Liverpool may still be struggling to find success in front of goal, but improvements elsewhere on the pitch have seen the club average more than two points per game since the start of December. As Philippe Coutinho sees it, that improvement—both when it comes to the performances and the results—over the past six weeks has been built on the discovery of a solid defensive foundation.
It’s a long way from the run and gun approach that Brendan Rodgers embraced last season, with an intentionally unbalanced lineup that measured the quality of its holding midfielder by his attacking contributions, but after a very difficult start to the season it’s been a very welcome shift. At times the defence may still look shaky, but on the whole it has provided a much more solid platform for Liverpool’s creative players to build off of.
"The team has been playing well lately, and knowing that the defence has been solid gives us more confidence up front to try new moves and create more goalscoring opportunities," explained Coutinho. "Without the ball, we’ve been pressing the opposition more like the manager has always prompted us to do, [and] we probably missed out on that at the start of the season."
The past two cup matches have shown those improvements in Liverpool’s game, the improved pressing from the front, solidity at the back, and control on the ball. That those last two cup matches both ended in draws—a 1-1 draw with Chelsea and nil-nil with Bolton—speaks to the problems in front of goal, but it can’t take away from the fact that outside of that they may have been Liverpool’s two best performances of the season.
"We have to try and do the same as we did last week," added Coutinho of his hopes for the second leg of their League Cup semi-final against Chelsea. "We started that game 100% concentrated and kept them under constant pressure without the ball. We must repeat that to try and earn a victory. It’s going to be a difficult game as it’ll be played at their ground, but we have to go after a win."
On the basis of their improved play over the past six weeks it would be foolish to think they can’t do just that and, at the very least, push Chelsea hard at Stamford Bridge. If they can do that and find a few goals to go along with another strong performance they might even be able to turn it into victory and a trip to Wembley.