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Liverpool's Strength Lies in the Collective

Philippe Coutinho is not the only player who has turned in star performances to help propel Liverpool to the top of the Premier League.

Liverpool v Watford - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

It's still early in the season, but Liverpool are top of the Premier League for the first time since May 2014. A day after Chelsea destroyed Everton 5-0 to climb to the summit, Jürgen Klopp's thrilling side ripped Watford FC apart to replace Antonio Conte's in-from outfit to head into the international break as league leaders.

Philippe Coutinho is in sensational form. Virtuoso performances from the left where he pops up here, there, and everywhere as a thorn in opposition defences. An appetite for tackling and pressing despite his status as arguably the club's most talented player. A goal and an assist against Watford, two assists against Crystal Palace, and a goal against West Bromwich Albion underline his impressive productivity this season. He looks every bit a superstar player with a delightful irrepressibility.

However, is Coutinho Liverpool's most important player? Earlier in the season, Sadio Mané seemed to be the player Liverpool could not do without after a desperately disappointing defeat to Burnley. At White Hart Lane he seemed to represent the best chance to find a breakthrough and repeatedly forced Michel Vorm into sweeper-keeping action. Mané, Liverpool's top scorer in the league, offers an option that no other in the squad comes close to matching. He is the definition of a marquee signing—his arrival has brought Liverpool’s attack to another level.

Liverpool's front three isn't complete without the man who leads the press like no other—Roberto Firmino. Who else provides a unique combination of vision, dribbling, skill, finishing, keeping the ball, link up play, intelligent pressing, and relentless harrying? Daniel Sturridge possesses impressive finishing capabilities with such sharp movement, skill, and intelligence that only his fitness was a barrier to an automatic starting spot. No longer. Sturridge is fit but rightly remains on the bench for Firmino. There’s not a striker in the Premier League who leads a press like the Brazilian international, and even if there was, Firmino offers so much more.

Is an inability to keep clean sheets Liverpool's greatest weakness? Maybe not. A lack of composure has often set Klopp's side back with a worrying tendency to fail to control games at times. Klopp's solution? Move captain Jordan Henderson to the 6 in a midfield three and utilise the twisting and turning Adam Lallana as the engine room's maestro. The England pair have been in fine form this season and simply cannot be dropped. Questions over Henderson's leadership and status at the club have evaporated along with doubts over Lallana's productivity compared with his final season at Southampton. Henderson runs and Lallana harries, but both have produced complete midfield performances.

After just 11 games into his Liverpool career, Joël Matip has become the leader of Liverpool's defence. Composed, smart, focused, towering, and a step ahead of everyone else. The 25-year-old arrived on a Bosman in the summer when Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Manchester City spent huge sums for centre backs. He has built a fine partnership with Dejan Lovren and is a reassuring presence for a young goalkeeper who needs to settle in Loris Karius. Unlike Mané, Matip will remain at Liverpool during the African Cup of Nations. Could you imagine Klopp's defence without the former Schalke 04 defender?

Nathaniel Clyne prevents any talk about signing a right back. Why buy another when you can bring a young one through the ranks to back Clyne up? Imagine trying to convince a right back to join Liverpool. We have a 25-year-old right back in his second season at the club who hardly gets injured or plays badly. Wait, there's more! He covers virtually his entire flank and is so defensively dependable that opposition teams tend to focus down Liverpool's other flank instead. Yes, he really is that reliable.

Coutinho’s headline performances have deservedly put him in the early running as the league's best player so far, but Liverpool have produced an amazing collective effort to enter November’s international break top of the league. James Milner has transformed into a marauding left back with ruthlessness from the penalty spot to quell left back transfer links and chatter. Georginio Wijnaldum settling into an effective and connective midfield cog and Emre Can thriving as a box to box midfielder after a couple of rusty performances show depth in Klopp’s midfield options.

These players all serve the team and manage to shine at the same time. Karius had to make seven saves on Sunday, more than a Liverpool goalkeeper had to make this season. A drop in intensity and defensive organisation with a five-goal lead offered Karius a chance to assauge hasty fears about his suitability to be this club’s number one. This team can improve, and that fact alone should bring hope that progress made this season can be sustained in the years ahead.

Within 12 months, Jürgen Klopp has built a team that plays very much in the style that made him the neutrals’ darling in the dugout. Borussia Dortmund were a team with wonderful players in virtually every position who worked to push forward...together. We expected 4-2-3-1 to be the blueprint but got 4-3-3 instead. To thrive in Klopp’s Liverpool requires a certain work ethic from every individual that is not open for negotiation, but this philosophy ultimately works to benefit the parts and the whole.

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