• Manager stresses impact of players other than Luis Suárez
• 'I love seeing gifted players work hard in a system'
Liverpool, more than most, are aware that the men who top the bill have a tendency to overshadow the supporting cast. The class of 2009, their finest side in the Premier League era, were unfairly dismissed in some quarters as a "two-man team", with the focus on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres so pronounced that players of the calibre of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano could be overlooked.
Now Luis Suárez's tendency to illuminate Anfield means the brightest star, together with his usual sidekick Daniel Sturridge, invariably obscures others. The accusation that Liverpool are either a one- or a two-man team is as familiar as the strains of You'll Never Walk Alone. Every match at Anfield seems to revolve around the Uruguayan, who, in the past four games alone, has scored 10 goals and played pivotal parts in three others.
And yet, with Liverpool second in the league and the second highest scorers, Brendan Rodgers was justified in stressing the significance of the collective and entitled to highlight less ostentatious individual contributions. "There were parts of the game where I loved watching the team," the Liverpool manager said. "I love the fluency and some of the cleverness and just seeing gifted players work hard in a system is great to watch."
Rodgers has reverted to his favourite formation, recalibrating to 4-2-3-1 because of Sturridge's ankle injury, with the trio deployed behind Suárez offering added flexibility. Raheem Sterling, having started on the left, was soon switched to the right to use his speed against George McCartney. The teenager's finishing was faulty but Rodgers believes Sterling adds another element.
"His pace in pressing is important," Rodgers said. "He can stretch teams and that can always open up the space. You can see his confidence returning and, even though he hasn't scored, he gave the team an extra dimension." His resurgence is proof that, to paraphrase Harold Wilson, a week is a long time in football.
Results have a tendency to change opinions. Last Sunday at Hull, Rodgers was lamenting Liverpool's lack of strength in depth. After two comprehensive home wins, he was saluting two men who were on the margins. Sterling's start on Saturday was only his fourth of the league campaign, Joe Allen's only his third. The Welshman was a counterintuitive pick against Sam Allardyce's supersized side.
"He was excellent," Rodgers said. "Technically, it is important for us to dominate the game. We have a number of small players but if we have the ball and the other team hasn't, I think they struggle." Indeed, the difference between finesse and physicality was epitomised by the crass contribution of the clodhopping Kevin Nolan, who was sent off for raking his studs down Jordan Henderson's calf.
The unfortunate midfielder may have been Nolan's victim simply because Philippe Coutinho proved too elusive. Evading opponents, it appears, is a lifelong habit. "The great thing is that I was watching some videos of him from when he was 12 and 13 playing futsal and there is no difference," Rodgers said. "He plays like a street kid, he plays like a boy but his performances are like a man; he's a brilliant player."
With Sturridge sidelined, Coutinho has adopted his preferred role as the central creator. The harder task is securing the same spot for his country. He has been capped only once but has an eloquent advocate in Rodgers who, having been on Luiz Felipe Scolari's coaching staff at Chelsea, has an unofficial sideline as an adviser to the Brazil manager. "Big Phil" is being told to select a rather smaller Philippe.
"I am constantly on to Scolari about him," the Northern Irishman said, before suggesting he is not fulfilling all of his scouting duties. "Felipe has just asked me to keep an eye on the Brazilian boys – even ones at other clubs – but I'm only concerned about the ones here."
Coutinho's problem lies in the competition for the most prestigious shirt in international football. Past Brazil No10s have included Pelé, Zico, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaká. The current crop aren't bad either. "They have Neymar, Oscar and Bernard so they have a raft of talent," Rodgers said. "But he is an exceptional player for 21 years of age." And he is a reminder that a manic, magnificent Uruguayan is not the only attraction at Anfield.
Man of the match Luis Suárez (Liverpool)