Coutinho adapts exceptionally to a deeper central midfield role…
It’s pretty clear that Liverpool are suffering a central midfield injury crisis right now…
With Joe Allen and Lucas out, Brendan Rodgers has only the ever-improving Jordan Henderson and stalwart captain Steven Gerrard to choose from as natural central midfield options.
To emphasise this point, let’s take a look at Liverpool’s bench against Everton last time out:
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 28, 2014
Not one of these (very average) players can do a job in central midfield for a club with genuine top four ambitions.
Rodgers prefers to play with three in the middle, so with only Henderson and Gerrard to choose from, this is a serious problem to his side’s balance and structure.
Against Aston Villa in the Reds’ previous Premier League fixture, the boss decided to combat his injury problems by switching to a 4-4-2 formation, trusting Gerrard and Henderson to play as traditional central midfielders, leaving Lucas (who had a niggle) on the bench.
It looked something like this:
Before 40 minutes, Liverpool were 2-0 down, and had been totally outplayed, out passed and overrun by a rampant Villa side. Gerrard struggled badly to deal with Villa’s three central midfielders closing him down at every opportunity, and eventually Rodgers was forced to bring Lucas on to solidify the team.
Liverpool battled back to a 2-2 draw, (not before Lucas left the field with an aggravated injury) but it was clear that 4-4-2 simply didn’t suit his players attributes, or his side’s possession brand of football.
With no other central midfielders to choose from though, Rodgers (knowing he had to revert back to his favoured style for the Merseyside derby) selected Coutinho as one of the three central midfielders.
This meant Suarez and Sturridge rotated between the forward berth and the left-wing spot, giving the team its natural 4-3-3 shape.
In what will go down as one of Liverpool’s greatest Merseyside derby victories, the Reds battered the visitors 4-0, with Coutinho particularly sublime.
The Brazilian is lightweight, and is more comfortable being used as a genuine no.10, or cutting in from the left wing to link up with the forwards.
He’s never played as a deep central midfielder for Liverpool before, but he did so with aplomb against Everton.
Here’s how it differed from the Villa lineup:
As much as Rodgers deserves credit for trusting Coutinho in the pivotal central midfield position, the player himself should be applauded for how fantastically he adapted to the role.
The Brazilian, was quite simply, magnificent.
With Gerrard and Henderson sitting deeper, anchoring the side, Coutinho found space in the middle and used his mesmeric dribbling ability to drive forward. The Brazilian used clever flicks and deft touches to open up space in the centre, before quickly darting forward with the ball at his feet. He was too quick for Villa’s central midfielders, and he was playing deep enough that he had plenty of space in front of him from which he could create.
Coutinho showed just how effective he was in this position to assist Liverpool’s second goal. Picking up possession around the halfway line, he skipper past a defender before sliding Daniel Sturridge through on goal with an intricate through-ball.
To everyone’s surprise though, Coutinho handled himself physically, too. Against Gareth Barry and Ross Barkley, the Brazilian never shied away from a challenge, and enjoyed the aggression of the Merseyside derby as much as any player on the field. He isn’t strong, but he has the technical capability to get his body between the opposing player and the ball, meaning he can either draw fouls or shield the ball long enough to select the right pass.
The Brazilian had actually come under criticism in recent weeks for giving the ball away too many times between his flashes of brilliance, but against Everton, he looked matured and composed – fully aware of his role in the side.
Liverpool do need one of their holding midfielders to return to fitness, but for now – Rodgers knows he has the wonderfully talented Coutinho to call upon in a deeper midfield role…
This option may previously have seemed defensively suicidal.