Philippe Coutinho was Liverpool’s star performer as they boosted their top-four hopes with a 4-0 win at West Ham – and the new role he took up at the London Stadium could bring the Reds success next season.
The brilliant Brazilian bagged a brace when he followed a superb second-half dribble and drive with a clinical close-range finish, while he also provided a defence-splitting pass for Daniel Sturridge’s opener.
Of course, it’s not unusual to see Coutinho making the difference for Liverpool this season. His 12 goals and seven assists make him the top Liverpool player in terms of goal contributions in 2016/17, while he’s been directly involved in eight of their last 13. But what made his contributions against West Ham intriguing was that they came from a new, deeper position.
The 24-year-old has predominantly played on the left hand side of Liverpool’s attacking three this season, a role manager Jurgen Klopp described as a “kind of wing 10”, this week. However, the Reds manager has spotted a different way to exploit the player’s talents.
“He can also play as a No 8,” said Klopp. “That is possible and maybe he will have more influence and we can involve another player on the wing. That would make us stronger for sure, having his creativity in the middle of the park.”
Despite the importance of Liverpool’s trip to West Ham, where their battle for a Champions League qualifying spot with Arsenal and Manchester City was under the microscope, Klopp opted to experiment with Coutinho in that central midfield position, as part of a diamond. It paid off.
While Coutinho’s raw numbers for touches didn’t indicate a greater involvement in Liverpool’s general play – his total of 78 touches was 10 below his average for away games he’s played at least 80 minutes in this season – his impact from the centre of the pitch was decisive.
Coutinho created six chances for team-mates – the most he’s made in a single Premier League game all season. In fact, he’s only surpassed that total in a Premier League game once during his entire five years with Liverpool.
The finest of those key passes came when he picked the ball up in Liverpool territory on 35 minutes. Coutinho had space and time, giving him the chance to arrow a perfectly weighted throughball for Sturridge to slot in.