Liverpool came as close to winning the Premier League title last season as they have been in 20 years, with the likes of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard inspiring the Reds to performances many had barely dreamed possible.
While they may have been led by that core group of senior players, though, Liverpool's challenge would not have occurred without significant improvements made by their younger players.
Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson, John Flanagan and Raheem Sterling all played important roles in Liverpool's season after beginning the campaign with significant question marks over their heads—more in terms of consistency than ability. All, as a consequence, are now regarded as key to the future of the club.
For Coutinho, in particular, it was a season that could significantly change the course of his career. His initial six months at Anfield had been very promising, but his reputation was still tarnished by his travails of previous seasons at Inter Milan.
Once seen as Brazil's brightest talent, he had been in danger of being labelled a failure despite his relatively young age. Football can be an unforgiving environment, and Coutinho was suffering.
At Liverpool, though, he has found a home and a manager who believes in his talent. The results have thus far exceeded the expectations of most upon his arrival. He was a gamble, but one that could be set to pay off royally.
Brendan Rodgers now has a dilemma, though. While Liverpool have become well accustomed to playing without Luis Suarez over the past two seasons, his absence over the course of a campaign will be difficult to overcome.
While signings Lazar Markovic and Adam Lallana in particular are excellent players, neither are guaranteed starters, and both have a fair amount to prove at the top level.
It is the likes of Sterling, Sturridge and particularly Coutinho who must help step up and fill that void.
Coutinho has a particularly important role for, besides his goalscoring, it is the creativity of Suarez that will be particularly missed. Of all Liverpool's attacking players, it is the young Brazilian whose vision stands head and shoulders above the rest.
He is a phenomenal talent—as demonstrated by his five goals and seven assists last campaign—but Liverpool now need more. If he has true international ambitions, Coutinho also has personal reasons to up his game.
Playing deeper as the most advanced of a midfield trio has been a new adventure for the natural No. 10, and his adaptation to that role must continue. He can also be more efficient in front of goal and increase his solid but unspectacular goal tally.
Indeed, efficiency and consistency must be the buzzwords for Coutinho's year ahead. If he can achieve on both counts, as his talent suggests he can, then he has the potential to light up the Premier League.
The English game has now been proven to be far from the graveyard of Brazilian talent that was once commonly thought, but it has lacked a true superstar from the country. Coutinho has the potential to be that man and inspire Liverpool if he can take the next step in his game.
Having fought so hard to return to the top four, Liverpool desperately need to retain that status this campaign. They will need their big players to step up and, if he can, Coutinho has the opportunity to make himself a true force on the world stage.
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