Philippe Coutinho’s second full season at Anfield was arguably his best on a personal level, despite a drop of form for the team collectively.
He was often the shining light for Brendan Rodgers’ struggling outfit – particularly in the second half of the campaign – but the year didn’t pass by completely smoothly for the Brazilian magician.
A Slow Start
Coutinho had an unproductive beginning to the season, not helped as he found himself continually stationed out wide in the various systems Rodgers deployed.
When Liverpool travelled to White Hart Lane and turned in their most complete performance of the season in a 3-0 win, he watched on from the bench as an unused substitute.
Such was his poor start, criticism was fired in the Brazilian’s direction, prompting Rodgers to issue a public backing: “He’s a brilliant young player, fantastic young player….I’ve got no qualms about him; he’s a big, big talent. He has lit up the Premier League since he came to the club.”
The sluggish start continued and in October, Coutinho started consecutive league games amongst the substitutes, left only to make a difference as a second half arrival – something he did at QPR where he scored and helped rescue a 3-2 win.
But his overall unproductivity saw him left on the bench for the win-or-bust tie against FC Basel – a real indictment of his performance level in the season thus far.
His first 20 appearances of the campaign – up until Liverpool’s League Cup victory over Bournemouth in December – saw him register just one goal and assist in all competitions – an extremely poor return for a player of such quality.
The Spark into Life
It wasn’t until mid-December, coinciding with Rodgers’ decision to switch to 3-4-2-1 that sprung the 22-year-old into action. The move centrally allowed Coutinho to roam, see the whole pitch, and dictate attacking play.
From there the Magician was fantastic and took on a starring role.
He notched his second goal of the season against Arsenal at Anfield, and it was plain to see how much of a confidence boost he gained from finding the net, with sheer passion and joy in his celebration.
With a new found belief, Coutinho came on leaps and bounds. Influencing games and at the heart of everything good about Liverpool’s play, he was often the only attacking spark and he didn’t fail to take on the responsibility, instead becoming Liverpool’s main man.
The Reds’ form improved immeasurably from the end of the year and Coutinho was the man who made it click.
His strike against the Gunners was followed by a match-winning assist at Burnley and a master-class display at home to Swansea in the 4-1 win – a night which really saw the Brazilian kick into gear for Rodgers’ improving side.
A Man of the Match display against Leicester on New Years’ Day saw Coutinho complete the second of six full 90 minutes – highlighting his growing importance to the side, showed again as he was rested for Bolton’s FA Cup visit to Anfield.
He was really finding his rhythm and more Man of the Match performances, assists and spectacular goals followed.
The 22-year-old crashed in a last-gasp winner in the Cup replay at Bolton before a goal of the season contender against Southampton helped guide Liverpool to a morale-boosting result, and he took to the field again to destroy Man City at the beginning of March, with a superb performance and unstoppable winner in the Reds’ result of the season.
He was called up to the Brazil squad for his superb displays and with confidence sky-high, he was key in Liverpool’s win against Burnley, before the crushing defeat to United which would go on to have extreme consequences for the squad as a whole.
But Coutinho remained the shining light, and despite the hopelessness of those around him, he continued to be the go-to man.
In April he grabbed the winner in the Cup replay against Blackburn, where he produced the first of back-to-back Man of the Match performances, with the next coming as he expertly tormented Newcastle in a ‘false 9’ role.
He notched again in the dreadful FA Cup semi-final defeat to Aston Villa, before he ended the season with a goal and assist in Liverpool’s final win of the campaign against QPR – taking his upturn to seven goals and five assists from late December.
Coutinho thankfully committed his long-term future to the club this year, which ranks as one of the few highlights in a season of lows.
He rightly swept up at the end of season awards where he claimed Player of the Year, Players’ Player of the Year, Goal of the Year and the Performance of the Year awards.
It was the recognition his displays deserved, but with his second half of the season spectacular viewing, the expectancy and challenge is now for him to produce for a whole season.
Still only 22, time is firmly on Coutinho’s side to bring that to his game, allowing him the chance to concentrate on each individual compartment to work towards that collective process, such as adding more goals to his game. [td_ad_box spot_id=“custom_ad_3″]
He’s notched 16 times in 102 appearances – a surprisingly low return – and while when he scores they’re usually spectacular viewing – he needs to start regularly contributing goals alongside bringing sustained consistency.
On form and in full flow there isn’t a more enjoyable player to watch than Philippe Coutinho, and though it was an excellent season overall for him, hopefully a further improved and talented player returns next season – should Liverpool still be lucky enough to have him.