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Philippe Coutinho stars in new role as Liverpool beat West Ham

May 14, 2017 5:05 PM
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Philippe Coutinho stars in new role as Liverpool beat West Ham

Philippe Coutinho was Liverpool's star performer as they boosted their top-four hopes with a 4-0 win at West Ham - and the new role he took up at the London Stadium could bring the Reds success next season.

The brilliant Brazilian bagged a brace when he followed a superb second-half dribble and drive with a clinical close-range finish, while he also provided a defence-splitting pass for Daniel Sturridge's opener.

Of course, it's not unusual to see Coutinho making the difference for Liverpool this season. His 12 goals and seven assists make him the top Liverpool player in terms of goal contributions in 2016/17, while he's been directly involved in eight of their last 13.

But what made his contributions against West Ham intriguing was that they came from a new, deeper position.

The 24-year-old has predominantly played on the left hand side of Liverpool's attacking three this season, a role manager Jurgen Klopp described as a "kind of wing 10", this week. However, the Reds manager has spotted a different way to exploit the player's talents.

"He can also play as a No 8," said Klopp. "That is possible and maybe he will have more influence and we can involve another player on the wing. That would make us stronger for sure, having his creativity in the middle of the park."

Despite the importance of Liverpool's trip to West Ham, where their battle for a Champions League qualifying spot with Arsenal and Manchester City was under the microscope, Klopp opted to experiment with Coutinho in that central midfield position, as part of a diamond. It paid off.

While Coutinho's raw numbers for touches didn't indicate a greater involvement in Liverpool's general play - his total of 78 touches was 10 below his average for away games he's played at least 80 minutes in this season - his impact from the centre of the pitch was decisive.

Coutinho created six chances for team-mates - the most he's made in a single Premier League game all season. In fact, he's only surpassed that total in a Premier League game once during his entire five years with Liverpool.

The finest of those key passes came when he picked the ball up in Liverpool territory on 35 minutes. Coutinho had space and time, giving him the chance to arrow a perfectly weighted throughball for Sturridge to slot in.

"Once he picks up this ball, the whole complexion of the game changes," said Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp. "A lesser player would have given it short to Adam Lallana but he sees the bigger picture and it's a lovely pass."

That composure in the heat of battle was evident again when Coutinho scored his first, slaloming past a couple of West Ham defenders before firing the ball into the bottom corner to punish the home side's half-clearance.

His second and Liverpool's third saw Coutinho take possession on the halfway line as the visitors broke downfield, feed Emre Can and then race forward to collect the ball from Georginio Wijnaldum before jinking inside James Collins and smashing in from 10 yards.

With that combination of vision, time, space and ability, Coutinho was able to orchestrate Liverpool's attacks.

As well as his two goals and six chances created, Coutinho also topped the stats for shots (six) and crosses (six). West Ham were pleased to see the back of him when he was substituted on 89 minutes.

"We've seen today something we'll see in the coming seasons," said pundit Jamie Carragher in co-commentary - and Klopp seemed happy with the new system when he spoke to Sky Sports afterwards.

While the manager accepted there were a few teething issues in the first-half, Klopp was satisfied with how his team adopted the new plan. "We could have played Adam No 8 and Phil No 10 but we wanted to create space for [Coutinho] to play passes, to be in the game, to be influential and Adam, with his high energetic running in this gap, running in between.

"You need to get used to things and it's not about the system, it's about how the players use it."

Coutinho certainly exploited his new role, with his performance on Sunday edging them closer to qualifying for Champions League football. And with Coutinho at the centre of Liverpool's play they can be optimistic about the future.


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