Philippe Coutinho: How Much Can He Contribute to Liverpool This Season and Next?

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Philippe Coutinho: How Much Can He Contribute to Liverpool This Season and Next?
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Philippe Coutinho has only made three fleeting appearances in a Liverpool shirt, but he has already shown more quality and promise in the final third than one or two of the No. 10's who came before him.

After 143 minutes of Premier League play for the Reds, Coutinho has contributed one goal and two assists, a direct involvement in a Liverpool goal every 47 minutes of play.

Is it beginner's luck, an under-appreciation of his talents by the opposition, or simply signs of a player that could turn out to be another top addition to the Reds' attack?

Likely it's a combination of all three.

Brendan Rodgers was unable to play Coutinho in European competition against Zenit St. Petersburg, so he has been limited to league play thus far in his Anfield career. The manager has therefore been restricted to giving the Brazilian game time in the domestic league, which has nicely coincided with games against teams that were likely to give Liverpool time and space to play in.

While the West Brom defeat was a shocking result, Liverpool played relatively well and dominated proceedings for the most part, though Coutinho's 12-minute cameo off the bench didn't play too much of a part in either the performance or the result.

The following two games saw Liverpool play against teams that share a similar approach to the Reds—emphasis on possession, and not the most aggressive of sides.

Swansea were without several key players and Wigan were just plain old shocking, but Liverpool ranged from impressive to excellent during both games—and Coutinho was central to both, at least until he visibly began to tire.

Playing on the left of the front three, Coutinho has been afforded plenty of time and space on the ball, with his team mostly in possession, to work his magic.

Two games against two such passive opponents has given him the chance to make a good impact as well as boost his own belief and confidence and get the supporters on his side—though, of course, none of that matters without the player's own ability playing a key part.

Coutinho has shown how he is able to dribble, commit defenders, open up space for others and, most importantly, provide the telling execution to find them. Playing as one of three front players he'll need to contribute roughly a goal every three or four games, something along the lines of what he achieved on loan at Espanyol.

For the remainder of the present season, with not much left to play for except an attempt to reach the top five or six and qualify for Europe next season, Coutinho will probably be handed a significant amount of minutes on the pitch.

While he might appear off the bench against the likes of Spurs, Everton or Chelsea for now, he'll probably get to start against teams such as Southampton, Reading and Newcastle—games where Liverpool should have most of the ball and the space in which he can operate effectively.

As for next term, his involvement could be largely decided by two factors.

What will Coutinho's role be next season?

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The first factor is how much he convinces Brendan Rodgers that he can handle the Premier League immediately. Second is who Liverpool have targeted, or can attract, to join the club in the summer. Signing one wide forward—presumably for the right side—would mean that the Reds have six forward players, not including Jordan Henderson, who has performed there recently, or Suso, who has dropped back into the Under-21s.

Coutinho, like the rest of the younger elements of the attack, will have his work cut out to gain regular match time.

There is more than enough evidence on show from his first three matches as a Red to suggest that he will be able to hold his own in a successful squad as Liverpool push for a return to the Champions League and winning trophies.

But, as Liverpool's last two No. 10's—Andriy Voronin and Joe Cole—found out, there is quite a difference between getting caught up in the hype surrounding the first few energetic and impressive performances and maintaining that quality over a long and successful career with the Reds.

 

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