Philippe Coutinho has started just three games for Liverpool, but the young Brazilian midfielder has already shown enough to suggest his injection of flair is a glimpse of the future at Anfield.
Against Swansea, Coutinho surged forward, feinted and finished to get off the mark for Liverpool in a 5-0 romp—a goal to conjure memories of Robert Baggio's classic at Italia 1990. Against Wigan, he laid on two assists in a 4-0 victory. Against Tottenham, he was lauded for a his all-round performance as Liverpool ran out 3-2 winners.
Coutinho is far from a prolific passer (he attempted 19 in 58 minutes against Spurs). His pass completion numbers are not that impressive either (47 percent on Sunday). To that end you might conclude he doesn't really fit the Brendan Rodgers mould, but when he does pass, Coutinho's intent is nearly always to put Liverpool on the front foot and often to send a teammate through on goal.
Stats only tell you so much. Sometimes it's up to a coach to look beyond the numbers and identify an immeasurable quality that numbers ignore. Could it be Coutinho is the luxury player Liverpool needed to force their attacking agenda?
Rodgers' Liverpool were struggling in that area before January. Too much of their passing was harmless; too often Luis Suarez was having to track back to get on the ball. But with the introduction of Coutinho and fellow January arrival Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool have added spark in the final third and are getting close to looking like a genuine top-four team again.
Liverpool's new manager has had his critics, and there are still big question marks over his summer moves for Joe Allen and Fabio Borini, but it's hard to argue with the deals Rodgers did in the winter window. For just over £20 million combined, he landed two potentially world-class attacking players for the price of one established one.
Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas paid credit where credit was due after watching his team beaten at Anfield (as per Tribal Football):
What Liverpool did in the January window was buy very well and widely. Coutinho's explosion came at the expense of Raheem Sterling but he is a great player and they have Sturridge doing ever so well for them too.
That has given them more confidence. They are playing good football and are hoping to get on a good run of results that they haven't found yet.
Coutinho has performed well against Tottenham before. He played against them as an 18-year-old in the 2010-11 Champions League group stages, offering up an assist in a 4-3 victory for Inter Milan that will be remembered most for Gareth Bale's hat trick. Looking back at his show reel from the San Siro, it's easy to see what Rodgers saw in Coutinho.
Liverpool's new No. 10 has all the tools you need to adhere to Rodgers' pass-and-move philosophy. He has great mobility, is keen to get on the ball as much as possible and appears blessed with a natural football intelligence.
Said Rodgers after Coutinho's turn against Wigan, as per the Guardian:
He is a young player with big experience and he is on the wave-length of the top players. He has fitted in seamlessly because he is a wonderful technician and tactically he is very good. He is still not up to speed yet but you can see where he slots in. He is a player who can make the difference. He is clever with his passing and can make and score goals.
The thought Coutinho might still be some way from full fitness is one to further excite Liverpool fans. The 20-year-old is yet to last beyond the 70-minute mark for his new club, which suggests Rodgers still believes he has work to do. That brings it with it the notion we're yet to see his very best.
It's too early (and too tempting) to talk of Coutinho as the natural heir to Steven Gerrard, but while the two players are very different, there are signs the emerging Countinho could at least help make up the deficit in terms of defence-splitting passes and dynamic midfield bursts forward when Gerrard eventually bids goodbye at Anfield.
You might even argue Coutinho has a few qualities Gerrard doesn't—like the ability to beat a player in close quarters and a penchant for the unpredictable. Little wonder he's already been compared to Chelsea's resident magician, Eden Hazard.
He's not there yet; not even close. But the fact Liverpool fans will get to watch his evolution is testament to Rodgers' intent on making his team a dynamic attacking unit who can hurt opponents in more than one way. Suarez is no longer their sole weapon of destruction; Gerrard is just one of the Liverpool players who can turn a game.
It's easy to get carried away, but things appear to finally be looking up at Anfield. If Gerrard stands as the surviving symbol of Liverpool's most recent glories, could Coutinho be a signpost to their future?
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