Why goal-threat Coutinho is what Liverpool really need in January

ANALYSIS
By David Lynch

When Brendan Rodgers arrived at Liverpool over the summer alongside his Swansea protégé Joe Allen, it is doubtful that the 39-year-old believed he had inherited a problematic midfield. His new club already possessed a top-notch holding man in Lucas Leiva, a world-class attacking midfielder in Steven Gerrard and, having purchased Allen, the presence which could knit these two talents together.

The bonus signing of Nuri Sahin and Jordan Henderson’s decision to stay and fight for his place meant the middle of the park actually appeared to be the single most well-stocked area of the squad. But, a setback in the form of a two-month lay-off for Lucas early in the season soon put paid to that theory.
Gerrard and Allen’s roles changed significantly during this period, as the pair were asked to drop deep whilst Jonjo Shelvey took on attacking duties. Unfortunately for the Welsh half of that holding duo, only Gerrard has seen off the challenge of Lucas’ return – but the most significant factor for Liverpool as a whole is that he has not reverted to an attacking role.

Gerrard and Liverpool’s benchmark-setting season in the Premier League era was arguably in 2008-09, as they finished just four points behind eventual champions Manchester United after a thrilling title chase. The Huyton-born captain excelled playing behind Fernando Torres as the Reds flourished that term; therefore it provides the best statistical evidence of the 32-year-old’s evolving responsibilities.

As is to be expected under a manager who prioritises ball retention, Liverpool’s possession statistics are up even on that unparalleled season, with the Reds completing an average of 534 passes per game as opposed to 513 in 08-09. Predictably, Gerrard is no different in that regard, averaging 74 passes per game in comparison to the 64 he produced four seasons ago.

The most telling figure, however, is that Gerrard has made 36 per cent of his numerous passes this season from the defensive third, whilst just 23% came from that area in 2008-09. The midfielder is undoubtedly moving deeper as age catches up with him and, despite being just one short of the career-best nine assists he provided in 2008-09, his gradual retreat has caused one sizeable issue this season; a huge void behind the strikers.

Both Henderson and Allen have been experimented at the peak of the midfield, but neither is an attacking midfielder in its classic definition, having scored just seven and four career Premier League goals respectively. But if Rodgers wants his midfield to continue functioning – and, in recent weeks, it has been doing so for the first time since his arrival – the goal haul of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez must be supplemented from elsewhere. Thus, the pursuit of Inter midfielder Philippe Coutinho makes perfect sense.

KOP WINDOW
TWO OF LIVERPOOL’S TOP TARGETS

COUTINHO

INCE

 CLUB: Inter
NATIONALITY: Brazilian
AGE: 20
POSITION: Winger/No.10
CAREER APPS: 96
CAREER GOALS: 15
 CLUB: Blackpool
NATIONALITY: English 
AGE: 20
POSITION: Winger
CAREER APPS: 79
CAREER GOALS: 23

The Brazilian has played as a No.10 in the past and may well be viewed as the long-term solution in that position but, should he arrive at Anfield this month, it is unlikely he will be given a baptism of fire in a role which is not exactly prevalent in English football. 

Much more likely is that the 20-year-old will be asked to come in from the left, a task he has performed with distinction several times in Italy and during a loan spell at Espanyol last season. Liverpool’s lack of goals from wide may have been masked by their desperate, season-defining pursuit of Sturridge, but with that desire sated, priorities should now shift accordingly.

Over the summer, the Merseyside club allowed Maxi Rodriguez, Dirk Kuyt and Craig Bellamy to depart, despite the trio contributing 20 goals from wide positions last season. So far this campaign, the combined efforts of Raheem Sterling, Stewart Downing, Fabio Borini, Oussama Assaidi and Suso have yielded just six.

Coutinho, meanwhile, has plundered three goals in just 10 starts despite falling out of favour at Inter, and that is undoubtedly the sort of return from the wings which would instantly improve Liverpool. In fact, somewhat incredibly given the club’s ill-advised summer policy, this threat could even be further boosted by the addition of a decidedly more long-term target in the shape of Tom Ince.

The former Reds trainee has scored 13 goals and provided 10 assists this term, statistics which far surpass those of the £15 million-rated Wilfried Zaha (even if they have come in the second tier of English football). Most encouragingly though, Ince has taken 72 shots in order to net on 13 occasions, a conversion rate of 18% which Liverpool’s most clinical winger in terms of shots-to-goals this season, Downing, comes nowhere near at 5%.

Barring a late twist in January – one which is entirely possible given the frantic nature of the window – Coutinho and Ince are likely to be the Merseysiders’ only remaining additions. But their status as young, talented, hungry players who resolve concerns regarding the current squad is particularly noteworthy for a club who have made headlines for the wrong reasons in recent times.

After years of inexplicably poor decisions in the transfer market, Liverpool might just be about to take control of their own destiny.

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Liverpool target Coutinho hopeful of Inter stay

Liverpool target Philippe Coutinho has outlined his preference to stay at Inter.

The 20-year-old attacking midfielder has been the subject of interest from the Reds, whose hopes of signing his now-former San Siro team-mate, Wesley Sneijder, were dashed when the Dutchman opted to join Galatasaray.

Reports had linked Brendan Rodgers’s side with an £8 million bid for the starlet that was rejected by the Nerazzurri.

“I don’t feel that I’m on my way out,” Coutinho told Sky Sport 24.

“I hope to stay at Inter. I feel the coach and the club trust me.

“Now I’m focused only on doing my best in my job and getting back on the field soon.”

The youngster has made only five appearances in Serie A for Andrea Stramaccioni’s side in 2012-13 but impressed during a short-term loan at Espanyol in Spain last season.

If he were to join the Reds, Coutinho would become the Premier League club’s second signing of the January transfer window after the capture of Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea.

Aston Villa have made an approach for Inter starlet Coutinho, says agent

Aston Villa are interested in signing Inter midfielder Philippe Coutinho, according to the player’s agent.

The Brazilian was loaned out to Espanyol last season and has made just five Serie A appearances for the San Siro club this term.

The 20-year-old’s representative, Cacau Barbosa, has now revealed that his client is on the radar of Villans boss Paul Lambert.

“I can confirm Aston Villa made an enquiry,” he told FC Inter News.

“They want him, but with all due respect for the proposal made to Philippe, at this moment there is still nothing concrete to suggest an exit from Inter.”

Coutinho scored on five occasions during his 16-game spell in La Liga last season.

Inter 2-1 Napoli

Last night, Fredy Guarin and Diego Milito helped us to win important match on Giuseppe Meazza, agains’t Napoli. With this win, we are second, trailing behind Juventus 4 points. Philippe Coutinho came into the match in 74′ as a substitute for Diego Milito.

Next match is again a tough one, in Rome, agains’t Lazio. If you’re looking for a betting site, you can bet on Inter via http://topbet.eu/.

Aftermatch statements:
Nagatomo: “We bagged three important points tonight because Napoli are a top team and second place was up for grabs.”
Guarin: “It was a good performance, the goal was important but the best thing was the way the team played. The rehearsed corner? It was a goal that came from Strama. We’d tried it out before.”
Ranocchia: “We all played well, we had to do that to beat a side like Napoli, but now we’ll focus on Lazio. My role in the set piece that led to our opening goal? I had to draw opponents away together with my team-mates to free up space behind us.”
Zanetti: “The most important thing is the way we managed to beat a tough team that runs like clockwork: we won because we showed humility and put in the hard work. It’s a win that proves we’re a strong side, but we know we still have a lot to keep working on.”
Stramaccioni: “We prepared for this game with the aim of stopping Napoli from doing what they are good at, not letting Cavani unleash his quality and limiting Hamsik’s space. We succeeded by going about our jobs very carefully.”
Milito: “We’re happy because we’ve beaten a fantastic team. We got three big points tonight because we know we’ll be battling with Napoli all the way. I’m pleased with the win more than my goal. Perhaps we do lack a bit of consistency but we’ll be in it till the end.”

Highlights:

Tramontana:

Moratti: Coutinho can make the difference against AC Milan

Inter president Massimo Moratti is hopeful that his side can see off AC Milan in the upcoming Derby della Madonnina, and believes young attacker Philippe Coutinho could play a key role.

The Nerazzurri twice defeated their city-rivals in the 2011-12 Serie A campaign, and the supremo has set his sights on yet another victory on Sunday.

“It is possible that Cassano could make the difference, but I personally think that Coutinho could decide the game,” Moratti told reporters.

“You can never tell who are the favourites ahead of the derby. Milan won a difficult away match in midweek, but I think we are on the same level.

“I hope that it will be a great game for the fans. Expectations are high and hopefully we will do well on Sunday evening.”

Sunday’s encounter kicks off at 20:45CET.

Coutinho: Inter want victory over AC Milan

Inter youngster Philippe Coutinho is eagerly anticipating Sunday’s Derby della Madonnina versus AC Milan and expects a difficult match.

The Nerazzurri won the last Serie A encounter against their city-rivals 4-2 back in May, and the Brazilian is hopeful of recording another victory at the weekend.

“The derby’s always a difficult game, hopefully we’ll be able to keep up the form we’ve shown in the last few games and get another win,” Coutinho told reporters.

“I don’t know whether I will start against AC Milan. I hope so, but it’s up to the coach to make the final decision.”

The youngster then looked back on his loan spell at Espanyol in the second half of the 2011-12 campaign, and insisted his time in La Liga has made him a better player.

“Going to Spain has definitely benefited me and then coming back and finding a coach like [Andrea] Stramaccioni gives us all confidence.”

The 20-year-old Coutinho has netted three goals in 10 official appearances for Inter this term.

Goal of the Week: Incisive Drogba wins it with first goal for Shanghai Shenhua

1
DIDIER DROGBA SHANGHAI SHENHUA VS HANGZHOU
50.81%
2
YAKUBU

  GUANGZHOU

VS TIANJIN TEDA 24.41%
3
SHUNSUKE NAKAMURA VEGALTA VS YOKOHOMA 12.06%
4
PHILIPPE COUTINHO HAJDUK SPLIT VS INTER 11.91%
5
OLEG SHATOV ANZHI MAKHACHKALA VS VITESSE ARNHEM 0.81%

Didier Drogba has been crowned the winner of the Goal Show’s Goal of the Week!

The former Chelsea man produced a tidy finish to score his first goal for Shanghai Shenhua in a 5-1 demolition of Hangzhou Greentown – claiming a massive 50.81 per cent of your votes.

In second place with 24.41% was Yakubu who netted for Guangzhou R&F, while former Celtic star Shunsuke Nakamura grabbed third place with 12.06% of the vote.

Philippe Coutinho narrowly missed out on the top three on 11.91%, while Oleg Shatov trailed behind with just 0.81%.

Be sure to tune in next week!

Stay tuned to Goal.com for your chance to vote in the next Goal of the Week competition for the Goal Show.

Drogba's first goal for Shanghai Shenhua or Coutinho's curler for Inter? Pick your Goal of the Week



Former Barcelona and Inter striker Samuel Eto’o won your vote last time out following his wonderful effort in Anzhi Makachkala’s victory over Honved. But who will win this week?

From the latest edition of the Goal Show, we select five goals and ask you to pick your favourite.

1

Philippe Coutinho
Hajduk Split vs Inter

The Brazilian showed a touch of class in front of goal with this sublime curling effort in Inter’s 3-0 Europa Leauge victory over Hajduk Split.

 

2

Oleg Shatov
Anzhi Makachkala vs Vitesse Arnhem

At number two we have yet another Anzhi goal! Following in Lacina Traore and Eto’o’s footsteps last week, Shatov makes his mark with a great finish against Vitesse Arnhem.

3

Didier Drogba
Shanghai Shenhua vs Hangzhou

The former Chelsea favourite is off the mark in China! The Ivorian striker showed all of his power to put Shanghai Shenhua ahead, before he doubled his tally as his side demolished Hangzhou Greentown 5-1.

4

Yakubu
Guangzhou vs Tianjin Teda

At number four we have another Premier League old boy. The former Everton, Portsmouth and Blackburn forward netted his third goal since moving to China, and it’s enough to make our list.

5

Shunsuke Nakamura
Vegalta vs Yokohama

The former Celtic and Espanyol man completes our list of five with his superb effort against Vegalta Sendai.

Coutinho hopes 'phenomenon' Lucas joins Inter

Philippe Coutinho has revealed that he would love to see Inter target Lucas Moura join him at San Siro, describing his fellow Brazilian as “a phenomenon”.

The Nerazzurri appear to be locked in a bidding war with Manchester United for the Sao Paulo starlet, as Red Devils boss Sir Alex Ferguson admitted on Monday that he is keen to lure the attacking midfielder to Old Trafford.

However, Coutinho is praying that Lucas ends up at Appiano Gentile instead.

“He’s a fantastic player, a phenomenon,” the 20-year-old told Tuttosport. “Should he come, he would help us a lot and I hope he arrives.”

For the time being, though, Coutinho is focusing his attentions towards nailing down a regular place in the Inter side after a successful loan spell at Espanyol.

“I have returned from Catalunya stronger,” the attacker enthused. “Playing so many games in a row was fundamental to my growth because it had been so long since I had done that.

“It is important to have self-confidence and feel the support of your environment, but that only comes from playing game after game.

“It makes you feel better and also makes you feel important.”

Inter went through two coaches while Coutinho was in Spain, with Gian Piero Gasperini getting the sack early on last season before his replacement, Claudio Ranieri, made way for Andrea Stramaccioni in March.

Consequently, this feels like a new beginning for Coutinho, who freely admits that he is enjoying working under the Nerazzurri‘s former Primavera boss.

“He talks a lot and not only to me,” he said of Stramaccioni. “He is a coach who is open to us all and disposed to speaking with his players.

“The work that he is doing is very important because he is clearly conveying what he wants from us. From me, for example, he asks for even more attention in defensive phases of play.”

Coutinho, who already has five Brazil caps to his name, netted the only goal of the game in Inter’s Trofeo TIM victory over Juventus at the weekend.

Coutinho happy with Cassano's arrival at Inter

Philippe Coutinho believes that the arrival of Antonio Cassano at Inter will benefit the Nerazzurri, and does not feel it will limit his chances of getting regular first team football.

The young attacker impressed during pre-season with a number of fine performances and he’s desperate to keep on developing this term.

“I’m relaxed about it all, Cassano has come in and I’m happy about it. He’s a great player and it’s a positive signing,” Coutinho stated at a press conference.

“Personally, I just try to do my job and give everything on the pitch. I hope to keep improving and learning all the time.”

The Brazilian then went on to discuss Samuele Longo’s one-year loan move to Espanyol, the same club where Coutinho plied his trade in the second half of the 2011-12 campaign.

“I told Samuele that he can improve a lot at Espanyol, I was made to feel really welcome and I’m sure they’ll do likewise with him because he’s an excellent footballer,” he added.