Anyone who has watched Liverpool’s pre-season friendlies in the past week will tell you one thing: Philippe Coutinho was far and away the best player on the pitch in each of the three games.
Whether demonstrating his mazy running ability or showing his eye for a pass to set up a chance for a teammate, the 22-year-old Brazilian was easily the star of the show.
It was a fact Brendan Rodgers acknowledged after the defeat to Roma, praising Coutinho as ‘the brain in our team, the continuity player’ as per Liverpool's website.
This has undoubtedly been the case in these three early games, but it remains to be seen whether Coutinho can now kick on and influence the first team in the same way as he has influenced this second string XI. Figures of seven assists and five goals over the course of last season are frankly not good enough for a player of Coutinho’s obvious talent.
Indeed, his profligacy in front of goal was something that even the casual watcher of Liverpool last season will have picked up on as he often wasted good opportunities by losing his usual aura of calm and snatching at shots when faced with a chance to score.
If he continues in this vein, Coutinho may well find this season difficult, as Rodgers has brought in players such as Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic who are expected to compete for places with the Brazilian. Lallana in particular had a better record of goals and assists last season.
However, if he can carry on his form from pre-season, this increased competition will not worry the Brazilian. He is still growing as a player and seemed at times to have a natural rapport with Daniel Sturridge, utilising the striker’s additional pace to make his through balls even more deadly to the opposition defence.
Coutinho always looks the most likely to create something from nothing, and, given this, will not be too worried about his place in Rodgers’ team next season.
There is another saving grace for Coutinho despite the obvious competition for places in the team next year, and that is his positional flexibility. Last year, it became obvious that Rodgers likes to utilise a fluid formation and as such we have already seen Coutinho deployed in the number ten role and out on the left wing.
However, increasingly often Coutinho is now being deployed in a deeper-lying central midfield role, from where he is able to bring the ball forward and pick out a counter-attacking pass much earlier in the attack.
Whilst this may not be his natural position, it is one he has become increasingly competent in and could well be a masterstroke from Rodgers if he wants to continue the attacking style of play he favoured last year.
Using Coutinho in this position allows Rodgers to play as many of his ‘creative’ players as possible without changing his preferred 4-3-3 formation. The Brazilian has proved his creativity and drive in the first three games of pre-season and could well be the linchpin for Liverpool going forward this season, wherever he ends up playing.
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