Liverpool are in a slightly strange situation now where for the next few games, it looks like Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, long regarded as our two best players, are competing for one spot in the side…
Jurgen Klopp is using a 4-3-3, to great success, which means there’s three spots for attackers at the moment. Sadio Mane has the one on the right utterly nailed down, and Roberto Firmino is simply undroppable due to his overall contribution to the manager’s style, tactics and press.
So if Sturridge starts, it’s Firmino on the left and the Englishman central; and if Coutinho gets the nod – it’s Firmino up top and Phil on the left…
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But surely there’s a way to get them all in the side?
There probably is, actually. Back in 2013/14, when Liverpool came so close to a maiden Premier League title, Coutinho was often used in a central midfield three. Steven Gerrard anchored the side, Jordan Henderson played to the right, and Coutinho played on the left – enabling Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge practically free roles up top. The best example of this was at home to Arsenal, when the Brazilian wowed in central midfield in a 5-1 hammering, which could have hit double figures.
It’s not a dissimilar shape to the one Klopp uses now. An anchorman, a ‘central’ midfielder either side, and three ‘forwards’ with licence to roam wherever they like.
So with either Emre Can or Henderson at the base of midfield, with Klopp’s favourite Adam Lallana just to the right, there’s a natural spot for Coutinho on the left – enabling Firmino and Mane to support Sturridge up top – the same starting three that demolished Leicester on Saturday.
This means Gini Wijnaldum dropping to the bench and would look like this on a tactics board, if implemented:
Away from home, this could be considered reckless. The added steel and physicality of Wijnaldum is necessary, so this means one of the attackers making way. Whether that’s Coutinho, Mane, Firmino or Sturridge depends on form, fitness, necessity and all the other potentially mitigating factors.
But at home, especially the way teams will sit back against us, there’s no reason this wouldn’t work. Yes it favours attack over defence, but Liverpool should play to strengths.
It’s no different to, say, Barcelona using Andres Iniesta in the middle three. This is a playmaker by heart; someone who is slight and uses his creativity to begin attacks. The Spaniard gets away with a role here because of Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic alongside him. Obviously Liverpool are a tier below, but with Can/Henderson and Lallana the premise is the same.
What’s more, there’s an argument to suggest Coutinho would be more effective deeper anyway. He’d be less tempted to try long-range shots and his ability to drop the shoulder and beat a man with his turn of pace would be maximised. On the wing, he can only go one way, inside – but from the middle, his options are greater. The Brazilian would also be able to play sharp, incisive through-balls from deep, something which has almost left his game since his starting position changed.
We can’t see Klopp dropping Coutinho back against Chelsea, or even against Derby away in the League Cup – but at home to Hull City on the 24th might provide the perfect opportunity to give it a go. We’d certainly like to see it, anyway.