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Why Firmino and Coutinho can help Liverpool challenge for Premier League title

The year was 2014 and the match was 78 minutes old when Philippe Coutinho made his entrance at Selhurst Park.

Liverpool were 3-0 up and in genuine contention for the Premier League title, with only days of the season remaining. Within a minute, Crystal Palace had pulled a goal back. Within three minutes, they had scored twice. By the end, Liverpool had somehow been pegged back to a 3-3 draw. Their title dreams were in tatters.

Even if that collapse was little to do with Coutinho himself, the little Brazilian could have been forgiven for never wanting to enter Selhurst Park again after that unforgettable evening. But three seasons on, it was a superb performance from Coutinho that put Liverpool on the road to a 4-2 win at Selhurst. The dream is back on.

Liverpool had 20 points from their opening 10 games in 2013/14, when ultimately they should have won the league. This time they have 23 points, even if they will face stiff competition - not least from Manchester City and Arsenal, who currently lead them on goal difference.

Coutinho was influential alongside Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge three campaigns ago - now it's he and fellow Brazilian Roberto Firmino who could ultimately be the men most pivotal to Liverpool's hopes of winning the Premier League.

Firmino scored the fourth and final goal against Palace, a clever dink over advancing goalkeeper Steve Mandanda. Coutinho meanwhile had a hand in each of the first three goals. First he split open the defence for Alberto Moreno to cross for Emre Can's opener, the most decisive of the 20 passes in the build-up to the goal. Soon afterwards, he swung in two pinpoint corners, headed home by centre-backs Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip.

Brazilians bring both goals and assists

Coutinho's two assists took his tally to six in 10 Premier League appearances this season - a figure matched only be Kevin De Bruyne, and more than the tallies of Mesut Ozil and Eden Hazard combined.

"He's a good football player," Jurgen Klopp said with a wry smile, when asked for his assessment of Coutinho after the win at Palace. Pressed for something a little more in-depth, he simply smiled again and said: "He's a very good football player!"

Coutinho created four chances at Selhurst Park and made 23 passes in the final third, more than any other player. He had four shots on goal, a tally only equalled by Firmino.

Coutinho also has four Premier League goals this season to add to his six assists, while Firmino has four goals and three assists. Indeed Firmino has had a hand in 18 goals during 2016 as a whole - 13 goals and five assists.

The duo almost combined for another goal at Palace, when Coutinho's header from a Firmino cross was tipped on to the post, and together they have helped to make Liverpool's attack the joint most potent in the league - the Reds have scored 24 goals, the same as Manchester City.

Liverpool's defence still looks vulnerable - they haven't kept a clean sheet away from home in 11 league games - so their contribution has undoubtedly been important.

You sense that they will need to score a lot of goals to overcome those defensive frailties and get the wins they need to claim the title. At Selhurst Park, they did just that, largely thanks to Coutinho and Firmino. The duo will be vital in the weeks and months to come.

Maligned Moreno got best out of Coutinho

Alberto Moreno's inclusion in the Liverpool line-up at Selhurst Park was something of a surprise, with James Milner ruled out through illness.

Moreno's last league start was in the 4-3 win at Arsenal on the opening day of the season - the Reds had conceded only eight goals in eight league games since then.

It was no coincidence that his return brought another high-scoring game. His defensive flaws are well known, and he should have done more to block the cross for Palace's second goal. But the Spaniard did also have a significant impact in attack - particularly in the first half, when he got forward constantly to link up with Coutinho.

Moreno made 12 passes in the attacking third during the match - all of which came before half time. In contrast, Milner made only nine passes in the final third at home to West Bromwich Albion last week.

Moreno completed 34 passes in total and 10 of them went to Coutinho, who returned the favour with nine passes. That allowed Liverpool to build many an attack down the left, most notably for the first goal.

Duo pivotal to gegenpress

Coutinho and Firmino do their fair share of defensive work, too - something that's so crucial to how Jurgen Klopp wants to play.

Coutinho attempted a sizeable eight tackles at Selhurst Park, completing four of them, making one particularly crunching challenge in the first half that won possession in a very dangerous area. Both Brazilians are a key part of Klopp's gegenpress system, and a key reason why Daniel Sturridge is no longer first choice at Anfield.

Crystal Palace actually made 27 tackles to Liverpool's 26 - but only nine of the Eagles' challenges were in the opposition half, where the peril is greater. In contrast, 13 of Liverpool's tackles were in the Palace half.

Klopp's system is based on winning the ball high up the field, and quickly turning that possession into goals. With Coutinho and Firmino around, it's a system that will continue to bear fruit.

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