they’re dishing out goals like La Croix at Coachella, with a current Goals Against mark worthy of the relegation zone. And of course, Klopp absolutely needs to both marshal that backline and organize the midfield to maintain defensive composure and shape to stop conceding the "easy goals" that is the one issue preventing this side from a serious title challenge.
However, we are all aware that these defensive issues pre-date Klopp and that, if we’re being honest, they won’t be solved before Southampton finally relents in January. The general premise of the sport is to score more goals than one’s opponent. This Liverpool side will let regularly let in threes and fours, but with that Fab Four—along with a returning Adam Lallana, a coddled Daniel Sturridge and an emerging Dominc Solanke waiting in the wings—these Reds will regularly score four and five against even the stingiest of defenses. The math works out.
Lennon (Coutinho), McCartney (Mané), Harrison (Salah) and Ringo (Firmino). Maybe we won’t bear witness to that most attacking of team sheets in Moscow. But with a reunion with Rafa Benítez and Newcastle in the Premier League on the near horizon, we surely won’t be waiting for long.
Wrong Beatles? Reassign in the comments!