This is a question that divides Reds fans currently – I would suggest that all of us are over his departure and yet there are mixed schools of thought about what his absence has done to our team.
The way he left by basically downing tools does leave a sour taste in the mouth. That convenient thigh injury as the transfer window opened in January was just the same as the convenient back injury in August just before the Champions League qualifiers with Hoffenheim.
When he played for us, he gave 100% without question and scored some wonderful goals. Even though the infectious smile had disappeared from his face, he still made us tick and I loved it when he played in that advanced midfield role. In the 20 games he played for us in 2017/2018, Coutinho scored 12 goals and set up 8. That’s a very, very impressive return. Coutinho to score first or last against Switzerland is 4/1.
Given our dependence on our front three as a source of goals, we do miss how much he chipped in. Cutting in off the left flank or that bit deeper in midfield (which for me was his best position), Coutinho was a massive influence on us and the way we played.
I completely admire and respect Jürgen Klopp for holding his nerve in January. As everyone (me among the loudest) was screaming for him to sign a replacement and do it now, he refused, deciding to wait until his prime target was available. It would seem that Nabil Fekir of Lyon was that man.
That deal has ended in mysterious circumstances with rumours of a failed medical being the predominant talking point. But Klopp is a canny operator and will have someone else in mind ready to go – but a deal will likely be complicated if that player is part of the World Cup.
The most predominant opinion is that we have evolved past the Brazilian straight away. A large part of me does subscribe to that. Aside from the issue of squad depth, have we really missed him? I would argue not, because in his absence our front three of Firmino, Salah and Mané have exploded. Already prolific, they have stepped it up significantly since Coutinho’s sale.
A big part of me does wish that he was still in the team at the top of midfield. I actually think our midfield three do a good job of bringing Salah and co into matches with their range of passing. But we have definitely lost one of the most exquisite through passers in world football. Coutinho is able to thread a ball through the eye of a needle, more so than any player we currently have. It’s refreshing that I see a lot of Coutinho’s defence splitting passes in Naby Keita’s framework, but the Guinean doesn’t yet possess that level of ability – yet.
Whilst there’s a lot about the Brazilian’s game that we do miss, I do think we’ve rolled up our sleeves and got on with it since he was sold and we don’t particularly miss him. The only time I so much as think about him really is when we have a set piece. Coutinho had one of the best set pieces in the league and was lethal from 25-30 yards out. We certainly don’t have anyone else who can throw in a free kick or set piece of that kind of quality and that’s something I hope we address in the summer because it’s a big weakness.
I’m looking forward to the World Cup to see Brazil play and to see whether or not Coutinho gets much game with his former Liverpool colleague, Roberto Firmino. Playing at centre forward this season has seen Firmino record a personal best in terms of goals scored. Bizarrely, he’s not that highly rated back at home in Brazil despite being a crucial part of one of the most dangerous front three in football. Firmino to score, Brazil to win and botht teams to score is 6/1.
It will be nice to see them link up again if they do – I would suggest that Gabriel Jesus is going to start more games than he doesn’t and it will be a case of Firmino coming off the bench. However there’s plenty of games to play and you’d wager that Brazil will make a run deep into the tournament. There’s plenty of time for Coutinho and Firmino to link up again – and that was with devastating consequences on more than one occasion over the past few seasons.
It’s just a shame that Coutinho chose to curtail his understanding with our deadly trio before it barely got started. I think we’ve managed to accommodate his decision to leave with no detriment to us as an attacking team but I would have happily seen him stay. I am convinced he is going to be one of the stars of this tournament.
Had we not already taken the decision to sell him in January, it would have been even more difficult to retain his services after a successful World Cup.