When Manchester City take on Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium this Saturday, it will surely be 11 City players against 11 Reds. But one Liverpool player’s performance will determine if the Merseysiders can follow up their magnificent 1-3 victory against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in their last away assignment in the league, with another top-class away display. Philippe Coutinho is that player who has come up with some truly breathtaking performances over the last 12 months, and Jurgen Klopp’s side needs him to come good against the current leaders of the Barclays Premier League table.
Though Liverpool seem reinvigorated with the appointment of Klopp, their squad is still bereft of game-changers. Coutinho, however, has shown signs of taking up responsibility for the team. Over the last 12 months, he has been greatly involved in most Liverpool games, being the ball carrier, a goal scorer, a passer and overall, wants to keep receiving the ball from his team-mates.
Coutinho’s impact in Liverpool’s away assignments in the league this season has been very much tangible. The Reds have yet to lose an away league game in which the Brazilian has played. And the game that they lost, against Manchester United at Old Trafford by 3-1, was missed by Coutinho, who had to serve a 1-match suspension for getting sent off in their previous game against West Ham United at Anfield.
To further reiterate the 23-year-old’s growing influence on his team’s results, Coutinho has single-handedly accrued 6 points for the Scousers with his goals this season, leading them to crucial away victories against Stoke City and struggling Chelsea. Liverpool lacked spark on both occasions and were in desperate need of a game-changer. Coutinho came to their rescue on both occasions, delivering goals from outside the box in crunch circumstances for his side.
Against City, where will Klopp deploy his most probable match-winner? What is the size of the task confronting Coutinho, playing at the home of the league leaders?
Philippe Coutinho’s Positioning In Liverpool’s Tactical Set-up Under Klopp
The Scousers have lined-up in a narrow 4-3-3, or what you can call a 4-3-2-1, system since Klopp’s appointment. Coutinho has enjoyed a free role, playing in 1 of the two attacking positions behind the striker. If Klopp retains this set-up for his side’s visit of the Etihad tomorrow, the 23-year-old Brazilian could come in for a serious test against Bacary Sagna and Fernandinho, who have been omnipresent during the early stages of what has been a good season for the Cityzens so far. Sagna’s tackling statistics (41% success rate in 11 league appearances) do not indicate how solid he has been for City, who have conceded just 9 goals so far, the second best defensive record in the Premier League.
Coutinho’s Better Attributes
Coutinho, who has exuded a great deal of audacity to shoot from outside the box over the last 12 months, might enjoy coming up against City who, at times, this season have been guilty of not closing down players, in central areas. Victor Moses’ goal in the Hammers’ 1-2 victory at the Etihad earlier this season, can be a source of inspiration for Coutinho when coming up against Pellegrini’s men.
Yes, Coutinho is lethal when shooting from outside the 18-yard box, but City will be aware of it, following the Brazilian’s thunderous strike in the home side’s 2-1 win at Anfield last season. But it cannot just be about giving the ball to Coutinho and him shooting every time he gets it, from Liverpool’s perspective. They need someone to forge an understanding with Coutinho and work as a partnership, against City.
Christian Benteke could be an ideal foil for Coutinho, with his ability to stand strong, hold the ball and link up play. Coutinho could actually play the ball into Benteke’s feet, and have him doing layoffs or playing those neat one-twos. Benteke, with his aerial ability, could be another option to bring the best out of Coutinho, if Liverpool want to go direct and build their game plan around the Belgian centre-forward. Coutinho has a pass accuracy of only 80% in 11 league appearances this season, but he ought to do better against City in that aspect of his game. Crossing the ball and finding Benteke in the box, to bully the probable City centre-backs in Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi, will probably be one of Liverpool’s tactics on Saturday. And for it to materialise, Coutinho has to come good and pass with better accuracy than he has in the season so far.
The Brazilian has been given a free role in which he has thrived under Klopp. And the German manager ought to stick with that tactic for tomorrow’s game. There may be the temptation, when visiting the home of the league leaders who have averaged 2.16 goals/game in the league, to keep things tight and prioritize defending. But at the Etihad, City usually do find a way through parked buses and heavily packed defences. Liverpool’s best chance to beat City is if their attacking players’ wings are not clipped and allowed to express themselves, and that includes Coutinho too.
Coutinho has to come good if Liverpool are to repeat their Stamford Bridge heroics before the international break. It was the Brazilian who came up with the game-changing equaliser on the stroke of half-time, and then the second goal early in the second 45′. Liverpool have offered nothing going forward whenever Coutinho has not been in his groove, or played, like against the Red Devils. And with the likes of Roberto Firmino, yet another creative midfielder, still to come good for the Scousers, Coutinho has to lead from the front and make his presence felt against City.