Monday, 13 January 2014
Everything but the goals
When Coutinho arrived from Internazionale last winter he revived Liverpool. Sturridge was welcomed too. Goalscorers always are. But there was something about Coutinho. Here, for the first time in a long-time, was a Liverpool player who could skip past defenders. Whose flicks took one's breath away. Whose passing in and around the box made Anfield gasp. To use a term from across Stanley Park, here was the golden vision - how could he see the things he saw on the pitch let alone makes those passes.
Yes, Sturridge would be loved at Anfield. Coutinho would be adored.
Down the other end of the East Lancs Road, Manchester United fans are - rightly - raving about Januzaj. He has it all. Coutinho has everything too. Everything but the goals.
The problem is his lack of goals seem to be affecting him. In that run-in last season, it was routine to see his slide-rule passes, the little switchbacks behind him and those heat-seeking passes through crowded penalty boxes. It was assumed that as he settled, with a pre-season behind him, and with a greater understanding with Sturridge and Suarez this would be Coutinho's season.
Liverpool have, in recent weeks, been in swashbuckling forms. A disgusting performance at Hull has been followed with thumpings of Norwich, West Ham and Spurs and a five goal brain-frazzler against Stoke. That series has been peppered with comfortable wins against Oldham and Cardiff and revenge against Hull. The loss against Chelsea was the main dip in performance as even the game against City saw Liverpool singing sweetly.
In that time Suarez has been outrageous. Henderson and Sterling have excelled and, until his injury, Allen looked like the player he was at Swansea. But what of Coutinho?
His greatest asset - that surgical final ball and precision passing - hasn't quite been at his usual standards. Those geeks who obsess over possession stats will no doubt be able to prove this or that but the nature of such a passer is he will give the ball away as he takes more risks with his passing. The difference, in recent weeks, seems to be those risks paying off less often.
Perhaps, most obviously, his shooting has been dim. Playing alongside in form players and, in particular, two of the most in form strikers in world football should have led to more goals for the young Brazilian.
It seems clear that Coutinho's confidence is being undermined by his shooting issues. He often makes fine, clever runs only to miss a relatively simple chance. Too often he shoots when he should pass and, when he does shoot, his attempts are either limp and insipid or endanger the life of those on row K and above in the Kop.
So what to do? One of Rodgers' strengths is the ability to bring the best out of a player low on confidence - Allen, Henderson and Sterling all attest to that. Rodgers' next challenge is to do the same with Coutinho. He's too good a player not to be firing on all cylinders in the race for fourth. If Rodgers is serious about a title challenge - and it isn't so ludicrous despite the relative paucity of Liverpool's squad to City and Chelsea in particular - he cannot afford a player of Coutinho's undoubted quality to continue to miss so many chances.
Perhaps, with Sturridge back, the option should be to rest Coutinho. In training work on his shooting in training and give the youngster some rest over the next few weeks. That isn't to argue to freeze him out of the squad on a permanent basis. He should be on the bench and should be encouraged to wreak havoc late in games. That might boost his confidence more than continued subdued starts.
Coutinho is a fine player and has the potential to be a brilliant one. Such talent needs careful handling. As Sterling has shown, young players can benefit from a period of rest. Perhaps, in the short-term, that is what Coutinho needs. Liverpool will reap the benefits in the long-run.