Jack Hallows analyses Philippe Coutinho’s return to form against Everton and why it is a timely reminder of his importance to Liverpool Football Club.
There’s no shying away from the fact that Philippe Coutinho hasn’t been himself since his injury last November. The little Brazilian had been arguably the best player in the Premier League up to that point, contributing 5 goals and 5 assists in 13 appearances and creating a further 32 chances for teammates. Prior to this recent international break, however, the magician had failed to find his spark, netting just once and failing to create a goal in 9 appearances. What better time then for him to step it back up than when Everton visited for the derby?
International break provides welcome boost
Coutinho was always going to be on a high coming into this game with Brazil becoming the first team to successfully qualify for the 2018 World Cup courtesy of victories over Uruguay and Paraguay. Liverpool’s number 10 featured heavily in both games, exhibiting fast feet and clever passing before netting a trademark goal against Paraguay as he cut inside from the right wing, played a 1-2 with Paulinho and slotted home past the stranded goalkeeper. It was a welcome sight for myself and Liverpool fans everywhere, giving all of us hope that he had found his spark again.
Throughout the week there were a lot of fans, journalists and even a pundit or two on social media pointing to Coutinho looking lost at Liverpool. There were calls that he was trying too hard to force himself back into form and that he wasn’t allowing himself to just relax and play his natural game. His head had dropped, his body language was poor and as a result his form was suffering horribly. The Brazilian has a habit of going up a gear following international breaks this season and it seems that being given the chance every few months to go away, have a break from Klopp’s high-intensity style of football and play alongside talent like Neymar, Marcelo, Willian, Douglas Costa, Gabriel Jesus and so on helps him relax and works wonders for his confidence.
Confident, composed, classy
Speaking of confidence, seeing a back-heel flick to James Milner on the left wing serve as practically Coutinho’s first touch of the game set the tone for the rest of the match. The Brazilian left Everton defenders and midfielders alike on the grass constantly throughout the game and his confidence looked absolutely sky high as he jinked and skipped his way past blue shirts like they were training ground dummies. There was also a welcome composure in his game that has been lacking in recent weeks. Before his injury, every time the Brazilian picked up the ball within 25 yards of goal you backed him to score or at very least force a very good save – remember this one from De Gea – but recently his shooting radar has been so far off it was defying belief.
It was a wonderful sight then to see him pick the ball up on the left, cut inside onto his right and force a huge save from Robles. Could’ve done better sure, but he made up for it at the second time of asking, leaving Gueye on the floor, shrugging off Pennington like he was made of air and opting this time for placement rather than power as he buried the ball into the far corner.
His celebration said it all. He’d scored against Leicester a couple of matches ago which had served as nought but a consolation goal but this, however, was the goal that essentially won the Reds the game. As soon as the ball was in the net it was game over and if that wasn’t enough, Coutinho added insult to injury as he once again jinked through the midfield, slipped a perfectly weighted pass through for Origi and the Belgian made it three with aplomb.
Why this is important
The goal and assist that the Brazilian notched up against the Blues will not only have done his confidence wonders but is huge for the rest of the team. A fully firing Coutinho raises the standard of everyone else’s game and we’ve seen already this season how many goals the Reds score when he’s in full flight. If he can carry on in the same gear he was performing at against Everton then there is no reason he can’t raise his league total of 7 goals and 6 assists to double figures in both columns and that would be huge for Liverpool with a vital run-in of fixtures coming up.
The Reds play 6 of their remaining 8 fixtures against teams placed between 8th and 14th while 5 of the remaining games are against bottom half sides. With Coutinho having taken up a reputation of a flat-track bully – someone who can stroll out against ‘weaker’ sides and beat them single-handedly – before his injury, it’s vital that he carries on his current form and only further enhances that reputation. He’s scored against two of the Reds remaining 8 – Watford and West Brom – already this season while against Crystal Palace at Selhurst back in October he absolutely ran the show and provided two assists from corners.
If Liverpool are to take maximum points out of their final 8 games, Coutinho will have a huge role to play.