BACK in July and August, on the eve of the new season, Anfield Wrap writers looked at what the future could hold for players and manager at Liverpool FC as the big kick-off loomed large. A lot has happened since then, not least the sacking of Brendan Rodgers and appointment of Jürgen Klopp. With the international break now upon us, it seemed like a good time to ask the same question again. Karl Coppack, who in July was worried about Phil Coutinho leaving, while also pleading for 10 goals and 20 assists, kicks us off with a second look at The Little Magician.
YOU can’t win sometimes.
I didn’t go to Stamford Bridge but 46 minutes into the game I was telling people on WhatsApp and Messenger that Philippe Coutinho was overrated. Yes, I went there. Tired of his mislaid passes and being pushed off the ball, I went for him in a big way.
“One good game in five, one goal in 10. You can’t do that in this game. I’d rather have someone who can give 8/10 two in three games and three tap-ins for every 30-yarder screamer.”
You know what happens next. As Paul Senior memorably put it, he “sends Ramires for The Echo” and puts the Reds back in the game. Messages flood in from mates. The kindest are simple question marks; others accuse me of dim intelligence and compare me to male genitalia. However, I’m sticking to my guns.
“Watch him have five games off now.”
Well, okay. He scores again. I elect to celebrate like a madman and vow never to share a personal opinion again.
We all do this. We make public pronouncements and watch in horror as life takes over. If you write opinion pieces on award-winning websites (you’ve all voted for The Anfield Wrap for the FSF Awards, haven’t you?), you’re asked to be shot down in flames.
I’ll air two of my own. Firstly, John Barnes isn’t the sort of player Kenny should be signing as he’s a busted flush and his famous Maracanã goal was an exception rather than the rule. Oh, and, best of all, Mike Sheron — the former City and Barnsley man — will have a glittering Liverpool career. Shoot me now.
We’re all allowed to be wrong and in some ways there’s a form of masochistic joy in being so. Immediate proof makes it even funnier.
I was telling my mates how John Arne Riise should stop shooting from three quarters of the pitch out in the Millennium Stadium just as he scored against Chelsea in the Charity Shield. He might as well have put two fingers up to be as he celebrated. Not only can you be proved wrong, you can be incredibly stubborn in your views even when the majority are in the other corner.
This is how I know Emre Can will be a hell of a midfielder for Liverpool one day, as he looks nothing like one at the moment.
Back to Phil. New managers affect players in different ways. Previous favourites somehow have to prove themselves the more while those who have been bombed out have a chance to build a second career at the club. The most obvious example being Lucas Leiva, who was set to leave the club under Brendan but is now a mainstay in the Klopp era. If he doesn’t play one week, it’s mostly because he’s playing the next. Then there’s the resurrection of Mamadou Sakho.
With Coutinho it’s slightly different. He’s scored more goals in his last two starts than he did in his last 17 under Rodgers. So, what’s changed?
Well, he’s no longer playing as a false nine. That has to count for something.
The Brazilian may be brilliant, entertaining and effective but he’s not a striker. He provides the bullets, not the assassinations. Yes, he can score some lovely, lovely goals but he can’t do that in 30 league games. Once he has strikers on the pitch his game changes completely and he can risk long shots if he feels someone else is following up. If he has no one in front of him he may get one or two but it’s not his natural role. He’s now sticking to his day job rather than doing some experimental stuff in other areas of the pitch.
What next for him? Well, when I wrote about him in July I asked for 10 goals and 20 assists. As things stand he’s on four in the middle of November — all of them lovely — and two assists. Last season he finished with eight and five. That last one is a strange stat as he wasn’t top of the assist charts as you would think he would be. Jordan Henderson more than doubled his assist tally despite being only yards away from him on the pitch and less of a visionary. This is what happens when you play creative midfielders in positions where they cannot create. There’s no point in a through ball if you’re on the penalty spot.
As vital as he is and as well as he’s doing, he still needs Daniel Sturridge back on the pitch before we see the true player. The understanding between the two of them sets Liverpool up. The 5-1 against Arsenal was the best midfielder and striker combination I’d seen in years. One knows when to run; the other knows how to find him.
Partnerships on the pitch are important no matter how unlikely they are (Luis Suarez and Jose Enrique in the early months of 2013) and Sturridge makes Coutinho a better player. Trust is important and is something that Steven Gerrard suffered from in his final season when he would ignore certain players no matter how well placed they were. Sturridge and Coutinho — providing the former can stay fit — could be one weapon in Jurgen’s armoury. If that goes wrong he can look to Christian Benteke and James Milner (the best header and the best crosser) or Roberto Firmino. It’s all about options.
Philippe is inconsistent but with the new man in the dugout he can slowly change. I loved his Palace goal simply because he was in the box, arriving late, rather than standing outside waiting for a limp clearance.
I’d much prefer to have him running onto things than taking pot shots. He should be in the area when Benteke or Sturridge miss a pass, not because he’s the furthest man forward. Equally, we can’t have him having hit and hopes 10 times a game no matter how many go in.
The greatest thing about the Klopp reign is the newfound belief the team has. I love watching players beam with joy when walking off the pitch. It’s right up there with the Jürgen headlock and rubbing his knuckles on Jordan Ibe’s head for me.
Lucas excitedly making a point to his manager as he left the pitch at White Hart Lane told the world that there is a mutual understanding about what we’re trying to achieve and, importantly, they’re having a laugh about it.
Coutinho doesn’t strike me as an extrovert. He seems to be almost embarrassed about his talent, but he does have a passion that is often missing in other creative players (Le Tissier, Zidane etc). He’s not afraid to get angry when passes go astray or kick the odd water bottle in frustration. He wants the team to do better and he himself wants to improve. I love that about him. He knows hasn’t truly arrived yet.
What next for Philippe Coutinho? More of the same. We have better players now. We have strikers who move about. We have targets. It’s their duty to bring the best out of him as it is his to do the same for them. Sadly, he’ll never play behind Mike Sheron but you can’t have everything.
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Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo