By Cameron Hogwood
Those Monday blues will have been replaced by nerves and excitement today as Liverpool fans across the country await the club’s biggest game of the season.
Jurgen Klopp made it no secret as to where his priorities lie on Sunday when he rested his big guns in the draw at West Bromwich Albion in preparation for Basel.
Thoughts of Wednesday’s Europa League final have been lurking in the back of minds since that memorable night against Borussia Dortmund and all questions will be answered this week when Liverpool battle Sevilla for a place in next seasons Champions League.
Key players are returning to fitness off the radar and the regulars are set to go again after a short break from action. Liverpool are ready.
Entering the occasion with knowledge of having a fully fit Philippe Coutinho at the team’s disposal is music to the ears of all affiliated with the club. He is a big game player and a vital part to what those around him do.
The little magician has proven his value on the big stage this campaign with goals in the league away to Manchester City, Chelsea in addition to efforts at home to Crystal Palace, Tottenham and of course Everton in the Merseyside Derby.
Besides this, he boasts having played a pivotal role in Liverpool’s Europa League run with important strikes against Manchester United at Old Trafford and at home to Dortmund in the semi-final. Only James Milner’s tally of 30 chances created in this competition was enough to better Coutinho’s 28. He makes things happen, even when he appears to be out of the game.
£8.5m from Inter Milan- perhaps Liverpool’s greatest transfer steal in the last three years.
James Pearce summed up just how big a star the Brazilian is in a piece on the Liverpool Echo site: “He’s a £40million footballer and it’s easy to forget at times that he’s still just 23 years old. He’s only going to get better.”
Coutinho has been a stand out performer for much of the season, as evidenced by the four honours he received at the club’s awards evening.
He is so gifted and in fact has developed into a more accomplished player since arriving on Merseyside in 2013. Things are coming together under the guidance of Klopp for him to really become something special.
Footwork and flair straight from the most talented of Brazilian futsal courts, a subtle but destructive vision and very clearly a goal or two in his locker- he has it all. The attention his talent going forward receives, however, somewhat disguises the fierce passion and energy he also offers.
As James Pearce said- it is very easy to forget he is only 23. He plays with a discipline that means he very rarely finds himself out of position. Adam Lallana has earned all the plaudits for implementing Klopp’s desired work ethic but Coutinho has certainly been an unsung hero in this department.
Never does he abandon his defensive responsibilities in terms of tracking back. Though his intelligence in his movement off the ball is difficult to recognise, it is something to be admired. He is so precise in choosing when to press the ball high up the pitch and when to let his opponent keep possession. He works tirelessly and, for this reason, deserves even more credit for still managing to make such a difference to the side going forward. A quiet role model.
An interview on UEFA.com with a certain Steven Gerrard surrounding a conversation with Luis Suarez poses as another great insight into Coutinho’s value to Klopp and his teammates: “Make sure you look after him,’ Luis said of Philippe. That told me how much Suárez rated Coutinho as a player.”
Every man in a red shirt seems to step up his game when it appears their number 10 is playing with confidence. His tendency to strike up partnerships with teammates combined with his individual brilliance is something usually associated with a leader on the pitch. His positivity and the excitement he creates inspires those around him to want to put on a show.
If Sevilla were wise leading up to this game, they will have conjured a plan to stop Coutinho. The problem the Spanish side face is the form of Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge. This means they cannot afford to double up on the midfielder at the expense of leaving his teammates open, which makes him a great danger to the reigning champions.
The way he interchanges positions with Lallana and Firmino makes him a nightmare for the organisation of the opposition defence. He stretches teams all over the pitch and is all the more threatening when he has a Daniel Sturridge to feed in front of him.
This game is there for him to dictate. He has the knowhow to mix up the game to his liking, whether that means inviting Alberto Moreno to run beyond him and put in the crosses, whether it means him occupying more central areas in order to supply the runners in behind or whether it means him bombarding the goalkeeper with shots.
Everyone knows he is capable of big things and everyone knows he deserves to be in the Champions League. It is up to him now to prove it in the final on Wednesday.
Don’t forget to check the accumulator tips to find the best bets available for the Wednesday game.