Why Philippe Coutinho Can Be Liverpool's New Version of Luis Suarez
Coutinho became Liverpool's second January signing following the arrival of Daniel Sturridge earlier in the month, meaning Liverpool ended the month with three more options in the final third than they began it with—including Fabio Borini's return from long-term injury.
For the Brazilian starlet Coutinho, it will be a case of trying to fulfil the vast promise that he clearly has, part of which will be solved as and when manager Brendan Rodgers determines the best role for him.
It's far too early, of course, to determine how much of a success or otherwise that Coutinho might be at Liverpool, but there are a number of reasons to think he could have a significant impact on the team.
For the Reds, one of the most intriguing possibilities is to look at him as an almost mirror-image of Luis Suarez. Seeing the two of them confident, in form and playing in the same team is something to look forward to for fans of the club.
Here's why Coutinho could turn out to be a new version of Suarez for Liverpool.
Preferred Central Position to Be Heavily Involved in Play
Both Coutinho and Suarez have a preferred position, and it might be that at times they clash in this regard—both like to play through the middle of the attack.
That's certainly not to say that they couldn't play in the same team, but it could mean that more often than not it is one or the other in the central role, with the other making way.
On the other hand, the possibility also exists of playing Luis Suarez in what has been his customary central forward, false-nine role at the head of the attack, with Coutinho operating just off of him.
With the roaming tendencies of the Uruguayan in the role, it would be expected that Coutinho fill the void in attack with his movement off the ball and operate as a forward coming from a deeper role, something which he did in his younger years in Brazil.
Both players like to get involved in the build-up phases of play as often as possible, exchanging passes with supporting midfielders and dictating the flow of attacks.
The other consideration is that, with Suarez spending increased playing time in the second forward's role recently, this gives Liverpool extra squad depth and quality in the position—something which has been missing too often in too many areas over the past few seasons.
Playing Wide in the Front Three
Perhaps the most interesting possibility of all is seeing the two operating on opposite flanks of the centre forward.
With Daniel Sturridge quickly establishing himself as the new No. 9 of the team, scoring four times in his first six games and impressing in his all-round game, Suarez has operated both in the deeper central role and out on the left side of the attack.
Against Arsenal in the wider role he was required to do a certain amount of tracking back. Whilst this isn't optimal for the best attacker in the team to be concentrating on, against weaker sides than the Gunners—and especially at Anfield—it is fair to think that Suarez would be given far more licence to maintain his presence in attack.
If Liverpool persist with playing three forwards as often as possible, it would be a fearsome prospect for defences to be trying to deal with Suarez on the left, Sturridge through the middle and Philippe Coutinho on the right—a position he has played for both Espanyol and Inter Milan.
In this instance, Coutinho would be required to offer to the attack plenty of the same qualities that Suarez brings: willingness to create chances for himself and others, occupying defenders to let others have an impact and pressing hard from the front to win back possession.
Using Coutinho in a role similar to that which Suarez can be used—though of course they would perform it in different ways—could help to bring out the best talents of the Brazilian while helping the team keep their shape.
Dribbling Ability, Creativity and Link-Up Play Around the Penalty Area
Do Liverpool really need a new version of Suarez? And if they do, is Coutinho it?
Well, it's never going to be a like-for-like comparison, of course, but the young Brazilian playmaker can bring a lot of traits to the team that Suarez has become lauded for.
His willingness to get on the ball, run at the opposition defence and create chances is part of what marks Suarez out as a dangerous opponent, and Coutinho will, over time, certainly be expected to offer the same kind of creativity.
Coutinho might not be as tenacious or as aggressive as Suarez at this stage, but he will learn over time not to be pressured off the ball, not to be worried by challenging bigger defenders, and that a big part of defending from the front comes not from tackling, but merely by better positioning—something fellow young attacker Raheem Sterling has learnt plenty of already.
The link-up that both Suarez and Coutinho can provide, both with each other and the rest of the team, certainly bodes well for Liverpool in trying to break down opposition defences with more regularity.
Luis Suarez was criticised last season in some quarters for being too profligate. This term he has apparently taken that train of thought to heart and has rattled in 22 in all competitions, including 17 in the Premier League—as many as he scored in all competitions last year.
Liverpool's top goalscorer and chief threat in the final third, Suarez has emerged as a genuine match-winner in any given fixture.
Thus far in his career, Coutinho has not yet emerged as a regular goalscorer, totalling three goals in 19 games this season and 14 in slightly fewer than a century of games in his career overall.
At age 20, there is still ample time for him to improve this side of his game.
Between Suarez and Sturridge, they will be expected to contribute perhaps 35-40 goals a season; to form a viable part of the attack, the third component will have to add up to another 10 or so.
Coutinho of course won't be expected to reach (half of) that total this season as he may not play a huge role immediately, but if he earns a regular place in the side, his movement and attacking instincts should ensure his capability of getting somewhere close to double figures.
Five goals in 16 games during his spell in Spain proved he can find the net on a regular basis. If he can translate that to the Premier League then he, like Suarez, can provide a good goal return from the secondary attacking areas of the team.
The Champions League and All It Can Bring...and Take Away
Liverpool are aiming, this season and the next, for a top-four place to bring Champions League football back to Anfield.
While it may already be too late to rescue such riches this term, next season Brendan Rodger will certainly be expected to ensure his side challenge significantly for a place in the first four. With the Champions League comes not only better finances, but increased competition, a greater draw to prospective signings and the chance to play against the continent's best teams and individuals.
It's what every player wants, and it is certainly what top players such as Luis Suarez deserve.
If Liverpool cannot give that to their top players fairly soon, then there is the real chance they will have to look elsewhere. Should Suarez eventually move on, the Reds will face the daunting task of replacing him, and of course that situation could manifest itself rather sooner in a short-term capacity if he were to suffer an injury.
Having Coutinho apply himself in a similar role with similar emphasis on creating scoring chances for the team can ensure that the Reds have a ready-made replacement when the Uruguayan is unavailable to Liverpool.
Coutinho has the potential, as yet unrealised but certainly present, to become a hugely effective attacker.
Moulding him to be a different version of Luis Suarez could not only bring great quality and creativity to the Liverpool attack in the near future, but it could also safeguard the longer-term effectiveness of the side in the event that the mercurial No. 7 departs these shores rather sooner than fans would hope for.