A decisive cameo by Philippe Coutinho against QPR shows why the Brazilian No. 10 should start against Real Madrid on Wednesday, writes Jack Lusby.
Having struggled to find form so far this season, Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho made an emphatic return to form for the Reds in their 3-2 victory over Queens Park Rangers in Sunday’s Premier League clash.
The 22-year-old was brought into the fold, after an impressive international break with Dunga’s Brazil, on 66 minutes.
66 mins: A double change for #LFC as Coutinho and Allen come on for Lallana and Can
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) October 19, 2014
The introduction of Coutinho and Joe Allen provided Brendan Rodgers’ side with the impetus required to force their way to three points against the R’s; Liverpool’s defence remained abysmal, but forward play improved immeasurably.
Coutinho is the catalyst to our attacking play, everything good went through him when he came on. Huge win that in context of season. #LFC.
— Si Steers (@sisteers) October 19, 2014
With the Reds welcoming European giants Real Madrid to Anfield on Wednesday night, Coutinho provided Rodgers with a timely reminder of his supreme talents, and this should demand a starting role against Carlo Ancelotti’s Galacticos.
Coutinho vs. QPR
Against QPR, from his first move, taking the ball on the left flank before charging into the centre before laying the ball off to right-sider Raheem Sterling, every time Coutinho touched the ball Liverpool looked more threatening.
Always happy to receive the ball and, most importantly, make something in the attacking third, Coutinho lifted his teammates in timely fashion.
What’s more, the midfielder provided a rare glimpse of his talents in front of goal, with the goal to put the Reds 2-1 up, on 90 minutes.
Coutinho. 2-1 Liverpool. Superb breakaway led by the untouchable Sterling, who has had an excellent second half
— Oliver Holt (@OllieHolt22) October 19, 2014
Coutinho's goal vs QPR was his first shot on target in the Premier League this season. pic.twitter.com/6I5hrEYOXG
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 19, 2014
A determined, bursting run typified Coutinho’s short display, and Liverpool looked somewhat like the immense attacking prospect of last season on the counter attack.
The 22-year-old turned provider with a sleek through-ball pass to the onrushing Raheem Sterling, whose cross was helped into the net by Steven Caulker, sealing the three points for Rodgers’ side.
Coutinho finished the game, having played around 25 minutes, with, according to WhoScored, a passing accuracy of 81.8 per cent, with two successful dribbles and a goal, making a fair claim for Man of the Match.
Another Madrid record: No side in history had scored 17 goals in the first four away games! http://t.co/wZSBhKklUv pic.twitter.com/qnVT0BOWbL
— Real Madrid C.F. ???? (@realmadriden) October 19, 2014
Clearly, an impressive showing at Loftus Road is a different matter entirely to the visit of Madrid to Anfield; Los Meringues are one of Europe’s leading forces, with a phenomenal array of stars.
Gloss over the attacking talents of Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez and Karim Benzema, Ancelotti’s side could arguably nullify Liverpool from elsewhere on the pitch.
This is where Coutinho will find his challenge.
Toni Kroos and Luka Modric have completed 100% of their passes for Real Madrid vs Levante – 99 passes in total. pic.twitter.com/kNlTyDzf94
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 18, 2014
Finding space and time on the ball in between the possessive talents of Isco, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos will test the playmaker’s ingenuity, and if Ancelotti is to field a specialist defensive midfielder such as Sami Khedira or Asier Illarramendi would limit this possibility further.
However, Coutinho is a player of European and international experience, and no stranger to this type of competition, or in fact, Spanish opposition, having spent a season on loan in La Liga with Espanyol.
Having played for European giants Inter Milan, as well as Liverpool, the 22-year-old is well-steeped in the history of the Champions League, and is looking to emulate “Ronaldinho, who is one of my heroes,” this season.
Philippe Coutinho's assist for Neymar's second Brazil goal is class: http://t.co/XuzkReSeDH https://t.co/qQv3Ov8nXZ
— Metro Sport (@Metro_Sport) October 14, 2014
An exquisite assist for Brazil captain Neymar in the recent 4-0 victory over Japan saw Coutinho make another step towards the former Barcelona and PSQ phenom.
On the form that Coutinho is in, and based on his determined, incisive display against QPR, the Brazilian could be the player that shatters the Madrid stability.
Support for Balotelli
The main talking point, dreadful defence aside, post-QPR is the continued struggles of Italian forward Mario Balotelli, who extended his barren Premier League run to six games; 431 minutes, 30 attempted shots.
It is clear that Balotelli, who shone against Spurs on his debut, is finding it difficult to function as a lone striker—the prolonged injury to Daniel Sturridge has dictated this.
This is becoming a drain on Rodgers’ system, with the longer Balotelli fails to find the net, the more desperate his profligacy becomes—see his miss-of-the-season contender at Loftus Road for the perfect example.
The striker himself recently declared that “I have never been a real, out-and-out striker…If it was my choice, I would always go with two strikers,” highlighting the need to provide support for Balotelli.
Continuing to force Balotelli into the lone striker role is a detriment to his talents, and should end against Madrid.
Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher suggested dropping the Italian completely for Wednesday night’s tie, with 19-year-old forward Raheem Sterling operating as a false nine in his stead.
This is a potent option for the Reds, but perhaps not a worthy experiment at such a high level.
Instead, Sterling should partner Balotelli up front, with the Englishman’s intelligent, off-the-shoulder runs complementing the £16 million man’s deep-lying creativity and work rate.
Bringing Coutinho into the side would allow Rodgers to experiment with this idea.
Carra's line-up v Real Madrid, no Balotelli pic.twitter.com/iIyq8unVxr
— LFCTS (@LFCTS) October 20, 2014
In Carragher’s line-up the playmaker is featured on the right flank, but Coutinho’s best role for this tie would be behind the strikers in the No. 10 role.
His creativity would flourish behind Sterling, and the exceptional through ball for Sterling to set up Liverpool’s third on Sunday underlines this.
That pass from Coutinho for the third was ridiculous. Welcome signs of the little Brazilian getting back to his best.
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceLFC) October 19, 2014
The form of Philippe Coutinho seems to work in cycles, with a particular peak impending—Brendan Rodgers should capitalise on this and unleash the Brazilian against Real Madrid on Wednesday night.
Should Philippe Coutinho start against Real Madrid? Let us know in the comments below.