Philippe Coutinho: A Phenomenal Talent Squandered on the Wing

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Philippe Coutinho has risen to the potential and exceeded the expectations fans had of him since joining Liverpool FC. After signing from Inter Milan in 2013, the little Brazilian has proven to be worth much more than the 8.5 million pounds paid for him. He has been Liverpool’s Player of the Year the last two years in a row and has won the Samba Gold Award as Europe’s best Brazilian player overcoming the likes of Neymar, Douglas Costa and fellow teammate Roberto Firmino. However, even after achieving all of this, Coutinho can play, and influence the game even more then he already does.

At the moment, Coutinho plays on the left-wing in a 4-3-3 formation alongside Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. His positioning is concerning because usually pacier players are more successful down the wing as they are able to get in behind of the full backs and keep up with the opposing wingers on defense. With Coutinho, his pace is simply not bolstering enough to play at the left wing position in the Premier League.

Looking at Sadio Mane, it is much easier for players to send a ball in behind the defense to run onto compared to Coutinho. Since Mane poses more of a danger, the ball is played in his direction far more than Coutinho. This takes away from the dynamic of the 4-3-3 as the presence and danger of two pacey wingers is taken away.

This has also caused Liverpool’s attack to be dominated by Mane and focuses on the right wing. As much as that has worked out so far, if Philippe Coutinho played through the middle to supply the balls and get into the right areas he would be able to make Liverpool an even greater threat either in possession or on the counter attack.

To get into the play this season, Coutinho is forced to shift towards the middle during the game, leaving a gap for the opposing wing-back and winger to exploit. This has caused both left-backs to struggle a considerable amount as James Milner has been unable to keep up with the pace of the attackers and Alberto Moreno has found himself caught out far too many times. To help ease the issue down the left defensively, a player with the tactical ability of a left midfielder and speed of a winger is vital for Liverpool’s success in the future.

Additionally, because the focus is not around Coutinho, his passing and playmaking abilities are limited. The player he is able to connect with the most is James Milner, usually in space, as defenders would rather give a yard to Milner than Coutinho. He is constantly forced to play the ball out wide which leads to crosses in the box to attackers like Firmino who have no aerial advantage over the opposing centre-backs.

This isolation has caused a decrease in creativity as Coutinho’s favourite move along that wing, which is to cut in and fire, has been mostly figured out. The opportunities to attack for a player like Coutinho should be endless. If he were to play through the centre, he would have the options to look left, right, forward and backwards and has the ability to pick out a pass just as well as any other player in the world.

The major issue with this move in positioning is a change in formation. The 4-3-3 seems to be spreading the players out too much, resulting in less support and the danger of being caught out. One major formation which has been used by many great teams is the 4-2-3-1 and it would seem that Coutinho would fit in very well in the central role.

Correspondingly, Roberto Firmino’s central striking ability would be put to a final test. Coutinho would be able to play right behind his fellow Brazilian and the two would have not only themselves but the likes of Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane supporting the attack as well.

Switching to a formation to fit Coutinho into the middle is imperative for Liverpool and for Coutinho to progress and play at a high level with a great deal of consistency. It will help to create chances, improve the quality of play and even help out with one of our defensive weaknesses. Phillipe Coutinho is a player being wasted out on the island that is the right wing and the minute he is able to play though the centre, is when he will be playing his best football.

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  1. But that would mean shifting Lallana to the left wing…and we’ve seen how better he is in that midfield 3.
    Besides, we can’t have a 2 man midfield, we’re not good enough defensively, we would struggle, that’s why we’re playing 3.
    If we get a strong DM in the summer, then yes 4-2-3-1 is favorable.

    new DM – Lallana
    Mane – Coutinho – Brandt ?
    Firmino/New Striker

  2. But the common misconception is Coutinho plays on the wing. I haven’t seen a heat map, but my guess he is basically plays as a central/left leaning AM in reality.

    That said, I think you pointed out the real problem – Milner is where attacks go to die on the left. In defense he has been rock solid and as an outlet he is above average, but when coutinho drags players in and frees up space out wide, Milner can’t make other teams pay.

    This team would be devastating as a 4-2-3-1 with Origi up top, Firminho at 10, Coutinho narrow left, and Mane wide right. All three of the AMs get back defensively and are more than capable to cover the loss of a third DM.

  3. Annnnnnd this is why I don’t bother with AI. BleacherReport is basically stealing money from the quality writers by featuring work that’s not even given a cursory copy edit let alone proof read.

  4. The 4231 is Klopp’s preferred formation. Just look at his best BVB teams and that’s what they were playing. The problem is we don’t have the players for it right now. Add a strong DM and a left back with pace and you have a winner. I think we will pick up both this summer along with a fast winger to relieve Mane and also play the left side against certain opponents.

  5. I agree with your guys’ comments. I think we do need a new DM however I think that Henderson should be the one we play there. He’s proved to be much better defensively and knows his role well. In terms of replacements Weigl or Naby Keita are some good options. It’s unfortunate that Emre Can hasn’t stepped up to be that player yet. I also think that Milner is not good enough defensively and a new left back is needed a player with pace and the defensive capabilities against the EPL’s dangerous wingers.


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