Philippe Coutinho must take his game to another level after signing new contract

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Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has been quite fairly criticised in some quarters for a patchy record in the transfer market in his two-and-a-half years at Anfield, but the Reds boss is clearly onto something with outrageously talented playmaker Philippe Coutinho.

The 22-year-old has been rewarded for a purple patch of form over the last two months with a new and improved long-term contract, which means Liverpool have a player of immense raw potential tied down until 2020.

That show of faith comes with responsibility and new added pressures though, which principally mean Coutinho has to start producing the kind of game-changing performances he's capable of much more consistently.

Time to take things to another level

Coutinho's £8.5 million move from Inter Milan to Merseyside in 2013 could still turn out to be the most astute move of Rodgers' managerial career, particularly at a time when his £130 million summer outlay on nine new players still looks like a mis-step.

A technically-gifted midfielder who likes to roam and affect the game with quick passing interchanges and short bursts of serious speed, Coutinho is excellent as making those runs 'between the lines' that have become much-fabled in the modern game.

The Brazilian starlet's talent was evident the moment he arrived in the Premier League, capable of playing a killer pass in the final third and also quite surprisingly a fiery character that's far tougher in the tackle than his 5'7'' frame may suggest.

Last weekend's 2-0 win over West Ham United at Anfield was a showcase of everything that's so good about Coutinho's game.

There are very few players capable of producing the inventive flick pass over the top that Coutinho used to get Raheem Sterling free for the opening goal in that victory, while there was also much to admire about the weight of pass that found Daniel Sturridge for the game-clinching second strike late on.

Numbers aren't quite adding up at this stage

Before we spend all day waxing lyrical about that display though there's a problem when it comes to Coutinho, that wand of a right-foot had not been delivering week-in, week-out for some time until a vast recent improvement in output.

It may surprise you to learn that Coutinho has managed to produce just four assists in the Premier League all season long, even including that pair of tremendous passes against the Hammers.

No fewer than 16 players have managed to do better in the top flight so far this term, including the likes of James Milner, James Ward-Prowse and Reds team-mates Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling.

Simply put that's just not good enough for someone who possesses the eye for a pass that Coutinho does, even allowing for a rather indifferent start to the season that saw both the midfielder and Liverpool struggle desperately to find form.

Returning star striker Daniel Sturridge should help improve that particularly statistic considerably in the next six months, although Rodgers still has work to do to get the best from a player not quite at the peak of his powers just yet.

That's before we even get onto awful Coutinho's goal record, which must improve if he's to fulfil the prophecies of a manager in Rodgers who clearly feels he has a future world-class operator in his ranks.

Goal record is pretty poor

Two goals in 20 Premier League appearances shows Coutinho is yet to discover that ruthless streak in the penalty area that makes the difference between a good and great number 10, which despite being used in a variety of roles by Rodgers is clearly his best position.

At this moment in time English football is blessed with a whole host of multi-purpose midfielders that deliver consistent numbers, both goals and assists.

Look at Chelsea wing wizard Eden Hazard, who has eight goals and five assists in the Premier League this season. Arsenal's new £35 man Alexis Sanchez is also producing similarly impressive numbers, with 12 goals and 7 assists in the same competition.

It might be a tad unfair to hold Coutinho to the same standards as these two genuine superstars, but that's a measure of just how highly I rate a player Liverpool can build their team around for the next five years.

Coutinho will ultimately be judged by the metrics that matter though in goals and assists, not just the odd eye-catching flick, trick or defence-splitting pass.

Chelsea miss sums up frustrations

Last week's valiant but ultimately losing effort against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup semi-final perfectly epitomised both the promise and frustration you can feel when watching Coutinho in full flight.

At times he ran the show at Stamford Bridge, in particular runnings round around a far from fully-fit Cesc Fabregas during a frenetic first half.

On more than one occasion Coutinho dropped deep and demanded the ball, always looking dangerous and capable of unlocking Chelsea's imposing defence.

What will probably live longer in the memory though was a glorious opportunity that went begging though.

Coutinho drove through a gaping hole in the Chelsea back four after selling Kurt Zouma a delightful dummy, but when faced with a one-on-one against Thibaut Courtois could only find the Belgian's outstretched boot.

Rodgers has every right to be positive

At the risk of using some of Brendan's favourite buzzwords Liverpool showed the kind of character and resilience in those two legs at Chelsea to give them reason for encouragement moving forward, with Coutinho very much at the heart of that positive feeling.

Get Coutinho linked up with another superb piece of business from the January transfer window in 2013 and Liverpool have every chance of progressing in 2015, even if there's bound to be some kind of residual hangover from Steven Gerrard's impending departure.

Rodgers deserves praise for deciding to spend his resources on rewarding a top performer within his own squad this month, rather than chasing an impact player in the notoriously difficult January market.

Coutinho is exactly the kind of forward-thinking, exciting player that has a home at Liverpool thanks to the environment Rodgers has created, which has to be viewed as a huge positive for the club heading into the business end of a very difficult season.

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