Football News: Phillipe Coutinho's Mantle

 

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Phillipe Coutinho's Mantle
Image from: ebru.co.ke

Phillipe Coutinho joined Liverpool as a somewhat failed attacking midfielder from the Italian Serie A side, Inter Milan. He was easily knocked off the ball and had an inconsistent end product. Since joining Liverpool, his career has been reinvigorated largely thanks to the much maligned Brendan Rodgers. Rodgers has his critics, myself included, but Coutinho was his absolutely undeniable success story at Anfield.

The decision to move Coutinho to the left wing where he would have more space to operate, was genius. It was an unequivocal success. Unlike other good players to have played under Rodgers, there was no controversy, no behind the scenes fall outs, and no major injury problems. Coutinho, was the jewel in Rodgers' crown.

Coutinho when he first signed for Liverpool, was so slight of frame that he could not receive the ball in a central area without being bundled off it too frequently. When starting out wide though, he found it easier to find space, and then he could use his superior skills, acceleration and agility to go past players who were flat footed. He has since developed into one of the best left forwards in the game today.

As Coutinho has grown (physically and as a player) he has gradually played more and more in the centre though. So much so, that Jurgen Klopp's intention for the current campaign was to use Coutinho in midfield permanently, with the brilliant Mohamed Salah signed to replace him in the front 3.

Sadly, that did not go as smoothly as was hoped. Coutinho has decided he wants to leave for Barcelona and at times, he has flat out refused to play, or feigned injury to avoid being picked. It is an absolute disgrace that a player who to some extent, owes his career to Liverpool, has behaved this way.

It is sadly a case of "when" will Coutinho leave, rather than "if" he will leave. For Liverpool fans, it is gutting. Even a Coutinho who can barely be bothered has still been good enough to shine in games against Spartak Moscow, Leicester City and Southampton this season. It is a measure of his ability that without trying and having only played in about half the clubs games, he is still Liverpool's third most effective player in terms of goals scored/assisted. He is arguably world class, and will have no problems stepping into Barcelona's team.

Liverpool FC, and their fan base must move on though. Coutinho, for all his good performances, has been equally poor in other games. He is disinterested at times, and it will start to affect the harmony amongst the other players. If he carries on playing like he did last time out against Southampton, then there can be no issues from the fans or his team mates. However, if he starts strolling around like he doesn't care again, and constantly giving away possession, then he should be dropped permanently. This season is too important to Liverpool for Klopp to gamble on Coutinho's attitude on a game by game basis.

There are a whole host of possibilities to replace Coutinho in January, which were revealed in the latest Sharkopod. Below are my opinions on each individuals abilities, and the chances of them signing for Liverpool:

A) First off, is one of the two players Barcelona could offer as part exchange. Rafinha is a player Klopp reportedly likes, and can play anywhere in midfield or on the right wing. He is a decent dribbler, very strong on the ball and scores a few goals on the rare occasions he is fit.

However Rafinha is more likely to move elsewhere and his inconsistency should hopefully rule him out. As good as it is to have versatile players, Rafinha is barely fit and pretty much a jack of all trades, and master of none. He has been a peripheral figure for the last 18 months of his career.

Likelihood: Unlikely
Rating: 2/5

B) The other player who may be offered by Barcelona is Andre Gomes. Gomes is a more interesting option; not least because he can play in midfield or on the left wing, just like Coutinho. It actually makes him a fairly feasible direct replacement. Gomes loves to run at the opposition, he has an eye for a pass, and he likes to shoot from range.

The problem with him is that he lacks balance. He is clumsy, slow and makes very poor decisions (all in stark contrast to Coutinho). Barcelona have sorely failed to get the best out of him, but maybe a change in environment could help him rediscover the form he showed at Valencia. I'm not sure he is that good an option but he will be offered in the deal and that alone has to make him a very real possibility.

Likelihood: Possible
Rating: 3/5

C) Another player who could be an option is Leon Goretzka. Goretzka is very much a midfielder for me. He has played on the left, but he cuts inside every time without fail because he only has one thing in mind; scoring goals. In terms of playing style he is remarkably similar to a young Steven Gerrard. His direct, powerful runs from midfield usually end with a stinging long range drive at goal.

Goretzka is nowhere near as creative as Coutinho, nor is he as skilful. What he is, is an impressively effective midfield goal threat, who is damn near impossible to defend against when he's on form.

Does Goretzka suit Klopp's current system? Debateable, but good managers adapt their teams to get the best from good players. Goretzka is very much jn that category, but there is no confirmed interest since the Naby Keita deal was agreed in principle. Which makes sense as Keita can do everything Goretzka can, and more. Still, it's a real shame about the lack of interest, as Goretzka is out of contract next summer and could be an absolute steal.

Likelihood: Very unlikely
Rating: 4/5

D) Next up is a throw back to the summer; Julian Brandt. Brandt would actually have been a perfect replacement for the Coutinho of years gone by. He is a left winger, but he drifts centrally to a more attacking midfield position (which makes him hard to pick up) where he can use his clever weight of passing or precise shooting skills to hurt the opposition. He is also very agile and capable of going past more than one player at a time.

The problem is, Liverpool turned to Salah for a winger, and attacking midfield is very much a secondary position to Brandt. Though he is okay drifting in there unnoticed, he doesn't have a natural knack for finding space in between the lines. He wants first team football guarantees as well which is one of the main reasons a move never materialised in the summer. With Liverpool's attack now having even more depth than last season, it's difficult to see this happening.

Likelihood: Unlikely
Rating: 3/5

E) Probably the best individual linked, is Thomas Lemar. Lemar is a special talent. Primarily playing on the left wing, he was a key component to the AS Monaco team that took Europe by storm last season. With his team being somewhat dismantled since then though, Lemar has really struggled this season with just 1 goal and 3 assists. That despite 12 out of 14 starts coming on the left wing, and still having the goal machine that is Radamel Falcao to aim at. His ability should not be doubted though. At 22 years old, he cannot be expected to be at the top of his game all season, every season. There will be ups and downs.

Lemar is still a multi talented individual who can play across the front 3 or in a very attacking midfield role. The issue here, is that Lemar is not a better wide forward than Mane or Salah, and that centrally he takes up very similar positions to Firmino. It is difficult to see where he fits into the current system, without dropping into the deeper midfield 3 that he is not completely suited to. He offers nothing defensively and takes too many risks in possession that are better off being made in the final third.

Lemar is potentially world class though. If he is available and Liverpool do manage to sign him, which they will try and do again, then Klopp should be a good enough manager to find a way to make it work, somehow! Even if it is purely through rotation and utilising different systems for different games. This is a player who is ready made and already threatening to be one of the best in his trade.

Likelihood: Possible
Rating: 5/5

F) Another German called Julian, next is Julian Draxler. Draxler has had a torrid experience in France, but has still managed to score goals at relatively consistent rate for PSG. It is hard to judge how impressive that is though. He had started struggling for goals in Germany just before he left, and PSG have an embarassment of riches that has allowed them to dominate Ligue 1. It is barely even a competition anymore. The second they had an equal rival in AS Monaco, they quickly swooped to take away their best player in Kylian Mbappe.

So is Draxler playing well, or is he just in a privileged position? I think the latter to be honest. He is very good technically to be fair. Probably the best of all those listed. However he is also lazy, greedy and petulant. He would score goals at Anfield, but it would likely be detrimental to the team, and he is purely a left forward. In midfield he is never in the right place to start with so you can't even say he goes missing!

Likelihood: Very unlikely
Rating: 2/5

G) Diego Laxalt is another name which has been mentioned previously. It is very hard to figure out what Liverpool scouts see in him though. He is completely reliant on pace, and doesn't really offer anything other than the ability to carry the ball 50 yards at great speed, and then play a square pass. Limited is an understatement.

You could quite fairly describe Laxalt as a marginally better version of Adama Traore! Pace, pace and pace. As good as that could be for launching a counter attack, can you really carry a player for 2 or 3 good runs in 90 minutes? He is a left winger and that is it. He lacks any of the qualities to play in midfield and i doubt Liverpool will follow this up unless they are penny pinching.

Likelihood: Unlikely
Rating: 1/5

H) Finally, we come to Max Meyer. Meyer is a very versatile midfielder. He grew up playing midfield, but made his first team breakthrough on the wing or as a second striker. In 9 starts this season he has played 2 games in the front 3, and 7 games in midfield. Meyer is a playmaker. He doesn't normally play the killer pass but he is instrumental to the attack. This often see's him get overlooked or criticised unfairly.

Meyer has changed his game so much from when he made his breakthrough, that the last 6 games Meyer has started in all competitions have been as a deep lying playmaker. Before that run, Schalke 04 had lost 3 league games in 7. Since Meyer dropped deeper, they've been able to control games better and have gone unbeaten in 5. Meyer's impact in the deep lying playmaker position has been a revelation.

However, Meyer will not replace Coutinho's involvement in the final third. Not even close. With just 6 months on his contract and a confirmed interest, this is a deal which could happen at a good price, nonetheless.

Likelihood: Possible
Rating: 4/5

With all of this in mind, it is fair to say that Goretzka, Lemar and Meyer are the three options I think are worth considering. All are only 22, and all replace Coutinho in some respect. Goretzka replaces his goals, Lemar replaces his creativity, whereas Meyer replaces his ability to control a game from midfield.

Unfortunately, there are no players linked who can do all of those things, like how Coutinho can. That is probably because there are very few in world football! Liverpool cannot hope to replace Coutinho directly because of that.

Whoever it is who takes Coutinho's mantle, let's just hope they are as successful, and let's also thank Coutinho for his service up to the end of last season. Considering how young and tiny Coutinho was when he signed, Liverpool's next number 10 will have ironically big shoes to fill.

Written by Adam Jones

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