THERE we go then on the Newstalk website. Philippe Coutinho. Too lightweight and like a schoolboy. It’s immediately tiring, but it does need to be said that the diminutive Brazilian isn’t above criticism and that he was both poor and a dope — a big, big, lightweight, schoolboy dope — at the weekend. It’s a harsh red but being on a yellow while being refereed by Kevin “Ain’t No” Friend should suggest staying on your feet and not making it easy for him. There can be a discussion around what Coutinho should or shouldn’t be for Liverpool.
In general, there is a problem Coutinho being Liverpool’s official best player. There is a problem with Coutinho playing high up the pitch, especially at home. Both of these problems are exacerbated when Liverpool either aren’t playing well or are losing; one of these things tends to lead to the other obviously.
Neither of these things are entirely fair on Coutinho — he plays where the manager puts him and whether or not he has enough good players on the pitch around him is something he can’t control. He appears to want this responsibility, when he’s played well, at times very well indeed, this calendar year it is because he’s wanted to be at the fulcrum of everything Liverpool do.
It’s by virtue of the fact he has at times played very, very well this onus is thrust upon him. However, this often leads to him looking to do too much on his own and becoming increasingly selective about who he is passing to. He also deserts his position when meant to be high and it isn’t going well, coming ever deeper to get involved and then looking to supply an attack which is a man down. Which is why that being a problem is at least slightly his fault.
It’s noticeable that many of Coutinho’s better games this year have come away from Anfield when he’s had that bit more space, certainly when playing in any front three and when Liverpool have been more patient in general — when the space to produce one moment of magic is perhaps a little easier to come by.
Coutinho is at his best as a footballer facilitating others, making them better players, making them the best player. The tone of the criticism he gets both here and at times in general is that he should have more nine out of 10 games. In reality, he needs to have more sevens and eights leaving other lads taking the plaudits for nines they don’t quite deserve.
He can’t be too deep, really. He’s combative enough and the lightweight thing is really rather unfair. He has the quick feet, boldness and ability to turn away from players to move into green space rather than pick the ball up between the lines. I prefer him on the ball to David Silva, but Silva’s a far, far better player at finding space and a starting position in a crowded final third.
Silva is constant clever movement and availability. He’s more disciplined. He lets the game come to him, knowing he can influence it high up the pitch. He’s more patient. He has more faith in his teammates.
In general, there is an issue when your best player isn’t a goalscorer. Manchester United 2012-13 their best player is Robin van Persie. Michael Carrick cruelly overlooked. Liverpool 13-14 it’s Luis Suarez (with Daniel Sturridge second). Manchester City’s best player is Sergio Aguero. Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi. Chelsea last season had Eden Hazard or Diego Costa in that category with Cesc Fabregas’s influence waxing and mostly waning as the season wore on.
These lads aren’t just the best players, they are focal points. What they do well defines the side they play for as an attacking force.
There is a correlation between Coutinho becoming Liverpool’s best player and Liverpool’s goals scored column flatlining. Correlation isn’t causation. The causation isn’t a criticism of Coutinho. It is that Liverpool haven’t had one number nine worth a carrot, let alone two and Coutinho exists to serve those footballers, not have to make up for their shortcomings.
There have been positive signs until West Ham and they can be extrapolated beyond: Coutinho’s link up play with Christian Benteke has been very encouraging, he should have a good relationship with Roberto Firmino, Sturridge is to return and these four games for Liverpool were always their own thing.
There’s a quiet irony that Coutinho may well be the opposite of Gerrard — a central midfielder, a number eight, who wears and looks like a 10, whereas Steven for much of his career looked like and wore eight.
Indulge a bit of Bill Shankly: “A football team is like a piano. You need eight men to carry it and three who can play the damn thing.”
A lot of what can make Liverpool a better side this year could well be a realisation that while he looks like a concert pianist, Coutinho might actually be the best piano mover we have.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo