A recent suggestion to ‘drop Philippe Coutinho’ during a discussion with a Liverpool fan was greeted with bemusement and the kind of mockery only Manchester United fans who believe Wayne Rooney should be playing in central midfield, are worthy of.
Aspects of my Mum’s personality threatened to break through; “No, no, let me explain” was imminent. Sports writers are frequently reminded to avoid words such as ‘my’, so that will be the last, promise.
The idea was of course to drop Philippe Coutinho into a deeper midfield position, even if it was worded poorly. It seems, more than ever, that the proposal to move the Brazilian into an area beside Jordan Henderson is an idea shared and approved of by an increasing number of Liverpool fans.
This confidently expressed and mutually accepted tactical masterplan, as so many Reds fans will claim, must be put down to Liverpool’s squad strength and methods this season.
While many take credit for such a plan though, Liverpool’s impetus towards tactical improvisation this campaign has already made it a reality.
How the manager’s system gives him room to experiment…
It isn’t a tactical masterplan, not when considering Jürgen Klopp’s defiance when it comes to the kind of conventional positioning that would typically spit out its dummy at the sight of James Milner as a left back.
The beauty of Klopp’s system so far is that Philippe Coutinho has the freedom to take it upon himself to occupy a central midfield position without disrupting his side’s shape or game.
First and foremost, the presence of Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum, two primarily attacking minded players, in the trio of central midfielders promises position interchanges.
Neither two are going to sit for an entire game. This immediately opens the door for Coutinho to drop in from time to time and orchestrate things from further back, as evidenced during Monday’s draw against Manchester United and in the latter stages of Liverpool’s win away to Swansea City.
There is nothing in Liverpool’s explosive style of play to deceive people, yet the visuals of Klopp’s 4-3-3 line up prior to matches are relatively pointless. Other than the back four, Liverpool’s players cannot be pinned down to one position this season.
His role against Manchester United…
Adam Lallana’s injury did in fact result in Coutinho lining up alongside Jordan Henderson and Emre Can in the Liverpool midfield from the start in Monday’s clash with Manchester United.
He gradually moved into higher positions up the pitch as the game went on but primarily applied his trade in far deeper areas than he is usually seen in.
United’s packed defence and lack of attacking ambition meant it wasn’t perhaps the best game for Coutinho to prove he can make a real difference in this less familiar role.
What was clear, however, was Jose Mourinho’s desire to stop Liverpool’s playmaker from controlling the game, as demonstrated by the attention United’s Ander Herrera paid to his midfield opposite.
Liverpool as a team failed to replicate the free flowing and smooth attacking football that has seen them blow teams away this season. This shone through in Coutinho’s overall execution, despite him visibly having the right ideas and spotting the right passes.
He posed as the one player that continued to take the game to his opponent throughout and showcased how important his ability to play on the half turn can be for Klopp’s midfield.
Whether he was coming all the way back to receive the ball from his centre-backs or finding space to receive the ball from his midfield partners, Coutinho was always on the lookout for the chance to start an attack.
His display from midfield posed as a sign of him trying to take responsibility and leading by example in the way that he should.
If it wasn’t for a stunning David De Gea save, then he would have won all three points for his side.
It was far from his best game in a Liverpool shirt but it was the kind of mature showing that suggested he is growing as a player.
The speed at which he thinks and sees things ahead of him makes him a definite option in midfield. A less defensively minded team than United is sure to realise how big a threat Coutinho can be from deep with his ability to quicken the transition from defence to attack.
Having someone such as Coutinho who is capable of dissecting a back four with an eye of the needle pass, capable of long range wonder goals and capable of beating two, three players in tight areas, means opponents cannot afford to let him have the ball.
It just so happens that Klopp also has several other attacking talents that demand the attention of opposition defenders.
The thought of being able to give someone of Coutinho’s quality the licence to roam free is exciting.
The important thing is that he is on the pitch. Someone like Philippe Coutinho is always bound to make something happen.