Philippe Coutinho has enjoyed a superb pre-season, and with Luis Suarez leaving Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers is looking for a new talisman. The 22-year-old may well be the man to step up, writes Henry Jackson.
For all the attacking brilliance of Raheem Sterling, the continued excellence of Jordan Henderson and the surprise form of Sebastian Coates, Liverpool’s undoubted star of pre-season has been Philippe Coutinho.
The 22-year-old has been fantastic, particularly during the Reds’ tour of the US, showing fabulous trickery, creativity and maturity. He can run with the ball, beat a player with ease and produce passes that not many are capable of. This is a potentially huge season for him.
The exit of Luis Suarez to Barcelona is unquestionably a blow in terms of Liverpool’s title aspirations in 2014/15, but Coutinho looks primed to become the attacking spark and creative hub of the team in the Uruguayan’s absence.
Brendan Rodgers is clearly hugely impressed by the Brazilian – it remains unfathomable that he wasn’t selected for Brazil’s World Cup squad – with the Echo reporting that he is set to be offered a new long-term contract before the start of the new campaign as a reward for his terrific displays.
The biggest conundrum the Reds boss has is how best to utilise Coutinho.
Although the former Inter Milan star is more than capable of thriving in wide areas in a 4-3-3 formation, especially drifting in from the left, his best role is at the top of a midfield three, wreaking havoc in the ‘number 10’ position much like Peter Beardsley did in his prime at Anfield. Admittedly the Reds legend was more of a second striker, but there are definite comparisons to be made between the two.
The young maestro is not the quickest – he is unlikely to terrorise defenders with electrifying pace in the way that Sterling does – but the key to that central role is a quick brain. Coutinho has just that, and he has that rare ability to be one step ahead of the opposition when it comes to picking a pass or knowing exactly what is going on around him.
While attacking midfield is Coutinho’s strongest position – the likelihood is that he will be used in a front three for so-called ‘big’ games and in a midfield trio against weaker opposition – there’s actually no reason why the Brazilian couldn’t excel in a slightly deeper role too.
The Brains of the Team
Rodgers has called him “the brain in our team”, as well as likening him to Real Madrid and former Tottenham playmaker Luka Modric in terms of style.
“I look at him as a [Luka] Modric type. And when you look at Modric over four years at Tottenham he got 13 goals [in the league] but his influence was massive and Coutinho is of that type. He will naturally get more goals but he is a wonderful player for us, he is a key who opens up many things in a game.”
— Rodgers on Coutinho
Although perhaps not the most reliable player when it comes to defensive work, Coutinho is more robust than some give him credit for and he works extremely hard. Is Modric really that good defensively in his playmakers role? He’s solid, but Coutinho could be too.
For now, however, Liverpool have enough depth in those midfield areas for Coutinho not to be utilised there, but it’s surely something to try out at some point.
Since arriving at Anfield in January 2013, Coutinho has got better and better. There are, of course, parts of his game that remain raw- his shooting leaves a lot to be desired and he needs to score more, particularly with Suarez gone- but it’s very easy to forget he is just 22 years of age.
He will learn so much over the next few years, especially by working with Rodgers day in, day out, and it’s frightening to think how good he could be by the time he reaches 26 or 27. Let’s just hope one of Europe’s powerhouses haven’t tempted him away from Merseyside by that point.
When you take away the likes of Steven Gerrard, Martin Skrtel and Glen Johnson, the youth and potential of this current Liverpool squad is unbelievable.
Could be Coutinho's season, unbelievable when on song.
— Tom McMahon (@TomMc_Sports) August 5, 2014
Sterling and Jordon Ibe are still in their teens, while Jon Flanagan, Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren, Joe Allen, Henderson, Lazar Markovic and Daniel Sturridge are all 25 and under. The same applies with incoming full-backs Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno. Rodgers is creating something potentially special at Anfield.
For all their undoubted excellence, however, it is Philippe Coutinho who has the ability to become Liverpool’s most important player in 2014/15.
Assuming the brilliant Brazilian remains fit, he will be the man who unlocks defences when games are tight, and produces individual moments of brilliance when his side needs him most. He could be one of the stars of the Premier League both now and for the foreseeable future.
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