Coutinho’s Brazilian panache drives red revival at expectant Anfield
Liverpool’s €10m purchase represents smart business
Philippe Coutinho’s (centre) ability to link with Daniel Sturridge has demonstrated the Brazilian’s ingenuity with a pass and the striker’s ability to finish. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters
Philippe Coutinho looks perplexed. It is not an expression associated with the Brazilian since he helped enlighten the Brendan Rodgers era at Liverpool seven months ago, but one that hammers home that a new chapter has begun in the rivalry with Manchester United.
Confusion reigns when Coutinho is asked whether he knew of David Moyes before his arrival in England. “What?” is the reply. Try again. Before coming to England, did you know who David Moyes was? “Who?” One last go. David Moyes? “No.”
Coutinho is not trying to deliberately insult someone who for the first few months of his Liverpool career was the manager of Everton. Indeed, it is clear the 21-year-old is an artist of the game and not a student, preferring to illuminate with the ball at his feet.
“I don’t remember watching United win any cups,” he says at one point. “I remember they won the Premier League last season. That is as far back as I know.”
Only four of the Liverpool team who maintained a 100 per cent start to the season at Aston Villa last weekend were alive when Ron Atkinson’s United secured a 1-1 draw at Anfield on February 9th 1986 – Kolo Toure, Daniel Agger, Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard. The rest are from the generation who saw Liverpool knocked from their perch by Ferguson.
However with him gone, Anfield hopes to witness a way back. It will not be easy, admits Coutinho, even against a United manager who never won at Anfield in 11 years as Everton boss.
“I think United will carry on as usual because they have the same great players,” says the Liverpool midfielder. “Only the manager is new and I’m sure they want to win as much as they ever did . . . We want to make up for the time lost and want to get back at them and winning this match will help us do that. We feel exactly the same as they do about this game.”
With another incendiary figure from the fixture’s history absent tomorrow, suspended Luis Suarez, Coutinho is central to a Liverpool victory that could reverberate throughout their season. From his full debut in a 5-0 defeat of Swansea City, the €10 million January recruit from Internazionale has brought greater purpose, invention and penetration to Liverpool’s attacking play under Rodgers.
Coutinho was rich potential unfulfilled in Italy, where he made only 15 starts in Serie A following a much-heralded arrival as a 16-year-old from Vasco da Gama. He spent a season on loan at Mauricio Pochettino’s Espanyol. But now he is the riposte that the owners of Liverpool, Fenway Sports Group, can present to criticism of their prudent transfer policy, and the manager’s eye for a player after spending €30 million on Joe Allen and Fabio Borini.
“I know the expectations are higher on me now because I’ve played more matches and done well,” says Coutinho. “But I need to keep improving . . . You can give no advantage to the opposition player and that’s how I intend to approach this game against United.