AN ARTIST recently approached me on Lark Lane asking me who the next Liverpool legend was. This is actually true, these things happen if you hang around Lark Lane too much. He likes painting cultural icons in a classical style. He’s the fella who did John Lennon as the Mona Lisa on the side of St George’s Hall. But he’s a Bradford City fan, so he didn’t want to pick the wrong player. He didn’t want the player the press were raving about, or the most expensive signing. He wanted the darling of the Kop.
I immediately thought of Philippe Coutinho, of course. Five foot seven of football heaven. But was this too soon? Don’t get me wrong, I’d already pictured him in my head as ‘The Creation of Adam’, but was he ready to take on that, slightly unusual, mantle? Fantastic player no doubt, but at 23 years old was he the leader of the team moving forward? The heartbeat of what we do for years to come?
Coutinho proved himself to be a leader of men at Stoke on the first day of the season. Winning the game for the Reds when most on each side had accepted a draw.
The home game against Bournemouth, after he had been ludicrously left out of the Brazil squad, showed the greater responsibility he has placed on himself from an attacking point of view, shooting on goal more than any other player in the league that weekend.
Against Arsenal he was a constant attacking threat, hitting the post and the bar and putting the supremely talented Alexis Sanchez in his shadow. Only centre forwards Olivier Giroud and Christian Benteke had more shots than Coutinho last night.
Which of course re-ignites the discussion over his best position for Liverpool moving forward, something that was much discussed on The Anfield Wrap in the summer.
Playing the £8million signing from Inter Milan in midfield allows you to get an extra attacker on the pitch, which in theory should mean more goals for the team. From midfield he can dictate the play, hit runners with his range of passing, and he isn’t afraid to get stuck in either. But will he be too far back to really influence the game from an attacking point of view? Do you want him constantly around the penalty area, looking for through balls or getting shots away?
The argument, with 105 appearances Liverpool appearances under his belt and 17 goals, is that he doesn’t yet score enough to play in a front three. But given his apparent determination to improve that already through, quite simply, kicking it at the goal more, shouldn’t we give him a chance to see if he can increase his tally?
It should also be pointed out that he has outscored, as well as outperformed, Adam Lallana, Jordon Ibe and Roberto Firmino this season, his current ‘competitors’ for the two slots behind the forward. In fact I’m pushed to remember the other three having a shot on goal. If Coutinho isn’t enough of a goal threat, then what of the others?
The surprisingly quick development of his relationship with Christian Benteke should also be taken into account. So far this season they have created eight chances for each other (stolen from @BassTunedToRed) and linked up well on plenty of other occasions, too.
It was thought that wide players like Jordon Ibe would get the most out of Benteke, but it is actually Coutinho that has been first on his wavelength. Coutinho is the one Benteke seems to look for most with knock downs and flicks, and the one he moves most keenly for when he has the ball.
— Gracenote Live (@GracenoteLive) August 25, 2015
Its not an easy decision. Both arguments have their merits. I’m often tempted to follow the adage of “do what the opposition least want you to do”, and I promise you now Hector Bellerin would rather Coutinho was playing in midfield than anywhere near him at Anfield later in the season. The manager will probably switch him between the two throughout the season. Perhaps in a front three during tougher games, and in midfield against weaker opposition when he should be able to break forward anyway.
But there is another option, of course. As a 10 behind two genuine strikers. Something that will take some of the pressure off him goal-wise, but increase the options in front of him.
Its a position that I have not always been sure he has been ready for. A position that he looks to be built for, but found himself out performed by a very young Raheem Sterling when we last played two up top.
However, his greater sense of leadership within the team should mean he is ready for it now. His desire to influence every part of Liverpool’s play, not just in patches of the match, should allow Liverpool to pick him in the middle and not worry about him drifting out of games. I’ll leave the last word on this to Kaka. Who knew a thing or two about playing in the hole:
“One great player doesn’t make a team, but you can build a team around one great player, and I believe he can be that player.”
Anyway, must go. Off to pay a fella to paint Dejan Lovren as Napoleon Crossing the Alps.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo