Analysing Philippe Coutinho's superb performance for Liverpool against Arsenal
Following a quiet pre-season, Philippe Coutinho’s place in the Liverpool side almost looked to be at risk. With Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Divock Origi, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Ings, and Georgino Wijnaldum all in with a shout of starting in the attacking front-line, Coutinho had to prove that he was at his best as the Reds travelled to the Emirates for the toughest fixture of the opening weekend.
For the first 45 minutes, the Brazilian was quiet. Up against Hector Bellerin on Liverpool’s left hand side of a front three, Coutinho struggled to get into the game. With little service, when the former Inter Milan youngster did find himself on the ball, his impact was limited, with Bellerin being one of the few Premier League right-backs capable of keeping up with him on the counter-attack. In the first 15 minutes of the match, Coutinho had made just three passes, none of which were in the final third.
This performance had that feel that this may just be one of those games where the 24-year-old is largely anonymous and fails to live up to his billing as Liverpool’s star man. How wrong that would prove to be.
In the 39th minute we had our first glimpse of magic, as Coutinho, Firmino and Mane linked superbly before the left sided forward cut the ball back to Georgino Wijnaldum on the edge of the box. The move came to nothing as the shot was stopped by Petr Cech when the Dutchman should have done better.
Seven minutes later, into injury time of the first half, Coutinho stepped up to the plate. His superb curling free-kick flew into the top corner of the net and would give Liverpool a fresh start with the scores level in the second half after what was a fairly poor first half display.
After the break, Coutinho came out a man inspired and his team-mates looked fired up. Rather than long aerial balls to Coutinho, the ball came to his feet, as it did in the 19 pass move which set him up for his second goal to put the Reds 3-1 up. The Brazilian scored with two of his three shots in the game and his calm and composed flick was enough to fool Rob Holding and squirm the ball past Petr Cech in goal for the second time on Sunday afternoon.
The fact that Coutinho made seven passes in the attacking third and received 12 passes in 25 minutes before his substitution in the second half is testament to his involvement, having only made eight passes in that area of the pitch and received 14 passes in the first 45 minutes. His second half performance was a step up, and inspired his team-mates around him as he drifted more centrally and started to have a greater influence over the game, acting more as a false nine than the left winger that he had been previously.
His second half display proved to all doubters that Coutinho remains the main man in this Liverpool setup. What will be interesting to see is how Klopp uses him going forwards. Coutinho prefers and is more experienced playing on the left side of attack, but at the Emirates he became more effective by dropping deep into the false nine style role.
With Klopp showing a preference to start without an out and out striker, usually playing Firmino through the middle in pre-season, this could provide an exciting alternative.
As difficult trips against the likes of Leicester, Spurs and Chelsea loom on the horizon, Coutinho will have to prove his worth again if Liverpool are to mount a challenge for the Champions League, or maybe even the title. He has previously been criticised for being inconsistent, shining in some games like he did this weekend, but going missing in others. At 24 years of age, now is the time for Coutinho to show his magic on a regular basis and prove himself as one of the best attacking midfielders in the world.
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