Philippe Coutinho: The Wonderman
Every so often, the Premier League is blessed by a seemingly alien talent. A player who quite simply, is something very special. A magician amongst the blacksmiths, if you will. These stellar performers who stand above the rest on so many levels come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Each a different character to the next, all with the common factor of sincere quality. There are madcap genii such as Luis Suarez and Eric Cantona – the kind of player who goes from hero to zero just as quickly as he manages the opposite. The arrogant superstar, who is as much of a poster-boy as a match winner, prime examples being Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. The list goes on and on, all the way to the humble creator. This isn’t a David Silva piece however, and the man on this agenda is Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho.
Last season was more than an embarrassment for Liverpool Football Club. What it was; despite being papered over by two semi-final cup runs, was complete and utter failure. England’s biggest prodigy; namely Raheem Sterling, made himself the centre of attention in a saga which only cemented the club’s stature of second rate, and the departure of Steven Gerrard left one of the biggest teams in European history looking subsidiary to the status of one of their best ever players. And yet in spite of all this – the shortcomings, the humiliations – there was a shining light. Coutinho kept plucking away throughout the season, creating so many chances that even the least successful forward line in the history of football (Sorry Rickie, Mario, Fabio, and Co.) could edge into a European place come the end of the campaign.
Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling have all come before Liverpool’s current number 10 as the club’s driving force and their focal point in attack. Coutinho entered 2015/16 in similar fashion to the manner he ended the terrible 2014/15 campaign with a goal which can only be described as a freak of nature. It is clear that the diminutive play-maker is ready to take centre stage in a potentially rejuvenated Reds side.
In big games, in little games, in dire straights, Who you gonna’ call? Coutinho. The Brazilian magician struck against Bolton when Liverpool were almost completely bereft of options. He won Liverpool the game against Manchester City at Anfield once again when the Reds were on a charge back up the table. Despite looking weary after a spell of around 20 consecutive games in the starting line-up, he smashed home from long range at Southampton. Yet more moments can be recollected against Arsenal when the squad was struggling, QPR in the 90th minute, the sublime reverse half-volleyed assist to Sterling against Burnley, and running the game against Chelsea in the League Cup semi-finals. Almost everything the boy touches turns to gold.
After a third successive summer of “transitional” signings at Anfield meaning a further spend of £75million and then some for Brendan Rodgers, fans and pundits alike will be touting squad imports Benteke or Firmino to be the defining factor in Liverpool’s latest attempt at redemption. Unfortunately for said pundits though, they would appear to be incorrect. Instead it will surely be Coutinho who will settle the season for the Reds. Unless there is a serious mishap – in training, luck, and attitude – from Liverpool’s forwards this season, who are significantly better than those who led the line last time around, goals will be scored so long as the chances are created.
Opportunities for these strikers will be created in abundance by Coutinho, who made an impressive 58 goal-scoring chances for his lacklustre teammates last season in 35 appearances. Despite the contradicting nature of this following claim, it really is even more impressive that he managed to create 58 chances last season being that he was only six short of his tally of the previous year. Making 64 openings when he was feeding an undoubtedly world-class pairing of Suarez and Sturridge every game is an almost incomparable scenario to Lambert, Balotelli, Borini and the inexperienced forward Sterling in the most recent season. It further exhibits the dynamism added to his game and how he is continuing to progress that even when the team around him are not thriving, he can continue to excel in his role.
Admittedly, Coutinho has his flaws. Whilst his brilliance is evident in the extravagant, it is fair to say that he needs to work on the efficiency of his game. His five league goals last season were all phenomenal, but Liverpool fans will be the first to tell you that inside the box, he just is not clinical enough. His preference to shoot from range is enough to catch most goalkeepers out and it is a trick that any player would love to have in their locker. But he now must ensure that he is capable of adding goals when in a one-on-one situation with the ‘keeper, or when he comes into the box late on attacking a cross.
Rodgers has shown time and time again as manager of this Liverpool side that he loves to have a ‘main man’, a focal point, one singular player who the squad is built around which defines the style of football played. This year, as Coutinho shows the greatest potential to elevate himself and indeed his team-mates to the level that the Anfield side should be at, it is almost certainly the ex-Inter Milan trickster who is in line to be groomed by Rodgers. It will not have negative connotations for Liverpool however, and should he manage to fine-tune his assets – grab some goals in the box, create even more chances, improve his set pieces – Philippe Coutinho will not only be the perfect man to lead Liverpool’s revival, but he like many before him will be coveted by the Kop. The diminutive midfielder will soon earn himself either hero status or a move to one of the European giants who will inevitably start sniffing in the not too distant future.
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