Philippe Coutinho Makes Early Case as Liverpool Construct Their New-Look Attack

Matt Ladson@mattladsonFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2014

Liverpool F.C. midfielder Philippe Coutinho signs autographs for fans after team practice at Fenway Park in Boston, Tuesday, July 22, 2014. Liverpool will play a friendly soccer match against A.S. Roma on Wednesday. (AP Photo)
Uncredited/Associated Press

Liverpool had their third preseason friendly of the summer in Boston on Wednesday night, suffering a 1-0 defeat to AS Roma after Daniel Agger's last-minute own goal.

A preseason defeat should never cause great concern, especially when you take into account the amount of first-team players that were missing from Brendan Rodgers' side. The majority of his World Cup players only returned to training on Monday.

What these first three matches have given, though, is the opportunity for those players who weren't in Brazil to impress the boss ahead of the new season.

Liverpool's best performer across the games against Brondby, Preston and Roma has been one of those players omitted from his country's national squad for the World Cup—Brazilian Philippe Coutinho.

"Coutinho is the brain in our team, the continuity player," praised Rodgers after the Roma match, according to Chris Shaw of the official LFC website.

PRESTON, LANCASHIRE - JULY 19:  Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool in action during the pre season friendly match between Preston North End and Liverpool at Deepdale on July 19, 2014 in Preston, Lancashire.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

"He is the one that gets the team ticking, gets the movement in front of the ball," Rodgers continued. "He goes and gets on the ball. He's a fantastic talent for such a young player and he's still gaining his fitness."

Operating in midfield alongside Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva for most of his time during these three games, Coutinho has been afforded the freedom to express himself and be the creative spark in the team.

Coutinho really is a class act. Been the best player on the pitch tonight by some distance.

— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) July 24, 2014

Admittedly, what these first few games have shown is that Liverpool perhaps lack that creative and attacking spark when without their star names, but Coutinho has at least taken his chance.


Uncredited/Associated Press

With the arrivals of Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic, plus the seemingly imminent signing of Loic Remy (per David Maddock of the Daily Mirror), some supporters may begin to ponder where Coutinho fits in next season.

Lallana is a player capable of playing in the two positions which Coutinho operated in most for Liverpool last season—wide on the left of a front three and as the attacking player in a midfield three.

That's no reason why they both couldn't play in certain games, though, with each of them filling those roles and perhaps alternating in-match to good effect. Such fluidity and versatility is certainly something Rodgers desires.

Midfield Role

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 27: Ashley Cole of Chelsea and Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield on April 27, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Bruns
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

It's that versatility that will be key for Coutinho to keep himself in the starting XI. He began the game in Boston in the midfield three, Rodgers again starting in his preferred 4-3-3 shape, but the 22-year-old moved out to a wider role on the right of the front three after Fabio Borini's injury. This allowed Emre Can to play in the midfield trio.

Rodgers knowing he can use Coutinho in more than one position to good effect is a huge positive. We saw Coutinho last season used primarily in the attacking three for the first half of the campaign, but as the season progressed and he found himself more at home in English football, Rodgers trusted him to play a deeper role.

Speaking in January, Rodgers likened Coutinho to Luka Modric, according to Andy Hunter of The Guardian:

I look at him as a [Luka] Modric type. And when you look at Modric over four years at Tottenham he got 13 goals [in the league] but his influence was massive and Coutinho is of that type. He will naturally get more goals but he is a wonderful player for us, he is a key who opens up many things in a game.

That perhaps is an insight into where Rodgers sees Coutinho's future: within the midfield three rather than the attacking three.

That would give Rodgers a midfield trio of Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Coutinho—as used in the 4-0 defeat of Everton, 5-1 humbling of Arsenal and 4-0 thrashing of Tottenham last season.

Of course, with Champions League commitments, too, you will see plenty of rotation next season, but that midfield trio looks like the preferred one for the manager.

The likes of Joe Allen, Can and Lucas will then cover the roles within the midfield, while Lallana can also drop into the midfield when desired.


The only formation left to discuss is the construction of the attacking three, whether in a 4-3-3 shape or a midfield diamond with one of the three at the attacking tip.

Daniel Sturridge will lead the line primarily, with Lallana and Raheem Sterling the strongest options either side of him. New signing Markovic can play either side.

Indeed, Rodgers' options include a front two of Lambert and Sturridge with either Lallana or Sterling in behind them.

What becomes clear is that the depth in the squad is already heightened even without any further additions who will arrive. Add Remy into the mix, who can add depth in the centre-forward role and also on the left of a front three, and it's clear that the squad as a whole is vastly stronger than the one of 12 months ago.

As shown by Rodgers' praise for Coutinho, he will be the brains behind the side, forming a partnership with Lallana that will be creative and potentially potent for Liverpool.


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