When Philippe Coutinho was chosen by his peers as part of the PFA’s 2015 Premier League Team of the Year, it seemed as though the world was about to fall at his feet.
His prodigious natural talent had seen him entrusted as playmaker-in-chief and potential heir to Luis Suarez as Liverpool’s most talismanic player. It suggested that better times were looming large on the horizon for both the player and the club, despite the team’s laboured efforts on the pitch and the largely clueless management of Brendan Rodgers.
Fast forward seven months to the start of 2016 and there seems little improvement in the club or the player. Rodgers is history, but the goodwill and excitement felt by the fans following outstanding victories at Chelsea and Manchester City early in Jurgen Klopp’s tenure is beginning to evaporate following a wave of listless displays in recent weeks. Klopp is well aware of how much work needs to be done to elicit more quality and better results from his mis-firing stars.
Liverpool’s performance at West Ham during yesterday’s 2-0 defeat almost perfectly encapsulated the problems facing Klopp. Two sucker punches from the significantly improved Hammers further confirmed Liverpool’s inability to defend crosses into the box.
At the other end, Liverpool’s attacking quartet of Benteke, Ibe, Coutinho and Firmino, tried to get into the game, but barely troubled the West Ham defence until late in the game. Even then, West Ham could have scored on a couple of occasions.
Liverpool are certainly missing the goalscoring prowess of Daniel Sturridge, whilst Danny Ings and Divock Origi both offer other options when fit, though neither is likely to set Premier League defences on edge.
It also seems obvious to the fans that Klopp does not have a great deal of confidence in Cristian Benteke. Why, for example, did he start with the raw Origi in attack against Leicester City and leave Benteke on the bench? Miraculously, Benteke is the Reds leading scorer, a major surprise given his lack of mobility, reluctance to make runs into the penalty area and the team’s singular failure to play to the big Belgian’s strengths.
There has been a need to improvise given the paucity of goals and lack of fitness of three of Klopp’s main strike force. This has put added pressure on the “attacking midfielders” in the squad. There is a greater expectation on Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana to deliver goals, or at the very least create opportunities for other players. Of the three, Coutinho been the most effective, with five goals in the Premier League and three assists. Lallana has yet to score, whilst Firmino has registered just a solitary goal, but it is Coutinho who is the biggest cause for concern.
There is an expectation from the fans that he will become a talismanic leader of the team, and he certainly has the talent to take the Reds onto better things and become a true club legend. There is a huge question, however: does he have the character, the fight or the physical characteristics to attain this status? It is a massive role at Liverpool, the weight of expectation can stunt the development of lesser players, and I feel that Coutinho is trying too hard to live up to the what is required of him.
Coutinho’s creativity is beyond question, but he needs to get more out of those around him. He compares unfavourably with other playmakers, such as Mesut Ozil, for example, who has created 16 goals, and had 11 successful crosses (Coutinho’s figure is 3). Ozil has also created 84 chances, the figure for Coutinho is 27. Even players such as Cristian Eriksen at Spurs and Dusan Tadic at Southampton are better at providing scoring opportunities for team mates. Both have set up 50 chances.
There is work to do for Coutinho and Klopp. The manager needs to protect Coutinho, but also get him to bring more to the game. How he does it, is a conundrum that is frustrating Liverpool fans.
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