Brendan Rodgers Must Build His Own Liverpool Empire Around Philippe Coutinho
Brendan Rodgers is still looking to bring in new faces for Liverpool this summer, as he seeks to build a squad capable of returning to the top four of the Premier League.
The end goal, of course, will be to have a team able to mount realistic and regular battles for major trophies as well as play every year in the Champions League, meaning some turnover of players over the coming two or three years is inevitable.
One player who must be retained and improved, however, and indeed planned around for the mid-term, is Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool's Brazilian attacking midfielder who has already enjoyed great success since his move to Anfield in January.
Coutinho's Best Position
Rodgers has to decide whether, this season in particular, the Brazilian playmaker is going to operate more often from the left side of the attack, or centrally in the No. 10 role.
Of course, over the longer term, he will be a central playmaker, but his first full campaign in the Premier League is likely to be littered with positional changes, second-half substitutions and moving him around because of other available players to better the team.
Even if Coutinho faces a run of games from the left, Rodgers needs to operate in the transfer market with the central version of Coutinho in mind. A central attacking midfielder to come in? Fine, but make it one who won't hold back the Reds' No. 10, and who can play elsewhere in the attacking line when 'Phil' is moved infield, which he will be often.
Any wide forwards who are signed should also be targeted with Coutinho's abilities in mind—namely, that they have pace, great movement to find space off the ball and good technique to control the ball and shoot when Coutinho inevitably finds them with a through-pass.
Balance of Expectancy and Demands
The highest-selling replica shirt, loads of fan-site column inches and all eyes on him every match: Coutinho is already the focus of fans' attentions and the one they expect to cut open defences every time he gets on the ball.
While it's great that the Reds have a player capable of doing that, there will have to be an element of expectation management about the youngster.
He's a terrific talent, technically and tactically, yet can still improve immeasurably.
One of his great strengths already appears to be his mature decision-making, being able to pass at the right time with the right weight—and when to keep hold of the ball and run with it himself.
That will only continue to improve as he becomes more used to playing with Luis Suarez, Iago Aspas and co. as he learns their preferred runs—something he already has the measure of with Daniel Sturridge—their level of control and how often they will instead open up space for himself to attack.
Liverpool want and need him to find more consistency than in his career to date, but that has to be tempered by allowing him a dip of form without pressure when it eventually comes.
At that time, Joe Allen or Luis Alberto will need to step up to ensure Coutinho's talents are allowed the chance to refresh and return, and likely emerge all the stronger.
Why Coutinho Has to be The One
It's all well and good that the Reds have players who are 'better' or 'more proven' than Coutinho—however you grade those immeasurable metrics—such as Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard, but it is not feasible for Rodgers to build his latest Liverpool team around them.
Suarez has already made his feelings perfectly clear about his future at the club, and Gerrard is coming to his final couple of seasons at the very top.
That leaves Coutinho as the man to make the Reds tick, who can not merely help to compete but actively win matches for the team. He's the one Rodgers has to keep at the club, has to satisfy the ambitions of over the next few years, and has to groom and educate as carefully as any of the seven U21 players who made their debuts last season.
Now permanently at Liverpool, he has the chance to not just settle down with a club for no particular reason, but to grow in a side which is similarly rebuilding itself to be bigger and better, is attack-minded and technical—like the player himself—and which is high-profile.
Consistency and ability will get him noticed, on the international stage included.
Liverpool will likely have two, perhaps even three seasons of Coutinho's talents to themselves as he enjoys the freedom of being a main man in attack and learning without having to continually change locations and squad status.
By that time, Liverpool will need to not only be in the Champions League but also challenging for major trophies.
Coutinho can be a massive part of helping the club do that, and Rodgers has to ensure the team is set up to allow him to flourish in that way and to that extent.
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