Could Coutinho find himself frozen out of Klopp’s 1st XI?

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Could Coutinho find himself frozen out of Klopp’s 1st XI?

To say that Philippe Coutinho is a top footballer would be a criminal understatement. The diminutive Brazilian has the kind of ability that can bamboozle defenders and leave spectators speechless, his touch is a thing of unrivalled beauty, his long-range strike a sight to behold. Ever since he strolled into Liverpool he has been nutmegging and jinking by players with the sort of ease one imagines he also ties his laces or combs that hair. Nobody who has watched him ply his trade over the last few seasons would argue that he is not a special talent. His efforts against Southampton, Bolton et al last season were one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak period for the club, giving us a glimmer of hope where none should have existed. That is the calibre of player he is.

Coutinho frozen out of Klopps XI

However, since the conclusion of the 2013/14 season, Philippe has blown both hot and cold in equal measure. Played in a variety of positions in a variety of systems understandably his form fluctuated somewhat. Too often we have seen him played out on the wing, where his contribution to build up play is minimal and his impact on the game is softened. This is squarely down to the previous manager- Coutinho can hardly be blamed for that- but too often (when played in a central position) have we also seen the player himself waste a promising move with a speculative 25 yard effort, or hesitate to pull the trigger on a killer pass. At times it can appear that he does not trust his team-mates, that the lack of Sterling or a Suarez unsettles him and allows doubt to creep into his mind, but the cause of his somewhat temperamental form could lie in the fact that despite looking like a typical number 10, his optimum position actually lies deeper.

During the latter half of the aforementioned 2013/14 season, Coutinho mostly operated on the left side of the diamond, this meant that when he had the ball at his feet, he had passes on to Henderson, Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling on, the protection that Stevie offered behind him meant that he was also free to try and beat his man if he wanted. This meant that Coutinho had a plethora of options available to him whenever he was in possession. All of this combined to allow Phil to play the best football of his career to date as the Reds came so tantalisingly close to winning the league. Fast forward 18 months and Phil has never had the chance to play in that deeper role again, the diamond midfield seemingly forgotten by Rodgers during a time of tactical tumult. When Coutinho receives the ball in the hole now, he only really has one passing option, that being towards the lone forward. When he receives the ball on the edge of the box, he very rarely picks the pass to unlock a packed defence. He has never been the David Silva type playmaker, who can dominate games by spreading play and picking the right pass at just the right moment to get his man through on goal- Phil requires space to run in to and more than one option on the pass. In other words, his best position probably isn’t as a number 10, but as a number 8.

While some of us (this writer included) would argue that Coutinho has been our best player since Suarez swapped Merseyside for Catalonia, it is not too much of a stretch to imagine he could end up on the fringes of Liverpool under Jürgen Klopp.Since taking over from Rodgers way back in October, Klopp has experimented with his formation frequently, mostly due to the extensive amount of injuries that the squad have suffered during his brief tenure. We have seen variations on his widely used 4231 as well as a False 9 433, however neither of these set ups really accommodate a position like the one Coutinho thrived in during 2013/14. Normally I would expect Klopp to work with and develop Phil in the same manner he did Gotze and Kagawa at Dortmund, moulding him in to the type of player Klopp loves; one that will press and harry the opposition backline from the first whistle to the last, turning over possession high up the pitch and generally being a nightmare for a defender to deal with. However, where things get a little problematic for Phil is that his new manager already has a Brazilian number 10 that can do all that and more in Roberto Firmino.

Bobby has been deployed in a few positions recently but seems to have settled as a False 9 in a 433 position. He has put in some impressive performances in this role away to Norwich and at home to Arsenal; as well as away at City earlier in the season, where he has looked every bit the player that Liverpool fans hoped they’d signed back in the summer. While we will have to wait until the summer to see what kind of player Klopp recruits and then speculate on his preferred formation, but I would hazard a guess that he will revert to his Dortmund 4231 as soon as he has the personnel to do so. Firmino has all the qualities that Klopp desires for his starting number 10 so where exactly does that leave Coutinho? He has never shown enough out wide to suggest he could regularly fill that role, and he simply doesn’t possess the physicality to play as one of the pivots in the aforementioned 4231. Klopp has shown considerable interest in Alex Teixeira this window and despite looking like missing out in this window I would expect the club to resume their pursuit in the summer, meaning that Klopp would possess an option to play as a lone striker in front of Bobby or alongside him on one of the wide positions, either way it’s pretty clear that Jurgen feels like he needs to supplement his front line. This leaves Phil as the odd man out in either situation, despite his obvious and prodigious talent I would not be surprised to see the club attempt to cash in on the player’s immense value- either as a straight transfer or as a possible makeweight for a big target in the summer. It may sound ridiculous seeing as the player has such considerable attributes but when Klopp is provided with the players to fill the wide positions regularly Coutinho could start struggling to make the 1st XI, which would have been an impossible thought just a few months ago.

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  1. agreed…coutinho has developed a selfish streak under rodgers and it is clearly affecting his mentality…football is a team game and he has to understand unpredictability on the ball is the way to being a great…likewise for ibe…holding onto the ball too long is never a good sign of things to come…pass and move is the way football should be played…individual skillsets come into play and is always a bonus if you have it…a combination of both traits is the way to become a footballing great…

    • Excellent article, and I for one am in complete agreement that under Klopp Coutinho has rarely dazzled. He is isolated on the left and doesn’t posses the pace or make the overlapping runs that would worry defenders. Unless Klopp intends to keep Firmino as a false 9 and play Coutinho behind as a CAM he’s going to be a rotational player.

  2. Ok. Let’s take it a little easy my friend.
    He is No Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Neymar, Thiago Silva, Kaka … shall I go on?
    All of these guys either have had a Ballan D’or or nominated for one.
    Last time I checked he is not even a regular on the Brazilian team and only became a star after Suarez left a big gap at Liverpool for even my grandmother to fill in.
    I love Coutinho, but let’s not start something from nothing. I stopped reading after the 1st 2 paragraphs.

    • I didn’t say he was any of those players, my argument wasn’t for Coutinho to get the Ballon D’Or. If you had read past the first two paragraphs then you could have seen that I criticise Phil quite heavily and ask whether or not he will be in Klopp’s plans? At no point do I say he’s better than Ronaldo etc, but he is an extremely talented player and that is what is said within the article.

  3. You haven’t made him equal to the talent of those players?
    Let’s see here what you said:
    “To say that Philippe Coutinho is a top footballer would be a criminal understatement. The diminutive Brazilian has the kind of ability that can bamboozle defenders and leave spectators speechless, his touch is a thing of unrivaled beauty, his long-range strike a sight to behold. Ever since he strolled into Liverpool he has been nutmegging and jinking by players with the sort of ease one imagines he also ties his laces or combs that hair.”

    I would go for other parts, but I have little time to waste.

    • None of the quoted passage actually equates him to any of the players you mentioned. “Top footballer” is a subjective statement- which you’ll find a lot of in articles like this- but if you disagree with anything I’ve said regarding his technical attributes then I’m not sure we’ve been watching the same player?

    • You finally got it right. We have not watched the same player.
      I have watched Coutinho since his Brazil and Italy days, yet you are basing your judgment on him based on the last two years.
      I have seen all these players play since they started in their teens and excelled, and until they stopped playing or to this day.

    • I’m still not entirely sure what it is you disagree with me about? Does he not have an exquisite touch and a great strike? Is he not a top player? I’m basing my opinion of the player on his Liverpool career as I didn’t watch him prior to that and wasn’t aware that that made my opinion invalid? I didn’t say he was in the same class as Ronaldo, Neymarr et al, nothing I said regarding him was false.

  4. Really good article. I agree with what you’ve said for the most-part, but I don’t feel like selling him would be the answer. The thing is, I’m not sure if it’d be better (or easier) to build a team around Coutinho, or just cash-in on him for players that better suit Klopp (something he’ll obviously have to work out in the summer).

    I feel Henderson was playing best in the aforementioned season as well though. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask Klopp to adapt his methods to suit the players – I personally think it’d be easier (rather than having an overhaul of 4-5 players). In that case, you could imagine Coutinho as LCM, Henderson RCM, Firmino CAM and potentially a new striking duo of Teixeira and a new signing. Leaving just a CDM to buy and Klopp to sort out his defence (still an overhaul I’m sure but, a simpler one).

    • I agree with you that it is complicated, and I wouldn’t want to see the player sold personally. I love watching Phil play when he’s at his best, in the false 9 we’ve been playing recently I wonder if he wouldn’t be best placed alongside Can/Allen and Henderson in the midfield? That way Klopp can focus on purchasing talented wingers/inside forwards to create movement alongside Firmino? The only reservation I have with this is that I do feel like we would be best suited adopting Klopp’s 4231 in the long run, preferably with Sturrdige in front of Firmino, but with this I struggle to see where Coutinho fits in? As an inside forward I think he’s always struggled and is definitely best placed through the middle, do you think we could get away with playing him alongside a strong, tackling-orientated CDM and letting Phil push on from the holding role?

    • To be honest I don’t see him playing anywhere but CAM or Left of the attacking trio behind the striker. I don’t think a tough-tackling CDM will be able to cover him. It’d basically leave us with a 4-1-4-1 formation. I don’t think us playing a false 9 is the answer either. We saw against Leicester (and many other teams) it’s not working. Just because Klopp was successful with a 4-2-3-1 doesn’t mean he should continue using it. We don’t even have 2 effective wingers to play that system. If we use that formation we will literally have to buy a CDM, TWO wingers and potentially a ST. Much more feasible to play the diamond and buy a CDM and a ST (not including the changes needed in defence).

    • Can someone please help me figure out how do I remove myself from receiving all these ‘so intelligent’ comments?
      I checked a box in the beginning, never figured that there are so many smart people out here, and my mailbox will still be flooded as if Klopp and Coutinho really give a damn.

    • and your opinion counts because? 🙂
      Don’t worry, I am not going to ask you ‘jog on mate’ because you probably can’t even jog 🙂
      I have seen many of you on the tele complain about seat prices, while biting your teeth throughout the match and just want the club to win without out understanding what it takes to win

    • Because it’s more structured and thoughtful than yours? You’re saying you can’t judge a player unless you’ve seen him play since the start of his career? And what does me jogging have to do with it? Hahaha, I play a decent level of football as it is – again, invalid point by you 🙂

    • Definitely would be precedent for that seeing as he used Mkhitaryan wider at Dortmund and he was predominantly central at Shakhtar. Would be interesting to see if having a striker who runs in behind like Sturridge might do to Coutinho’s ability to move the ball forward from a wider position? Because he’s definitely not the type of player to run down the wings etc.

  5. I agree. Coutinho is most effective when he has more field in front of him. His game is more counter attack than pressing. I think having a Steven Gerrard behind him and either Sturridge/Suarez in front brought out the best in coutinho. People are complaining that he shoots too much…those were probably the same people who complained he didn’t score enough. I think Klopp has not used coutinho correctly. I think coutinho is spectacular, and has the potential to be world class…if you play to his strengths.

    • Issue that I see is that Klopp usually wants to play 4231 ideally, with Bobby as a more prototypical Klopp 10, Coutinho could struggle to have a place in the team as he’s not brilliant in the wide positions etc. I agree he’s a great player with the ability to become world class.

  6. Good article mate, but I have to disagree of the selling point. I believe once you bring in better quality into the team you will see Phil start to hit best form again. I totally agree with the lack of trust comment and I think that is why he is taking that extra touch or the long shot on, instead of going for the golden pass he has in his locker. I think today’s game has progressed now that when attacking, positions become secondary to finding space and tactics. Hopefully following on from your comment about needing more grass in front of him, when he has better quality of players around him he can start dropping in and finding the space to drive at a team and effect the game from where he pleases, like he did in his first two years.

    • I would be pretty gutted if we had to sell, but if it was a lucrative offer would we not be obliged to consider it? Couldn’t agree more mate, he is the type of player who needs more than one runner ahead of him to excel; he’d be best suited to a diamond midfield or possibly Barca’s 433 where he could roam like Iniesta etc. That would probably require a Busquets -like player to hold which we don’t have. I’m rooting for Phil though, if we can get him playing his best football we’ll see more consistent results for sure.

  7. I have been critical of Coutinho’s performances at times, but I would be the first to say that we have not put him in a position to succeed or to maximise his immense potential.

    Coutinho does not have the pace to play in a front 3 (for me), and doesn’t have the patience to play as the no.10 with just one (largely static) striker ahead of him, but playing in midfield I truly think he could flourish and bring the creativity to our midfield that we are so sorely lacking.

    In the same way that Cazorla directs Arsenal’s play from deep, I think Coutinho could for Liverpool. Played alongside a legit, physical and intelligent central midfielder or two, we could finally see Coutinho deliver on his promise and deliver more goals from less shots.

    • I really like your comparison wit Cazorla as that is a role that Coutinho would suit, the only worries I would have of him there are his tackling( which to be fair could be covered for by the other two midfielders etc) and his passing range. He’s always been a good short passer and an excellent passed between lines, but to play in the Cazorla position he would have to learn to spread the play from deep. Also in that role you’ve mentioned he would have good runners to aim for and more space to drive into in any given situation. Who would you play alongside him if you had the choice from the current squad?

    • We still do not have a proven holding midfielder in the squad with all of the required attributes, due to the continued neglect of that role in recent years. Lucas, Allen, Henderson and Can all carry certain elements that you’d ideally like to see in such a player, but all have other significant deficiencies that render them as underwhelming candidates for said role.

      Eitherways, they must at least be as good as Flamini, who has had to deputise in the role in Coquelin’s absence alongside an even more attack minded partner than Coutinho, in Ramsey. We’ve got nothing to lose anymore so might as well take some risks with tactics and personel for the rest of the season anyways – Coutinho + Henderson/Can in central midfield would be interesting to evaluate for a month or so to provide definitive answers to those questions


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