Ian Rush exclusive: LIVERPOOL HAVE THE EDGE ON TITLE RIVALS
Liverpool legend Ian Rush is convinced his former club have a big advantage over their title rivals this season because they don’t have to rely on any one individual to find the target.
“There are so many players who can score goals, at least five in Firmino, Coutinho, Mane, Sturridge or Lallana. Then you have defenders like Lovren chipping in too. When you have players like that it’s very difficult for the opposition manager to know what to do. They can’t just say ‘stop him and stop him’. They don’t know what team is going to be playing and when they do, they don’t know who to man-mark.”
The Reds currently lie second in the Premier League and with their free-scoring ways and spirited performances are putting together a charge that brings to mind their incredible season of 2013/14. Back then a runner-up spot was attained, in part, due to having no European distractions and Rush believes Jürgen Klopp’s men are once again benefiting from being able to focus entirely on domestic affairs.
“When you’re not in Europe you have to take advantage of that and do well in the league and the two teams who are doing it are Liverpool and Chelsea. Also when you’re not involved in European competition you have time to get over injuries – just that day or two – and that makes a massive difference in a very competitive Premier League.”
It helps too if you have an outstanding talent firing on all cylinders and Philippe Coutinho is certainly that. Rush unsurprisingly is a fan.
The Brazilian magician is one third of an attacking trio who have bamboozled defences this season but while their trickery and goals have delighted the Kop, Rush has been even more impressed by what he describes as their ‘football brains’.
“You can’t always leave it to the manager and that’s what we’re seeing now with Firmino, Mane and Coutinho. Lallana too. They have the manager’s guidelines but if it’s not happening they’ll change positions between them and get it right. Better yet with Sturridge and Origi there is a threat now for the whole ninety minutes whereas previously there wasn’t.”
Speaking of Sturridge it has astonished many that a fit striker who boasts a better than one-in-two scoring ratio for Liverpool cannot get into the starting eleven, a situation that’s led to lots of moody stares from the bench as the 27 year old reportedly eyes a move away from Anfield. Rush, the club’s all-time record goal-scorer, offers some sage advice.
If he needs inspiration the England forward could do a lot worse than look to his skipper Jordan Henderson and copy a professional attitude that has seen the midfielder finally emerge from the long shadow cast by Steven Gerrard to become the new heartbeat of the side. Rush clearly admires how the pupil is turning into the master.
“He has become the leader now. It might not be by talking on the pitch but it’s by example with his work-rate and his completed passes. Jordan probably works harder while Stevie was better with the ball. Jordan is a good captain and while he might not be as good with the long balls as Stevie he’s doing the easy balls and making things quicker.”
It would be unrealistic to hope Henderson comes close to matching Stevie G’s achievements at Anfield of course and such is his standing at the club there is now talk of him returning in a coaching role, possibly with the Academy. The rumours have picked up further pace this week after Gerrard turned down the manager’s vacancy at MK Dons.
“Stevie will always be welcomed back at Liverpool in whatever capacity but in my opinion he should carry on playing. I played until I was 38 and it’s the best thing in the world. He could still do a job for the right club and Newcastle or Celtic would be right down his alley. If he went to a lower Premier League club he could end up working harder than for Liverpool so that can work against you. But in the Championship or in Scotland it is easier and for dead-ball situations he would be phenomenal for any of those teams.”
As for Rush himself he was phenomenal for the Reds and Wales over two decades in a distinguished career laden with goals. Does he watch the present side creating opportunities for fun and wish he was still out there?
“I’d love to play in this Liverpool team. They’re fantastic and so many chances are created but the main thing for me is how defending has changed. The likes of Jamie Carragher and John Terry are dying out and there are a lot of footballers who like to play around the back. If you’re a clever striker that gives you half a chance and then you’re one-on-one with the keeper.”
As hundreds of goalkeepers from the eighties and nineties would gravely attest: that only used to end one way.
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