On a bright Sunday afternoon in North London, Liverpool faced a stuttering Arsenal side at the Emirates stadium. Despite having a more balanced side, with fewer first team players out of action, the Merseysiders struggled to get the ball rolling and paid the price for their disjointedness by conceding a goal that ought to have been avoided in the 35th minute. As they approached the interval, they desperately seeked a moment of inspiration.
Up stepped Philippe Coutinho, the Brazilian wizard, as labelled by the Anfield faithful at the stroke of half time. Having been brought down by Rob Holding thirty yards away from goal, the former Inter Milan midfielder assessed his options from a range that looked far from promising for anyone, let alone him. This, keeping in mind there was a vastly experienced goalkeeper in Petr Cech marshalling his troops and manning his fort.
He was anything but fazed by the task at hand. With one swing of his boot, Coutinho delivered an inch perfect free kick into Cech’s top right hand corner and sent the travelling support at the other end of the pitch into raptures. Not only did this knock the wind out of the home side’s sails, it proved to be the catalyst of an almighty defensive capitulation for them in the second half, the conquest of which was masterminded by the magician himself. Coutinho’s was instrumental in Liverpool’s second goal and scored the third himself to cap a glorious outing on the opening day of the new Premier League season.
The previous opening day of Liverpool’s domestic campaign too was characterized by a moment of magic from the Brazilian. A long range screamer right at the death condemned Stoke City to a home defeat in what otherwise was a dull contest. With the Arsenal game used as a metric for comparison, it is certainly ideal to highlight the manner in which he orchestrated a similar response to being a goal down when Liverpool beat Chelsea 3-1 at Stamford Bridge last season. Coutinho left two Chelsea defenders for dead with some dazzling footwork and curled an excellent shot past Asmir Begovic to level the scores at the cusp of half time.
His combination play with fellow Brazilian, Roberto Firmino ripped Manchester City to shreds at the Etihad stadium in November 2015. He shimmied past Guillermo Varela and bamboozled David de Gea with a neat dink at Old Trafford to end Manchester United’s Europa League hopes right when it appeared they were in control of the second leg. He was instrumental in galvanizing his side’s fortitude and spirit in their remarkable 4-3 win against Borussia Dortmund at Anfield in the same competition. Time and time again, Coutinho has swung his wand and inspired his team to great effect and there is a buzz around the red half of Merseyside that this might be his best season to date.
Jürgen Klopp had three quarters of last season to identify his best players and make the most of a squad assembled by his predecessor, Brendan Rodgers. While his philosophy is predicated on an unparalleled degree of work off the ball, it is how he catches his opponents off guard with quick, explosive attacking moves that excites fans and pundits alike. The presence of a skilful attacking maestro is considered imperative for this system to work and Coutinho ticks that box. Be it a trio of attacking midfielders exemplified by the False 9 system or a quartet of attack minded players, led by a centre-forward, Coutinho is a constant threat to the rearguard of any side as his ability to dribble past players and test the goalkeeper with the occasional long ranger is unmatched in the Premier League.
The Brazilian has had a few injury concerns in the past although they haven’t been overly detrimental to him in his capacity as a footballer. It is his game changing moments that have been lauded and with no European football at Anfield this season, Coutinho could carry the Liverpool gauntlet and lead the line as they search for a Champions League place amidst cup glory. The little magician seldom fails to excite and this year could yet see him integrate himself with the world’s best. Exciting times ahead for the Brazilian and Liverpool Football Club.