Comment and Analysis @nicholaspwright
Philippe Coutinho deserves credit for keeping his focus at Liverpool
Last Updated: 18/12/17 10:31am
Mohamed Salah has been the star of Liverpool's season but Philippe Coutinho took centre stage in their 4-0 win over Bournemouth. After a summer of uncertainty and amid continued speculation linking him with Barcelona, he deserves credit for keeping his focus, writes Nick Wright.
When the transfer window closed and Barcelona's pursuit of Barcelona ended in failure, attention immediately turned to whether Philippe Coutinho's Liverpool performances would be affected.
Could he recapture his best form with the most high-profile transfer saga of the summer hanging over him? Could he put the uncertainty behind him and cope with the added pressure?
With 10 goals and seven assists in his last 13 starts, it is safe to say he has answered those questions emphatically. There has been a hat-trick against Spartak Moscow and brilliance against everyone from Leicester to Brighton, but his mesmerising display against Bournemouth on Sunday night was arguably his best yet.
The goal will go down as one of his finest in a Liverpool shirt. The one-two with Andrew Robertson showed him at his quick-thinking best. The balance and close-control after that was even better. "It's a piece of brilliance," said Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp. "Sometimes we look so much at how you can stop it defensively, but it is just a joy to watch that little fella when he gets on the ball."
The game was only 20 minutes old at that point but Coutinho had been at it from the start, wreaking havoc from Liverpool's left flank and crashing an early free-kick against the inside of the post. Two minutes before half-time, he released Mohamed Salah with a perfectly measured first-time chip over Bournemouth's defence. It was another moment of inspiration and there were more to come.
Coutinho tormented Bournemouth right up until his substitution, dropping into midfield to pick passes for Salah, Roberto Firmino and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as Liverpool continued to pour forward after the break. In the 66th minute, he lifted a diagonal cross into the box for the onrushing Firmino to head his side's fourth goal beyond Asmir Begovic.
Coutinho was at the heart of everything. As well as contributing a goal and an assist, he showed his usual tenacity out of possession, hustling and harrying Bournemouth players with the kind of application his manager demands. By the time of his substitution, only Firmino had made more high-intensity sprints. No player had attempted more shots, created more chances or completed more dribbles.
It has been that way throughout the season. Liverpool supporters hoped he would pick up where he left off when he returned to the team in September, but in fact he has been even better. His numbers are up across the board. He only needs four more goals to match his total for the whole of the last campaign and he is racking up assists at speed too.
If there is any hint of distraction around his future, he is certainly doing a good job of hiding it. Coutinho's professionalism is not lost on supporters and it is appreciated by his team-mates too. Oxlade-Chamberlain was quick to point that out when the questioning turned to his future in their post-match interview.
"He has been the most professional person I've seen all season," he told Sky Sports after the game. "He has been top quality from the start, and every time he gets on the pitch he does his all for the club. That's the most important thing right now. He gives us his all every game and that's all we can ask of him."
Coutinho, meanwhile, showed the kind of humility which has enabled him to keep his focus. "I always say the same thing, I try to enjoy the moment," he told Sky Sports. "I like to play football and I always try my best. It was a nice goal for me but the most important thing was Liverpool getting better and winning the game."
What happens next is uncertain and the January transfer window promises more uncertainty. But out on the pitch, Liverpool can be confident that Coutinho's commitment will not waver. For that, he deserves credit.