Jack Hallows explains how Philippe Coutinho needs to get back to basics to return to the electric form he was in before he got injured last year.
He was on top of the world before he got injured. Our little Brazilian was scoring and assisting for fun and doing everything else in between. Since his return from injury, however, he’s just not been quite the same player. In nine appearances since his return from the ligament problem he sustained against Sunderland, the Brazilian has provided just one assist – for Lucas against Plymouth – and is yet to find the back of the net. Meanwhile he had scored six and assisted five for the Reds in 14 prior to his layoff. So just what’s hampering the Brazilian at the moment?
Like it or not, Philippe Coutinho is very much a confidence player. His ability and attitude in big games has improved massively over recent seasons – especially since the arrival of Jürgen Klopp – but when things aren’t going his way, they really don’t go his way.
Before his injury, the Brazilian was flying high and everything he touched seemed to turn to gold. He’d seemingly score with every shot he took that was on target and was constantly teeing up teammates again and again. However, with Liverpool being stuck in a bit of a rut in the early months of 2017 so far, the entire team has looked slightly shaken for confidence and Coutinho, unfortunately, is no different. He had two big chances against Spurs and before his injury, you’d back him to have tucked at least one of those away. This is nothing to do with his ability and is entirely down to his confidence levels.
Some will argue that he is just inherently a patchy player and he was even described in Liverpool’s match against Tottenham by the commentators on Optus Sport as a “purple patch merchant” but for me that’s an incredibly unfair tag. He does tend to go periods without scoring – last season it was 11 games between his first and second league goals for the season – but so do most big players. Eden Hazard is always labelled as world class despite disappearing for the entirety of last season and only scoring twice in his last 10 league appearances.
It’s fairly telling that the Brazilian has played the entire 90 minutes just once on his return from injury. He was out for a good two months which can take a huge toll on a players fitness, no matter who they are and in a system like Jürgen Klopp’s where running is as integral as passing, shooting and tackling, that can be a struggle. Coutinho is certainly getting back to where he was fitness wise and that was evident against Spurs where he completed far more sprints than we’ve seen in recent weeks but there were still instances in which he could be seen jogging and falling behind the tempo of the game.
When Coutinho is in full flow he’s always a part of the attack and is actually one of the Reds most efficient pressing tools, winning an impressively high amount of tackles per 90 in the final third of the pitch. Lately, however, he has looked a little laboured in that regard and the upcoming 16-day break between now and the Leicester match will likely do him a world of good in terms of getting his fitness back to where it needs to be.
Back to basics
Jürgen Klopp has spoken on the Coutinho matter recently and before the Spurs game, he called for the Brazilian to essentially just get back to basics. He recognised that Coutinho knows he is this side’s talismanic player on his day but also that he needs to shed himself of that mental burden. The team has shown time and again this season that they have the capability to find goals and assists from other parts of the pitch and he needs to start relaxing again.
In fact, three of our most convincing wins this season came without him on the field for the most part as we put three past Middlesbrough and four past Leicester and Stoke. Even against Spurs, Coutinho struggled to have as much of an impact as he might like and we still won 2-0. He provides the difference on many an occasion but he needs to lift the pressure off himself, start acting upon instinct and performing with freedom again. It’s as if lately he just wants to be the difference. He’s recognised that his new bumper deal gives him the need to step it up and that’s fantastic and just proves how brilliant his attitude is. For now though, he needs to simply relax.
If the Brazilian manages to find his groove once again he could easily finish the season with double figures in both the goals and assists column which would be a sensational feat for someone who has missed two months of the season with injury. Get back to basics Phil and let the rest come naturally, you’re far too good to be worrying about your own importance to the team.
Follow Jack on Twitter to discuss his article and let him know what you think Coutinho needs to to get back to his best form.