Coutinho eager to add more goals to his game

The Brazilian playmaker has enjoyed a superb season for the Reds but remains determined to improve his goalscoring record, having hit just 13 in 92 games for the club


Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho admits he must add more goals to his game as he strives to match Europe’s elite players.

The Brazilian playmaker has been in outstanding form this season but has scored just five times in all competitions as the club have attempted to qualify for the Champions League for the second season in a row.

In total, Coutinho has netted just 13 goals in 92 games since joining the Reds from Inter in January 2013, and the 22-year-old insists he is determined to improve his record in the coming months.

He told Liverpool’s official website: “I think I still have to improve. I have not improved yet. I scored a few goals last month but I need to improve.

“I have this ambition, this objective of improving finishing. In the position I play, I need to score goals to help the team and create plays. Therefore I must improve my goalscoring skills.”

26

03 2015
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Rodgers and Liverpool turn Coutinho into the Premier League's great entertainer

COMMENT: A return to form – and the bravery to try the outrageous – has helped the Brazilian and the Reds re-emerge as contenders in 2015


By Liam Twomey

For Brendan Rodgers, Sunday’s pulsating win over Manchester City at Anfield must have felt like validation. After a five-month identity crisis followed by almost three months of solid progress, Liverpool’s best performance of the post-Luis Suarez era finally yielded a statement result.

That Philippe Coutinho should be the one to score a brilliant winner was especially fitting. Only 11 months ago the Brazilian pounced on a Vincent Kompany error to vanquish the same opponents and set Liverpool on course for a first league title in 24 years with four matches left. A fortnight later Jose Mourinho intervened, glory slipped away and in the summer that followed, talisman Suarez departed for Barcelona.

The fortunes of Coutinho and Liverpool have been intertwined ever since. Shorn of Suarez, plunged into expensive rebuilding and deprived of the injured Daniel Sturridge, an attacking system founded on lightning transitions and relentless motion lost all capacity and conviction. Now Rodgers’ men are back, the form team of the Premier League, and their Brazilian No.10 is the best and most exciting player in England in 2015.

Coutinho suffered as much as anyone during Liverpool’s slump, creating just 10 chances from open play before the turn of the year for a side that netted just 26 goals in its first 19 Premier League games, compared to 44 at the same stage last season. The New Year has seen him create 16 chances from open play in just eight matches – a better total than Cesc Fabregas and Mesut Ozil and on par with Christian Eriksen and David Silva. 


                                                                                                *Since January 1. Stats provided by Opta

Much of the credit must go to Rodgers for implementing a fluid 3-4-3 system that has again surrounded Coutinho with the pace and width he needs. “I think that period the team suffered at the start of the season, with our lack of penetration at the top of the field – he is the player that thrives on that,” the Liverpool boss admitted earlier this week. “He is normally the player that makes the last pass for those players running in to score the goals.

“We didn’t quite have that in the opening months. He had to stay longer on the ball and wasn’t as effective, but now the dynamics in the team are very good, with the pressing and the movement off the ball.”

Coutinho is not a possession footballer. He is a gambler in the most thrilling sense, one whose first thought is to commit defenders with a clever feint, driving run or incisive pass. It is telling that as his best form has returned and his productivity in terms of chance creation has increased, his pass accuracy in the final third has significantly dipped. After all, there is no reward – and precious little entertainment – without risk.

Passion and industry command instant respect in English football but it is the audacity of flamboyant talent that truly wins hearts. Gianfranco Zola and Dennis Bergkamp had their legacies defined more by the moments their genius created on the pitch than trophies won or other more tangible achievements. Coutinho is already known around Anfield as “The Little Magician” and, at 22, has plenty of time and room to grow.

“He offers that gold dust to how we play,” Rodgers added. “If you see videos of him playing futsal when he was 11 or 12 in Brazil, he’s playing the same game now only as an adult. We knew he had ability, it was just about trusting that ability and allowing it to grow. He has a beautiful arrogance on the ball, his touch is magical but he’s effective and efficient with it. Playing here at Liverpool, with the dynamics of how we want to work, is perfect for him.”

One obvious area of improvement is goalscoring. Coutinho has never netted more than five in a season and last month revealed he routinely stays behind at Melwood after training to work on his finishing. Two sensational long-range strikes in a week – taking his season’s tally to four – suggest progress is being made.

“He is a player that has always assisted and made the final pass in his career,” Rodgers insisted. “He is a very selfless player and a very humble young guy and would rather create for others. But his technique is at a high, high level so he is going to score more goals.”

If he does, Coutinho shows every sign of becoming a genuine superstar, and the new contract keeping him at Anfield until the summer of 2020 is an even better business move than the £8.5 million that brought him from Inter in January 2013. “It’s frightening to know what he could be worth now,” Rodgers admits.

One can only hope the moments he goes on to create remain every bit as priceless.

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04

03 2015
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Coutinho ready to make Brazil impact – Allen

The in-form Liverpool star scored a sensational goal to seal a 2-1 victory over Man City and his team-mate says he has taken his performances to “the next level”

Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen is impressed by the way in which team-mate Philippe Coutinho has reached “the next level” and has tipped the in-form star to make a big impact with Brazil’s national team.

The former Inter player put in a stellar performance against Manchester City at Anfield, scoring a sensational winner to seal a 2-1 victory, continuing his excellent run of performances since the turn of the year.

Coutinho also netted the winner in the corresponding fixture last season and his latest strike added to further recent wonder-goals against Bolton and Southampton.

The 22-year-old, who has five caps, was included in Dunga’s Brazil squad for the recent games against Austria and Turkey, but is yet to start a match under the new national coach. He was not selected for Luiz Felipe Scolari’s World Cup squad on home soil last summer

“He is so good,” an admiring Allen told the Liverpool Echo. “The Brazilian team is obviously full of talent but he has to be really pushing for that. With his performances recently, Philippe has taken things to the next level. 

“Working with him day in, day out, he shows his quality every time he trains and plays and he scored a superb winner to get us the three points.

“He’s skilful and very versatile. He can play in different positions and teams are struggling to deal with him.

“Why has he started scoring? I think it is confidence. That’s a huge thing in football. The ability has always been there and technically he is right up there.

“I think some people forget how young he is at times. He is a young player getting better all the time.

“He is showing that goals are part of his game. He was always on this path. Those of us who work with him on a daily basis, we always knew he was going to kick on and reach this kind of level.”

02

03 2015
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Coutinho exposes Yaya Toure and Manchester City's soft centre

The Brazilian ran through the Premier League champions’ midfield at will, with Yaya Toure failing to get to grips with him and leaving Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala exposed


COMMENT
By Peter Staunton at Anfield

There are moments of magic but sometimes there are 90 full minutes’ worth. Philippe Coutinho arguably produced his finest display in a Liverpool shirt to inspire his side to victory against Manchester City at Anfield and bolster the Reds’s bid for Champions League qualification.

There was a sensational piece of brilliance for the winning goal and more besides. It was a display which had his manager deliver fulsome praise. “He is a joy to watch,” Brendan Rodgers told reporters. “He is a kid who has so much ahead of him in the game. He is a sensational footballer. To beat Joe Hart at that angle and power was a phenomenal shot.”

Coutinho was everything those in blue were not. He was energetic. He was positive with the ball at his feet. He made repeated inroads straight through the midfield. He was the man who made most of the difference, but Liverpool had plenty besides. Adam Lallana gave a display which reminded why Rodgers had paid £25 million for him, while Joe Allen, in the midfield where Steven Gerrard would usually patrol, was efficient and composed.

This is a Liverpool formation, however, which caters to Coutinho’s strengths. Last week, in another big game, he produced the goods early on against Southampton. Here, his goal which decided the outcome came much later. It was no less impressive.

After squaring up Pablo Zabaleta, the Brazilian curled a brilliant effort past the despairing grasp of Joe Hart. It was the type of hero moment that is usually reserved for the true difference-makers. For Liverpool, Coutinho is rapidly becoming just that.

“He is a player that has always assisted and made the final pass in his career,” said Rodgers. “He is a very selfless player and a very humble young guy and would rather create for others. We are encouraging him.

“He has a wonderful body movement around the box, he doesn’t need many touches to shift it and shoot. His technique is at a high, high level so he is going to score more goals. He is now arriving into the areas. He starting to get success and that encourages him to shoot more.”

Rodgers was left facing awkward questions during the week when he left Coutinho and Henderson out of his lineup to face Besiktas in the Europa League, with Steven Gerrard out injured. That particular gamble backfired. Liverpool were edged out on penalties, meaning their league position alone was going to be the only determining factor in their quest for the Champions League.

It was a calculated gamble in that respect because, even though the Reds struggled to make chances in Istanbul, they were restored to their effervescent best with Coutinho back in the lineup.

The squad did not arrive back in the country until early Friday morning but you would have assumed that it was City and not Liverpool who were jetlagged.

“Some of you guys feel what it was like getting back at half four in the morning and back home at six o’clock,” Rodgers told the press pack. “To prepare yourself for a game against the champions is no mean feat. You have to take your hat off to them; the performance was at a real top level. I have nothing but admiration.”

It was Coutinho who provided the early wizardry. He crossed for Lallana, who finished tidily albeit from an offside position. It was Coutinho who then enticed Vincent Kompany into a challenge on the halfway line which the City captain hopelessly misjudged. A couple of quick passes between himself and Raheem Sterling later and Henderson had given Liverpool the lead.

There was another ingenious pass with the outside of his foot shortly afterwards, to Sterling, which bent exactly to his will. Sterling squared up Eliaquim Mangala but his finish was lacking.

Sterling, as a withdrawn frontman, fared better physically than might be expected. Indeed, he even managed to bump Kompany to the ground with a robust shoulder challenge. This type of formation, however, is designed to smoke City’s imposing twin towers out from their centre-back stations and tempt them into winning the ball further up the field.

With Yaya Toure inept and unwilling to protect them from midfield, it was a plot which worked perfectly. Kompany and Mangala are no ballet dancers and are not nimble nor quick enough to operate comfortably in that part of the pitch.

That set the tone for much of City’s display. They recorded one measly shot on target, from which they scored through Edin Dzeko, and never showed the spark or creativity which brought them the title last season.

Liverpool’s 3-2 defeat of City here last season left them favourites to win the title before their end of season collapse. This time around, the Reds are gathering momentum as the season draws to a close. They have won eight and drawn three of their 11 league games since losing to Manchester United in December. It is Rodgers’s side who have the momentum and are looking a good bet to return to the Champions League this season.

“We have to concentrate on the next game and focus on the performance level,” said the manager. “Like last season, we need to finish as high as we can. If we can get into the top four, it is a bigger achievement than last season because of our starting position. We need to keep collecting the points.”

01

03 2015
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Coutinho worth big money – Rodgers

The midfielder capped a marvellous performance against Manchester City on Sunday with a sensational winning goal, leading his manager to sing his praises


Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers says that Philippe Coutinho is now worth a “frightening amount of money” after his sensational winner in the 2-1 win over Manchester City.

The Brazilian has been in superb form in 2015 and ran the show on Sunday as the Reds moved up to fifth in the Premier League with a 2-1 victory against the defending champions.

His thunderous second-half finish confirmed the home side’s dominance at Anfield, leading Rodgers to suggest his market value has increased significantly in recent months.

“Coutinho is a joy to watch,” the Reds boss told reporters of the 22-year-old. “He’s a kid who has so much ahead of him in the game. He’s a sensational footballer.

“He is very selfless and very humble, always creates for others. He has wonderful body movement around the edge of the box.

“He’s a star in the Premier League but there are improvements he can make. He’s a young player, playing at club that adores him.

“We bought him in for €11.7 million [in January 2013] … it’s frightening to think what he’d be worth now.”

Rodgers was delighted with the game as a whole, declaring: “It was a brilliant result and a brilliant performance. The players were relentless.”

01

03 2015
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Sterling, Coutinho and Lallana face fitness race for Tottenham clash

Two were substituted during Saturday’s Merseyside derby while the former Southampton star missed it altogether, but Brendan Rodgers hopes to have all three available on Tuesday


Liverpool will give late fitness checks to Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana ahead of Tuesday’s Premier League game against Tottenham.

Brazilian midfielder Coutinho lasted 56 minutes of Saturday’s Merseyside derby against Everton before coming off with a knee injury, while winger Sterling was also substituted in the closing stages due to a foot problem.

Lallana was not included for the trip to Goodison Park, the former Southampton man having been troubled by a calf complaint, but manager Brendan Rodgers is hopeful that all three could be fit when Spurs visit Anfield.

“Phil Coutinho had a knock on his knee and Raheem had a knock on his foot,” Rodgers told the club’s official website.

“We had fresh players on the bench to bring on and hopefully they will be fit for Tuesday.”

On Lallana, the manager added: “We need to see how he is but he has a big possibility for Tuesday.”

09

02 2015
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Neymar: Coutinho can become Liverpool's new Suarez

The Barcelona forward, who has known the playmaker since they were young, backs his compatriot to fill the creative void left by the Uruguayan at Anfield


Barcelona star Neymar is convinced that Philippe Coutinho can become the best player in the Premier League and step up as Liverpool’s new Luis Suarez.

The 22-year-old playmaker struck the winning goal for the Reds in their FA Cup tie against Bolton, curling a long-range shot into the top corner, and is becoming increasingly influential – even likened to Uruguay ace Suarez by Brendan Rodgers.

Neymar believes that the Merseysiders have missed a spark of creativity since Suarez joined him at Camp Nou but is confident that Coutinho can take over that mantle.

“We have been good friends since we were 16. Not only is he a fantastic player, he is a good guy to have in the dressing room, always positive and making jokes,” the forward is quoted as saying by the Daily Mirror.

“I think, since Luis joined us at Barcelona, Liverpool have not had that one player they can look to for that special moment.

“Couto can be that player for them, I’m sure. When he has the ball at his feet, he can make things happen for himself and he can make things happen for other players. He is a very special player.”

Coutinho was overlooked for Brazil’s squad for the World Cup last summer but new boss Dunga has returned him to the fold and Neymar hopes that he can make a big impact.

The Barca star added: “The national steam is very strong but, the way he is playing for Liverpool, I’m sure he will be a big part of Brazil going forward.”

06

02 2015
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Sturridge the perfect spearhead for new-look Liverpool

ANALYSIS: The England striker will dovetail with Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho, who themselves are striking up a dazzling understanding, for the rest of the season


By Greg Lea

For a split second there was silence, until one small corner of Anfield erupted with joy. The delay was likely a combination of distance from the event and sheer shock, with Phil Jagielka the unlikely scorer of a sensational 30-yard half-volley that flew into Simon Mignolet’s top corner before the Liverpool goalkeeper could react. Everton had a last-minute equaliser in the Merseyside derby, and Liverpool’s sluggish start to the season continued.

That was back in September and, while only one point separated the rivals following that encounter, the pair appear to be heading in divergent directions. Despite last weekend’s gritty 1-0 defeat of Crystal Palace, the Toffees are in lower mid-table; Brendan Rodgers’ side, conversely, are just four points and three places outside the top four after a run of seven league games without defeat. With Daniel Sturridge set to return to the starting XI for the first time since August, Liverpool are on an upward trajectory.

The Reds’ indifferent first half of the campaign was largely attributed to the sale of Luis Suarez and the failure to adequately replace him, but Sturridge’s absence cannot be discounted. Indeed, Liverpool were not just suffering from the loss of last season’s top scorer in the shape of the Uruguayan, but also the Englishman who contributed 21 Premier League goals and seven assists.

Although Sturridge was often deployed out wide early in his career, he will play as a central striker against Everton on Saturday. His 20-minute cameo and excellent finish against West Ham last weekend was enough evidence of his potential as the focal point of Liverpool’s new-look 3-4-3.


                                                                                                       *Since Sturridge joined Liverpool

Since Rodgers shifted to that formation in mid-December, the team have recaptured some of the energy and pace that almost carried them to the title in 2013-14. Such a configuration – which is used by the likes of Marcelo Bielsa at Marseille and Genoa’s Gian Piero Gasperini – tends to be based on speed, verticality and dynamic flurries of movement. That description also fits the Liverpool of last season, who at their best were a rapid counter-attacking outfit who focused on the quick circulation of ball and players.

Phillipe Coutinho, Lazar Markovic, Emre Can, Mamadou Sakho, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling are some of the names who have benefited from the tactical change. Sterling has been fielded as a central striker and, while his movement and general play has been excellent, Sturridge will prove a more natural fit.

In some ways, the 25-year-old’s interpretation of the role will not be too different to Sterling’s. Sturridge is much more than just a fox in the box, capable of dropping deep and wide to get on the ball and happy to interchange fluidly with Liverpool’s other forwards. His average positions in his three Premier League appearances this term indicate someone who, while clearly a centre-forward, is happy to drift across the line.

Sturridge, however, will provide more of a cutting edge, bringing a natural striker’s instinct to the line-up while also offering the thrust and mobility lacking in Liverpool’s other options Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli.

The prospect of the new SAS linking up with Coutinho once more is exciting. The Brazilian, along with Adam Lallana, has largely played as an inside forward since the move to 3-4-3; Coutinho has been Liverpool’s creative hub in recent weeks, finding room in between the lines to feed his team-mates in dangerous positions. His assist for Sturridge against West Ham may have looked a simple enough ball, but it was typical of the 22-year-old: picking the ball up in space, dribbling forward with quick feet and supplying an accurate pass. Not to mention the quick thinking which played in Sterling for the first.

The Coutinho-Sterling-Sturridge triumvirate was a productive one last year. Coutinho provided six assists for the pair, while Sterling laid on three goals for the other two. It is interesting to note how much more Sterling and Coutinho have linked up so far this season, however. According to Opta, the Brazilian played 97 passes to his team-mate all throughout 2013-14, with Sterling returning the favour with 85; since August, those figures read 116 and 80 respectively, with 15 top-flight games still to play. If the duo can continue to combine as well as creating chances for Sturridge, things bode extremely well for the red half of Merseyside.
 
Liverpool go into Saturday’s clash without having tasted a Premier League defeat since they went down 3-0 to Manchester United on December 14, the first time that Rodgers set his side out in a 3-4-3. That comprehensive scoreline did not really tell the full story: the Reds put in a decent performance as Sterling – who got himself into good goalscoring positions but lacked a natural frontman’s finishing touch – missed four excellent chances.

As Liverpool prepare to take on another rival in Everton this weekend, Sturridge will surely not make the same mistake.

06

02 2015
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Rodgers: Coutinho is our new Suarez

The Brazilian curled in an injury-time winner to send his team into the FA Cup fifth round, with his manager hailing him as an inspiration for younger players


Brendan Rodgers has compared Philippe Coutinho to Luis Suarez after the Brazilian’s late stunner saw Liverpool reach the FA Cup fifth round.

Late goals from Raheem Sterling and Coutinho cancelled out Eidur Gudjohnsen’s earlier opener for Bolton, who had Neil Danns sent off when they led 1-0.

And Rodgers lavished praise on Coutinho after the game, predicting the former Inter man to match Suarez’s “world-class” talent in the years to come.

“You just pay money to watch that kid,” he told reporters.

“Watch how he plays football. He can be a great role model for young British players who, for many years, may have been discarded because they didn’t have the stature. He’ll become world-class in the next few years.

“With Luis Suarez, he was at a level when he played in this team, and he grew with the model before getting into that world-class bracket.

“I can see Coutinho following in a similar sort of line. He may not be as prolific but he’s on his way to that level. He’s a wonderful player.”

It was a nervy end for Liverpool, who were staring at an embarrassing exit, until an exquisite pass from Can after 86 minutes set up Sterling for the equaliser – and Rodgers singled out the summer signing.

He added: “He’s a kid that’s going to go on and be a big player for this team and Germany. He can defend, pass, he’s quick, he’s powerful. A lot of these young players are standing up to be counted now.”

Liverpool now travel to Crystal Palace on February 14 for a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals, with Rodgers noting the 3-1 Premier League loss at Selhurst Park in November.

“[Going back] is a great thing,” he said. “We didn’t play anywhere near our level and that the lowest point of the season in terms of performance.

“We go back there very soon with a different frame of mind and level of performance. Alan has lifted the club since he’s gone there but we go with big confidence.”

04

02 2015
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Rodgers: Coutinho can become Liverpool's Modric or Kroos

The former Inter man has struggled for goals this season but his manager claims his all-round impact on matches has been highly impressive


Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has hailed Philippe Coutinho, comparing the midfielder to Real Madrid pair Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

The former Inter man signed a new contract with the Anfield outfit on Tuesday that saw him commit his future to the Reds until 2020.

And Rodgers does not feel that the 22-year-old needs to improve his goalscoring record to be a success given how Modric and Kroos have advanced their careers.

“If you look at that type of player he is, you look at Modric,” he told reporters.

“He doesn’t have a big goalscoring record, but he is a world-class player, a continuity player. He can make passes and put the ball in behind and he gets the odd goal from outside the box.

“He is a top-class player who can create the game who is so important in opening up doors for the team.

“Toni Kroos is another of that type; a wonderful footballer and great passer.

“They maybe don’t get as many goals for what their technique is, but their role is to sit behind the ball and create goals for others.

“Their role is not to score 20 a season. Phil’s numbers will improve, but it is not the be all and end all if he doesn’t get 20 a season.”

The Brazil international has found the net on just two occasions this season, though his all-round performances in recent weeks have caught the eye.

And Rodgers is under no doubt that the the greater responsibility the player is showing in attacking areas will lead to more goals.

“He has a wonderful strike on him, so it will be about arriving into areas where he can make movements without the ball.

“There are areas to improve in the accuracy on his shooting; he has a wonderful move to work the space but at times you see him dragging the shot.

“At the minute I don’t have too many complaints about him as he’s pressing the game really well, he is being aggressive in hunting the ball and his two assists at the weekend were sublime.

“Hopefully in years to come the goals will come more readily for him.”

04

02 2015
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