Friday, February 14, 2014

Philippe Coutinho's Complete Midfield Display v Arsenal.

Originally written for Anfield Index

After an all-action display of midfield dominance versus Everton, it’s fair to say that Philippe Coutinho underperformed in the following game against West Brom, so much so that many wanted him dropped for the game against Arsenal at home. Whilst he was largely anonymous at The Hawthorns he wasn’t the only one, and the whole team needed to up their game for the encounter against the league leaders.

Back at Anfield, in front of a home crowd who were treated to the delights of an unbelievable derby win last time out, many wouldn’t have expected a repeat of the Everton heroics against Arsenal. A team who topped the table going into this game, thanks to a combination of sturdy defence, and typical Wenger style. OK, the optimist may have expected a repeat, but an improvement on the derby performance seemed impossible, but that’s exactly what those lucky enough to be in attendance, and the millions watching on TV, were treated to.

Similarly, an improvement on his individual performance in the derby seemed like a big ask for Coutinho especially given his showing against West Brom, but again, that’s what we got. Weaving his magic in the centre of the park alongside Henderson, he totally outclassed his opposite number Jack Wilshere, both in and out of possession.

With the ball he was a joy to behold. We saw a return of the trademark Coutinho through balls, with one leading to a goal for Daniel Sturridge, and another sending Henderson through for a great chance which he chipped into The Kop. No graphic can do these through balls justice, but here’s one anyway.

Coutinho didn’t just win the passing, he won the dribbling too, taking the ball around Arsenal’s midfield with apparent ease with moves which summon many Brazilian football clichés. On one occasion in the second half he jinked past Cazorla and Podolski in quick succession, before sending Wilshere charging in the opposite direction with a drop of the shoulder. That one didn’t even show up in the graphic below as “take on”, such was the extent to which he fooled the young Englishman.

He also topped the charts for total touches of the ball during the game (66) within the Liverpool side, and completed three out of three long balls.

Moving on to the defensive aspects of his midfield play, it’s here we see the real progression and improvement in Coutinho as a player under Brendan Rodgers, and it’s these aspects of his game which could give him an outside chance of a Brazil call-up.

He was a constant thorn in the side of his opposite number, and many other players in the Arsenal team, as he closed down as well as Joe Allen does in your imagination. Closing down is one thing, but actually winning the ball is another. Coutinho won ten of his sixteen ground duels, which was the highest in the Liverpool side, and won four of his six tackles which was second only to Steven Gerrard who won six of seven. He also recovered the most ball of any player on the pitch, with twelve recoveries including two interceptions.

The passage of play which summed up his game was the reading of an Ozil pass to Wilshere during an Arsenal attack. He knew what Ozil was going to do before he did it, nipped in ahead of Wilshere to intercept the ball, carried it forward before putting Sturridge through on goal to score.

What you always get from Coutinho is an element of control in possession, no matter where he is on the pitch, or how much pressure he’s under from the opposition. His turnovers occur when he attempts to force the issue, trying to play one of his through balls when the pass isn’t on, or dragging a shot wide from an unfavourable position.

In the game against Arsenal he made a total of twelve final third entries, which consist of passes made into the opponents danger area. Having a player in your ranks who’s this creatively minded in these attacking areas is a huge weapon, especially given the pace of the players in front of him. It’s for this reason that we should forgive the odd wayward pass, and think twice before saying he should be dropped for future games!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Philippe Coutinho’s Touch of Class Dominated the Derby

Originally published on Liverpool fansite Anfield Index

There’s nothing like an intense derby match to separate the wheat from the chaff. An evening kick-off which stirred memories of those famous Anfield occasions under the lights, and a battle for bragging rights on the pitch, on the streets, in the pub, and most importantly, in the league table. The clichés rolled off the tongues of the BT Sport presenters, perched on their posh scaffolding around the ground – not for the faint hearted – and the journalists in the Main Stand left the proverbial form-book whence they came.

The Liverpool players you expect to embody the derby spirit are the locals such as Gerrard and Flanagan, and the players like Suarez and a broken headed Skrtel who connect with the fans and fight with them for every ball. Given his recent form, diminutiveness, and possible eye on World Cup fitness, the player you might not have expected to come out on top in the Spirit of the Derby Stakes, was Philippe Coutinho.

Coutinho ran the midfield until he tired late in the second half, but you can forgive him some late weariness given the shift he put in. Liverpool’s number ten used his natural technique to bring some calm to an often frantic midfield, but also added to this intensity himself when the team didn’t have the ball. Brendan Rodgers decision to play him slightly deeper and more centrally was rewarded as Coutinho closed down and pressed the opposition as well as anyone, and used his prominent position to orchestrate midfield possession for his own team.

The graphic below shows Coutinho’s coverage of the central areas.

According to WhoScored, Coutinho completed five tackles during the game, second only to Aly Cissokho’s six, and two ahead of Gerrard’s three. On top of this he made more key passes than anyone else in the Liverpool side with four, and had the most touches of the ball with 66 (Aly Cissokho was second(!)).

Squawka shows that Coutinho’s 34 completed passes included 4 through balls.

Combine these stats with what was evident when watching from the stands, and there’s no doubt that Coutinho was all over this game until his withdrawal on 79 minutes.

What makes this performance even more notable is that it was a marked turnaround in from for the Brazilian. It’s not been plain sailing for him this season, and in the main he’s found his exceptional first few months at the club difficult to improve upon. Maybe opposition defences are now more accustomed to him, or maybe he’s trying too hard to get his name in lights in order to attract the attention of Big Phil Scolari, but for whatever reason he’s not quite clicked in many games this season.

If you asked Liverpool fans who they’d drop from the starting eleven had one of the mythical January signings arrived, many will have named Coutinho.

This assertion is perhaps unfair, as even when Coutinho isn’t firing on all cylinders, he’s a vital part of Brendan Rodgers’ varying systems. His control of the ball means he can receive passes in tight situations which helps the team retain possession in tight areas in the opponents half. It’s a skill he learnt playing futebol de salão on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, and one which transfers effortlessly to a large, luxurious, grass covered pitch.

A good example of the stability he offers was shown during the FA Cup game versus Oldhamearlier this year, when he and fellow Brazilian Lucas were introduced at half time. The pair slotted into the side and brought some calm in their respective halves of the pitch, midway through a game where Liverpool had looked sloppy and struggled to make things happen.

One criticism might be his over-eagerness to play through balls, which results in many failed passes and turnovers of possession. However, it usually only requires one of these to come off for one of his team-mates to be clean through on goal, so we should forgive him the odd mishap!

Hopefully we’ll see more of the Coutinho we saw in the derby throughout the rest of the season, and his new hard-working role could be more than enough to persuade Luiz Felipe Scolari to try him out in Brazil’s one remaining official friendly before the World Cup. If he can stay fit then the lack of January signings in this position might be irrelevant.

Graphics courtesy of

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Liverpool's Lucas Leiva takes the long road back to Brazil

Article originally written for Sportskeeda

Lucas Leiva’s stuttering return to form for Liverpool has earned him a call-up to the Brazil national team, as Luiz Felipe Scolari announced a somewhat experimental squad for the friendlies against South Korea and Zambia.

Lucas’ last international call up was towards the end of 2011, as a series of injuries have kept him out of the international picture since then.

His return to full fitness has taken longer than many thought, but the serious nature of the cruciate ligament injury he suffered during a League Cup match against Chelsea meant that a full recovery was always in doubt. Even now many onlookers believe the effects of the injury on his mobility and fitness are still noticeable.

Lucas is a player who has become used to overcoming adversity since his move to Liverpool. The midfielder was once derided by some Liverpool fans, and was even booed by them during a particularly limp performance earlier in his career. However, he proved any doubters wrong as he became a vital part of the Liverpool set-up before the injury set back.

Since his return to action, the Anfield faithful have been praying that Lucas would reach the levels of performance he achieved prior to his knee injury, and he has shown glimpses of his old self as he knits the attack from deep.

His defensive energy is also still evident, but the legs seem to fade midway through the second half of games. Whether this is due to the lingering effects of the injury, or simply down to the fact he’s being overplayed as Liverpool’s only defensive midfielder is up for debate.

There’s also a debate as to whether defensive midfield is his best position, or whether he would be better in a slightly more advanced role in the centre of midfield, similar to the one currently occupied by Steven Gerrard.

There’s no doubt that manager Brendan Rodgers sees Lucas as a vital part of his Liverpool side, and has even described him as “one of the disciples” when referring to Lucas’ role in the system and style he wants Liverpool to play. But the Lucas we saw at Brazilian side Grêmio, who won the Bola de Ouro (a similar award to Footballer of the Year) in 2006, had the freedom to burst forward from midfield, and his four goals in the league that season can testify to this.

Compare this with just one league goal scored in his six seasons at Liverpool.

Despite this apparent ability to play a more box-to-box role, it’s likely that Luiz Felipe Scolari will also use Lucas in a midfield holding position for Brazil. He’ll be alongside a more boisterous invader of an opposition area such as Paulinho or Ramires, or a more elegant attacking conductor like Hernanes or Oscar, or even a nondescript Luiz Gustavo.

A return to the international scene could see Lucas complete his recovery, and if he can impress his manager in the upcoming international friendlies, he might even find himself in the picture for a place in the Brazil side for the World Cup in 2014.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Philippe Coutinho – Liverpool’s Number 10

Originally written for and published on Empire of The Kop

Philippe Coutinho began this season where he left off the last. An impressive performance against what was a physical Stoke City side showed that Coutinho has adapted well to life in the Premiership, even though many thought the physical battle would be too much for him.

On joining Liverpool, Coutinho was handed the number ten shirt, which became available after Joe Cole left for West Ham. This seemed like a bold statement at the time, but his performances in this particular red shirt have left no doubts as to his talent as an advanced play-maker, and as a true number 10.

Coutinho has started many games for Liverpool from the left side of the pitch, and in the first game of this season against Stoke he lined up in this position in what was effectively a 4-4-1-1 formation when Liverpool were defending.

Despite taking up the left sided berth when defending, it’s a different story when Liverpool have the ball, when Coutinho is encouraged to do what comes natural to him, as he drifts into a more central position. He’s very effective at cutting inside onto his right foot to play through balls into the strikers, run at defenders, or try a shot on goal himself. The image below shows Coutinho’s action areas during the game against Stoke, courtesy of Squawka.

Liverpool 1 - 0 Stoke

Coutinho will also drop deep to receive the ball in order to try and inject some life into Liverpool’s attacking play, and when the Brazilian can combine with Steven Gerrard in the centre of midfield, you can feel the excitement from the fans.

Between them, there aren’t many passes Coutinho and Gerrard can’t play, and they form a potent creative threat from any situation. You can see the strikers’ eyes light up as soon as one of them receives the ball, as they know there’s a good chance they’ll be played in on goal.

As Brendan Rodgers looks to reinforce his first XI before the transfer window closes, it’s obvious that he’s been looking for another left sided attacker in order to move Coutinho into a central position permanently.

A player like Willian would have been ideal when it comes to allowing Coutinho more freedom, but it looks like this particular Brazilian will now be signing for Chelsea. Rodgers' recent comments about the player only move to back this up, and suggest that he might be frustrated at the club’s failure to stump up the money for Willian.

There is still a week left in the transfer window, so you’d imagine there’s time for a couple more attempts to land this type of player, but should Liverpool’s lack of European football mean we fail to make a higher profile signing, we can rest assured that Coutinho will perform his number 10 role, even from the left as a false 11!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Coutinho's Liverpool Crossroads

Originally written for and published on Beyond The Kop

Philippe Coutinho was something of an unknown quantity when he joined Liverpool in the 2013 January transfer window. People seemed to know what he should be like as a player, but no-one really knew if he had it within him to display his obvious natural talent on a weekly basis at the top level.


Once touted as the top Brazilian player of his generation, Coutinho was snapped up by Internazionale at the age of just sixteen, with the Milan club so convinced by his talent that they were willing to put their faith in him two years before he’d be able to join them.
As with most Brazilian players, he wasn't able to move to Europe until his 18th birthday, so he stayed at his home town club Vasco da Gama in Rio de Janeiro, effectively on loan until he turned eighteen.

To break his pre-Liverpool playing history down into an easily digestible paragraph would be quite difficult, but I’ve previously written about that here so that gives me an easy way out. To summarise, he had limited chances at Inter, did well for Brazil at U-20 level, and an impressive but brief period on loan at Espanyol is what might have convinced Brendan Rodgers to take a chance on him. What we really want to know now is how much Coutinho will contribute to the team moving into the new season.

First Season at Liverpool

It was originally thought that Coutinho’s first six months at the club would be nothing more than a bedding-in period, and we’d see the Brazilian in sporadic bursts, making the odd substitute appearance and maybe starting the odd game against “weaker” opposition.

Instead he dove straight into the number ten shirt and we were treated to a master class of creative football, initially from an inside left position, but eventually, and most effectively from the central position more befitting of his shirt number.

What to Expect

It could be that the stop-start nature of his early career at Inter has driven Coutinho on to make a success of himself at Liverpool, as he’s become one of the team’s key players so early in his time at the club. It could even be argued that he was our best player last season, despite only being around for half of it. Fans will be hoping for more of the same in the new season, but what is this “same” and would it be reasonable to expect it?

 A second season is like a recording artist’s second album, in the sense that everyone already knows what you can do and how good you are, but now people will expect you to keep up this previous form, and then become even better. The critics will be sharpening their metaphorical pencils ready to write about a lucky first season, and Robert Huth will be doing a few extra bench presses in the hope of knocking this over-rated footballing type down to the floor. The backlash starts here.

The sign of a truly great player is one who takes this on the chin and goes about his business in the same way, despite the increase in pressure and expectation, and despite the fact that opposition players may know more about the way he plays.

Luckily for Coutinho, his eye for a pass is so great that he can usually get rid of the ball before the defender gets near him. It’s almost like having the passing brain of Xabi Alonso further up the field, where the ranging through balls once executed by the Spaniard have morphed into shorter more Brazilian type touches, which make playing game of football that little bit easier and more pleasurable for his team-mates.

Add to this his unquestionable technique, decent shot, and a stereotypical Brazilian tendency to perform the unexpected, and you get a player who should be able to hold his own despite his perceived lack of strength.

But what if it goes in the other direction, where Coutinho was indeed just a half season wonder, unable to cope with the resultant expectation and increased pressure from opponents? We’ve seen instances in the odd game last season where Coutinho just can’t get into the game, most notably against Chelsea where he was withdrawn at half time. This is where the support of his manager will come into play, and Brendan Rodgers seems like a boss who’s ideally suited to developing and managing young players.

If Liverpool spends £20 million plus on a Mkhitaryan type player who can play in a similar role to Coutinho, then this could help ease the burden in terms of both expectation and physical playing time. Under these circumstances the determined, diminutive Brazilian, might just be Liverpool’s stand-out player for the second season in a row.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Philippe Coutinho signs for Liverpool

Early days at Vasco da Gama
Pending a work permit, Philippe Coutinho will become Liverpool’s second signing of the 2013 January transfer window, but more importantly he’ll become Liverpool’s 5th ever Brazilian player and only the third outfield player to wear the famous red shirt.

The signing of Coutinho has excited many Liverpool fans, but it has also been met with the usual scepticism from some quarters. This could be because there isn’t much to go off in terms of past performance, as he has been in and out of the Internazionale side, or due to the fact that he doesn’t seem to have played a full season at any of his clubs.

He did, however, spend half a season on loan at Espanyol in the latter part of the 2011/12 campaign, and this could be the period of time we can use as a more accurate judgement of his performances. He managed one assist and scored five goals in the sixteen games he played for the club, including this well taken long range effort against Racing Santander.

Early Career

Coutinho was a youth player at Vasco da Gama in his home town of Rio de Janeiro, and was spotted at an early age by the scouts of Internazionale of Italy. He was 16 at the time so was unable to move to Europe until his 18th birthday, due to European laws which don’t allow South Americans to work on the continent until they turn 18. This didn’t deter Inter, as they had seen something special in this exciting attacking talent from the home of the beautiful game, so they made Vasco an offer of 4 million Euros which would mean he was their player, but could stay on loan at Vasco for the two years until he turned 18.

At Vasco he helped his team achieve promotion from Serie B in 2009, meaning that he would play his final games at the club in the Brazilian top flight before moving to Inter. During this time he also played for Brazil in the South American under 17 Championships, where he helped his side win the competition with three goals in the tournament, including one in the final against Argentina.

The next year he played a handful of games alongside the experienced journeyman striker Dodo, getting two assists and scoring one goal for the team in the 2010 Brazilian Serie A season. This was on top of the significant contribution he made for the team in the Carioca state championship, earlier that year.

Star of the Future - Arrival at Inter

Having developed his game to become one of the most exciting attacking prospects in Brazilian football, there was much excitement around the football world ahead of Philippe’s move to Europe. He completed his move to Inter in July of 2010, with the Inter president Massimo Moratti, and the then manager Rafa Benitez singing the praises of the player and stating how he would become an important part of the club’s future.

"He is a young player with many qualities who may be the club's future. We expect him to do very well for us." Rafa Benitez

"Coutinho is a great addition to the squad. He is a phenomenal player."
Massimo Moratti

Some of his peers at his new club gave a more in depth analysis of their new team mate, with Wesley Sneijder and fellow Brazilian Maicon stating their admiration for the player.

"He is a very good player, a very technical, skilful player. He is for sure a player for the future, and it's hard to use him every week because he is still a youngster and he has to get used to it. But with his qualities he will make it; he will make it for sure." Wesley Sneijder

"I knew him from back in Brazil when he played for Vasco da Gama and he has already demonstrated his character and his personality. He is very impressive and that hasn't changed from being here with us. He will become a great footballer." Maicon

After this high praise the world of football was his for the taking. However, after a spate of starts early in the 2010/11 season, which included most of the games in the Champions League group stages, his appearances in the Inter first team became sporadic, and his familiar role in the side became that of substitute. Whilst his admirers could see that the potential and the raw talent was obviously there, there was just something missing in his game.

Under 20 World Cup Winner

These missing parts came together to some extent during Brazil’s impressive showing in the 2011 Under 20 World Cup. As part of this triumphant and stylish Brazil side, he re-affirmed his place as one of the up and coming stars of Brazillian football with some impressive displays. He managed to score three goals in the competition including two in the game shown below against Panama. Watch out for the neat bit of skill on the left to help set up the first goal.

Whilst his performances in this competition were overshadowed by the excellent displays of Oscar, the part he played in this competition win gave him the belief he needed to transfer this international form to club level, but again he found himself struggling to get a regular starting place. This resulted in the aforementioned move to Espanyol, where he was able to show off his talents sufficiently enough to convince Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers to make a move for him, on the recommendation of his scouting team.

In action for Espanyol

What can Liverpool Expect from Coutinho?

Coutinho is a creative attacking player who also has typically Brazilian strengths such as dribbling, trickery, quick feet, good technique, and the tendency to perform the unexpected. He likes to play in the attacking midfield positions where he can drop into space to create chances for others, or arrive in the box to attempt a shot should the opportunity arise.

His versatility will be part of the reason Brendan Rodgers has been attracted to the player, but his preferred position would probably be as an inside left attacking playmaker, where he can cut inside and threaten with his long shots, or send through one of his attacking team mates.

Coutinho will join Liverpool at the end of the 2013 January transfer window, should his work permit be accepted.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Rise of Diego Cavalieri

Diego Cavalieri at Palmeiras
Diego Cavalieri was signed by Liverpool from Brazilian side Palmeiras, but became one of many Goalkeepers who found it difficult to dislodge Pepe Reina from his place between the Anfield posts.

Cavaleiri made his debut for Palmeiras early in 2002 for Palmeiras B, as they beat Rio Clara 4-0 in a friendly. During his early time at the club he was able to learn from the experienced goalkeeper Marcos, and as the years passed he was able to replace the Palmeiras club legend as the number one keeper for the Alviverde (the green and white of Palmeiras). Marcos was to return to the side after the departure of Cavalieri to Liverpool, and had some of his best years for the São Paulo club during this time.

On joining Liverpool Cavalieri knew that he would be the understudy to Pepe Reina. Signed by Rafa Benitez on 11 July 2008, he was to become Liverpool's third ever Brazilian signing, after Fabio Aurellio and Lucas, and was set to fight for his place in the side. On joining the club Cavalieri commented:

"I know it won't be easy to get into the team. I know I will have to be patient and work very hard to achieve my aims - but it is always like that when you come from another country. I am sure that one day I can get the number one position but that will only come with hard work."

"It was a dream for me to come to Europe, though I was taken aback by how quickly everything happened. It's all been sorted out in one week. But I have been given a very good welcome from my team-mates and the manager, so I'm very happy to be here. I just hope I can respond to all this. Rafa and I spoke for a long time on the day I arrived. He explained to me how the football is here and the differences from Brazil. He also talked to me about the responsibilities of representing a club like Liverpool."

Diego Cavelieri celebrates a Liverpool goal during their 2-1 FA cup
defeat at home to Reading.

Alas Cavalieri would become one of many goalkeepers who were unable to replace Pepe Reina, and he was unable to do what he had done back home in Palmeiras in replacing a club legend in goal. He made a total of 10 appearances for Liverpool, which all came in cup competitions:

Diego Cavalieri @ Liverpool FC - Games Played

Carling Cup 23 Sep 2008 - Liverpool 2 - 1 Crewe
Carling Cup 12 Nov 2008 - Tottenham 4 - 2 Liverpool
Champions League 09 Dec 2008 - PSV Eindhoven 1 - 3 Liverpool
FA Cup 03 Jan 2009 - Preston 0 - 2 Liverpool

Carling Cup - 22 Sep 2009 - Leeds 0 - 1 Liverpool
Carling Cup 28 Oct 2009 - Arsenal 2 - 1 Liverpool
Champions League 09 Dec 2009 - Liverpool 1 - 2 Fiorentina
FA Cup 13 Jan 2010 - Liverpool 1 - 2 Reading

Europa League 29 Jul 2010 - Rabotnicki 0 - 2 Liverpool
Europa League 05 Aug 2010 - Liverpool 2 - 0 Rabotnicki

After leaving Liverpool, mainly due to his lack of first team chances, he joined Cesena in Italy, but again his chances were limited to the odd cup appearance due to the preference for experienced Italian 'keeper Francesco Antonioli.

On the Rise at Fluminense

After similar experiences in both England and Italy, Cavalieri moved back home to Brazil where he joined Rio club Fluminense. This time he was able to work his way into the side as Fluminense mounted a title challenge for much of the 2011 Brasilierao season, but eventually finished third with 63 points, 8 points behind eventual winners Corinthians.

But Cavalieri had done what he needed to do and was now finally the established number 1 for the first time since his Palmeiras days.

With Cavalieri in goal, Fluminense were able to win the Taça Guanabara, or Campeonato Carioca, at the start of 2012, with the shot stopper making several imprtant saves to take his team to victory.

"Diego Cavalieri made ​​two spectacular saves on shots from Diego Souza and Alecsandro within the small area. After the pressure has cooled, and the crowd waited for the final whistle to celebrate." Globoesporte.

This win would give the side a springboard going in to the 2012 Brasileirao season, and they were eventually crowned Campeonato Brasileiro Série A champions for 2012 with a total of 77 points, 5 points ahead of second place Atletico Mineiro.

Diego Cavalieri would be selected in all the teams of the season for the 2012 Brasileirao, as pundits and fans praised his shot stopping abilities and contribution to the team at important stages throughout the season. He was as vital to Fluminense at one end of the pitch, as the goals of Fred were to the team at the other, and as a result his name has been mentioned as a possible addition to the Brazil national side in the build up to the 2014 World Cup.  It is thought that if he can improve his game, and make himself as competent at commanding his area as he is at shot stopping, then he could well play a part in the national side in the years to come.

Diego Cavalieri's saves helped Fluminense to their 4th Brazilian league title.