Photo – The Mirror
I asked my girlfriend what I should write my next article about. Initially she was silent so I suggested that I would write about how Philippe Coutinho should play in a deeper midfield role. To this she replied almost instantaneously saying,”I think you should write about how s*** Liverpool are.” Needless to say she is skating on thin ice. She received strike one – nice little baseball reference for American readers.
Philippe Coutinho is one of the most skilled players in the Premier League and while this may be contested I cannot understand why. He is incredibly hard to mark and keep track of, especially when playing as a ‘number 10.’ His ability to drop his shoulder and beat his man is almost unparalleled within England.
His issue, since arriving to the Premier League for around £8.5 million, has been achieving a level of consistency over a long period of time. This frustrating habit of fading out has lead to many fans turning to other players to do the business week in week out. Roberto Firmino for example has been in superb form and the example of consistency. I explained in an article I wrote on the 4th of March that Firmino has what it takes to be Liverpool’s main man.
Despite my anger at what my girlfriend said about my beloved Liverpool she has a point. 11 years ago the Reds were the champions of Europe after a miracle occurred in Istanbul. Now, however, having lost the final of what is considered a “dinky cup” by many and sitting in 7th place in the league it is difficult to make her understand that “we have history” and I just cannot bear to say the words “next year will be our year.”
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The fact of the matter is that there are so many reasons that next year should be our year. Not necessarily to win the league but in order for Liverpool to be wrenched out of irrelevance it has to happen soon. Many will be reluctant to use the cliché of hoping for better things next season as in the last decade, aside from the heartbreaking season of 2013/14, there has been little to cheer about while rivals from Manchester and London have collected all the highest honours.
I need to say that before I pose my hypothesis it needs to be recognised that what I will be offering is not a direct solution and will not by any means solve Liverpool’s many issues but help in restoring the club to a respectable status in both England and Europe.
For those who haven’t repressed the horrors of the 2013/14 season will remember that elite attacking football lit up Anfield and almost every other ground that Liverpool travelled to with over 100 goals being scored in the process.Despite what many believe it wasn’t just the genius of Luis Suárez or natural talent of Daniel Sturridge but it was a brilliant collective team effort that saw Liverpool come the closest to the Premier League since its inception.
This collective team effort was a machine which each individual worked much in the same manner a cog works in a clock. It could be said it is part of the reason why Brendan Rodgers spoke so much of character because that season and that team was bursting to the brim with the sort of character Rodgers desires. Philippe Coutinho was a part of this brilliant mantlepiece clock and in a way that he hasn’t been used since. Mauricio Pochettino has done something similar with his Spurs team in that they operate as a collective, arguably better than Liverpool did.
Many look at Coutinho’s diminutive form and low centre of gravity and immediately assume that his best position is the attacking midfield role or commonly referred to as the ‘number 10.’ Their assumptions have merit as the Brazilian has the passing and technical ability to cope with the constant pressure of playing in the hole.
One needs only to look at Coutinho’s performances in the 2013/14 season and the consistency with which he performed to realise that his best position is a deep-lying creative midfielder. Similar to how Jack Wilshere would operate if he were ever fit (ouch!)
In the team where Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling were all competing for places in the same starting lineup Brendan Rodgers adapted to suit them and by doing so he also had to change the roles of a few other players including Steven Gerrard who adopted a regista-like role. Philippe Coutinho was also dropped a little bit deeper but this only served to make his game more nuanced.
By playing in a deep-lying creative role it means that Coutinho is allowed more time on the ball than he would in the pressure cooker that is playing in the hole. By having more time he was able to look for better passes and playing searching through balls. It must be said that in the 13/14 season he did have an array of attacking options in front of him at all times which is no longer the case.
By playing in this role he also learned to be more robust which his game was lacking since he swapped England for Italy. He learned to tackle and break up play and having such brilliant ability on the ball he was able to turn defence into attack immediately. A prime example of the way Coutinho operates in this position was his performance was when Liverpool annihilated Arsenal 5-1 at Anfield. Coutinho would continuously tackle Özil, Wilshere and Ramsey who put in lacklustre performaces.
Klopp seems to have find Roberto Firmino’s best position at number 9 and he will be looking to do the same with Coutinho who hasn’t quite been on the same vein of form since the German’s arrival at Anfield. Perhaps if he wants the answers to all his issues he should just give this blog a read.