Another win, another good performance, Anfield rocking, the players oozing with confidence, and a small matter of topping the table after Sunday’s win against Spurs was the cherry on top. It’s almost like clockwork now, having gone eight wins in a row in a season as unpredictable as this one.
It’s as if fans expect Liverpool to go out on the field and win every game, it’s become that type of atmosphere within the camp. 4-0 was the score line on the weekend and you could argue it could have and should have been a lot more considering The Reds’ blistering start. The whole team were excellent, from Mignolet and the back four to the un-remorseful duo of Suarez and Sturridge. Sterling and Flanagan were both excellent in their own way but this piece will concentrate on the superb display shown by the Brazilian maestro Philippe Coutinho.
The Influential One
Coutinho only played 63 minutes against Spurs but that was more than enough time to help his side quell any fears that they may not come away with three points from the game. Overall this season, the 21 year-old has been steady in his performances but has yet to hit the heights of displays from last season, which made him so popular amongst the Anfield faithful. In recent weeks, Rodgers has interchanged between Sterling, Allen and Coutinho depending on the formation and mind set. Coutinho had probably one of his worst games in a red shirt in the 3-0 win against Southampton. It was one of those games that nothing was coming off for him, leading him to being dropped for the win at Man United. After being reinstated against Cardiff last weekend, you could instantly see that the little maestro desperately wanted to make an impact and was at the forefront of Liverpool’s good work. A good performance was capped off by two assists to his name and demonstrated the creative qualities we all know he possesses.
Back at Anfield, Coutinho put in another stellar show against a resilient Sunderland side, claiming the man-of-the-match award for his hard work. In both of these matches, Liverpool went in with a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation with Coutinho playing on top, just behind the strikers. For a player with Philippe’s attributes, this position is like a cold drink on a hot summer’s day, a perfect combination, which is why you could see the best of the Brazilian. Against Tottenham, Brendan Rodgers opted for a more attacking line-up that featured both Coutinho and Sterling, with Allen making way. This meant that Coutinho would be part of a three man midfield, playing slightly further forward than compatriots Gerrard and Henderson.
Although this position is not alien to Coutinho, it hindering his attacking play might be, because of the requirement to track back when in defensive situations. However, Coutinho was as influential as ever within the game, being a constant threat in Spurs’ half and giving the likes of Bentaleb and Sigurdsson a torrid afternoon. One could argue that the lack of Spurs firepower meant that Coutinho did not have to put in a great deal defensively but nonetheless his tracking back and high pressure enabled him to then recover the ball in promising positions before advancing up the field. His performance was similar to the one against Arsenal in which he showed his all-round qualities as a footballer.
With Gerrard patrolling the play inside the Liverpool half and Henderson providing a workmanlike display in a box-to-box role, it leaves Coutinho the freedom to dictate play in the opposition half. A move that was used quite efficiently by Coutinho within the match was to drop his shoulder. This basically means to fake going in one direction when in possession and when the opposition player comes into a reasonable distance, quickly turn the other way. By receiving the ball just on the halfway line with his back to goal, this move enabled him to attract Spurs’ players and create enough space to run into and pick a pass.
His passing range during the game was excellent, with 40 out of his 48 passes on target, giving him a pass completion rate of 83.33%. We know Coutinho likes to play the majority of his passes forward, which was again the case with 33% of his passes played forwards. The completion rate is good for a midfielder but when considering the complexity of Coutinho’s passes, in terms of trying to play forward passes into the opposition box or through balls, this percentage is more than impressive.
One aspect of Coutinho’s game which is not at the standard in which he would like it to be is his shooting. Last season, he managed to find the net three times in his 12 starts with a shot accuracy rate of 58% and a chance conversion rate of 16%. These stats have dipped this season with an accuracy rate of just 39% and a chance conversion rate of 7%. He did, however, manage to find the net with a fantastic low drive from around 20 yards out, giving him his fourth goal of the season.
With Suarez and Sturridge scoring so many goals this season, it has taken pressure off the likes of Coutinho, who would normally be expected to contribute around 10 goals as an attacking midfielder. There is always room for improvement and for someone as young as Coutinho, playing such a pivotal position for a prestigious club, you can only expect him to improve with the more games he plays. A special mention to Jon Flanagan who provided the assist for Coutinho’s goal, using his own “drop of the shoulder” move at the right back position before leaping forward for a pass to Coutinho. I’m not sure he would’ve attempted that if Liverpool were in a losing position mind you, but it does show how confidence is just oozing out of the players at the moment.
Below is a video of Coutinho’s display against Spurs on Sunday.
Working for the team
What Liverpool have at the moment is players that are willing to put everything on the line for the team and work their socks off so to speak to win the ball when not in possession. Players like Coutinho aren’t known for their ability to track back and put in a defensive shift but Rodgers has installed a mentality in which the team defends as a team and attacks as a team rather than individual players doing either. Coutinho’s hard work was highlighted by the fact that he won possession back eight times within the match, four times within the defensive third and four times within the midfield third (shown by the green plus signs on the dashboard).
Liverpool may not have the squad depth and overall quality that Chelsea and Man City possess when it comes to the title race but they do have belief and spirit, which has helped them take huge strides under the excellent management skills of Brendan Rodgers and his back-room staff. Whether Coutinho and his team-mates can continue at this rate is yet to be seen, but it will be something truly special if it comes off.