Philippe Coutinho's Return Can Help Liverpool Through Tough Run of Fixtures
Liverpool head into their Premier League match against Arsenal at the weekend in great spirits thanks to their third-place position in the league table and a good run of form of late which culminated in last week's 4-1 hammering of West Brom.
The good news kept coming for the Reds as manager Brendan Rodgers announced, as per LiverpoolFC.com, that playmaker Philippe Coutinho was ready to return to the matchday squad, following a six-week absence as a result of a shoulder injury sustained against Swansea City.
A creative, tricky and instinctive player, Coutinho will add another dimension to an already impressive attack with some difficult matches ahead.
Sub vs. Arsenal
Given the impressive manner of the Reds' display against West Brom, after a slight alteration in the shape of the midfield, it is unlikely that Rodgers will want to change things around too much.
Not only that, but Coutinho is not likely to be at peak fitness level just yet, having missed the past six games because of his injury.
All told, that points to a sub role for the No. 10 on his return to the squad, to be used as either an impact player later in the game if required, or to help the team switch formations if the starting system doesn't work as planned.
Win, lose or draw, it is likely that Coutinho will be brought on somewhere between the 55th and 75th minute to start getting game time beneath him once more.
The current midfield shape doesn't quite allow for Coutinho to slot in seamlessly; so far he has played either centrally or from the left for the Reds, but always from an advanced midfield position.
With the 1-2 shape in midfield, there isn't exactly a slot for an attacking midfielder.
Coutinho isn't a luxury player though; instead, as a versatile and hard-working player, he could fit into one of two roles which were perhaps a little outside of his comfort zone.
He could arguably replace Jordan Henderson in one of the central roles, aiding Liverpool to press high up the pitch and dropping back centrally when defending, before breaking forward quickly during transitions. Of course, the Reds would lose the athleticism and physicality of the English midfielder in that instance so it would depend in part on the opposition, but the technical and creative prospect of seeing Steven Gerrard and Coutinho playing so close together would be special.
Alternatively, he could operate as one of the Reds' two forwards, who both naturally drop deep and look to find space on the ball in front of the defence anyway—perfect for Coutinho's style and trickery. He has also shown an aptitude to breaking beyond the defence to take chance to score himself.
The other option for Rodgers would be to re-invert the midfield triangle, placing Coutinho ahead of a midfield duo, or else abandoning the back-three system entirely to re-integrate Coutinho in a variation of the standard 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 systems.
Liverpool and Coutinho's Search for Success
Dribbling ability, vision, execution of passes and great acceleration away from defenders; all these attributes lead Coutinho to be a vital part of the Reds' attack and one of the most talented playmakers in the Premier League.
At the beginning of the campaign there was a worry that—like with Luis Suarez before him—the team was quickly becoming reliant on his creativity and magic, and that too much would be expected too soon from what is still a very young player.
Coutinho's enforced absence has allowed the Reds to see that they can create, score and win without their No. 10, just as they saw they could do the same to an extent without Suarez.
Put them both into the mix, as well as the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Gerrard and Henderson, and Liverpool have a potent-looking final third indeed.
A run of games against Arsenal, Fulham and Everton during November will begin to tell much about how the quality of Liverpool's team can deal with more competitive sides, having swept aside various teams from the lower and middle reaches of the table to date.
Coutinho's invention and unpredictability at times can be key in helping Liverpool take further, vital victories from this run.
If they are still taking points, playing well and around the top three or four places in the table by then, then the whole country will have to agree that Liverpool are once again contenders for a Champions League position.
Expect Coutinho to play a big part in the success achieved by that stage if that is the case.
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