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Brazilian at home in Anfield


Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho is only 5ft 7in and slightly built but has aggression

Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho is only 5ft 7in and slightly built but has aggression

Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho is only 5ft 7in and slightly built but has aggression

According to statisticians, Philippe Coutinho has attempted 44 through-balls this season, more than any other player in Europe's top five leagues. That is not to say all his passes reach their target or result in goals.

Statistics can be deceptive like that. But Arsenal know to their cost that some of them do.

Liverpool's Brazilian playmaker looked the real deal in the 5-1 mauling of the Gunners last week – Brendan Rodgers described him as the key to the whole performance.

Arsenal will be hoping not to go a goal down inside a minute when the two sides meet again in the FA Cup this afternoon but they will also be terrified of leaving space behind their back line for Coutinho to exploit.

Liverpool have a front line of pace and finishing ability in Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, and Coutinho is becoming expert at picking up their runs. "We are currently playing with two attacking players in midfield and one holder," Rodgers said. "We've got the best passer in the league in Steven Gerrard, a technician in Philippe, who can thread and ping it through with his passing, and a runner [Jordan Henderson] who can penetrate and run without the ball. So the balance is good. It is very important to our style to dominate the central midfield and Stevie and Philippe have taken us to an incredible performance level."

Considering the sums of money that recently changed hands for Juan Mata and Mesut Ozil it seems hard to believe that Liverpool prized the Brazilian from Internazionale's grasp for a mere £8.5m. "He was a snip, we just had to have him," Rodgers said. "He's an absolutely wonderful talent. There are very few players at this level that penetrate with a pass, that play right through a team, but Philippe is the sort of player who puts opponents on the back foot all the time. He doesn't always get there but we like him to keep looking. He's only young, he's got plenty of time."

Only 5ft 7in and slightly built, Coutinho showed in his tussle with Jack Wilshere last week that he is not pushed off the ball easily and has the requisite aggression for the English game. "You could see that wee bit of steel he's got to his game," Rodgers said. "Irrespective of his height he has the physical strength to press with intensity." Coutinho quickly realised that in England he had to be more of a team player than an attacking luxury and managed to change.

"In Brazil, if you play where I do, you are not expected to track back or defend in any way. You are an attacker and that's it. I have to say I prefer the European style now. You move faster, think more quickly and are involved more. I felt comfortable at Liverpool straight away, the team has been playing with a great amount of freedom in attack and perhaps that is why I was able to adapt to English football quite quickly."

Coutinho's idol is Ronaldinho, but to Rodgers' mind he most resembles another skilled technician who made light of a diminutive frame. "When I worked at Chelsea I had the privilege of watching Deco at close quarters," Rodgers said. "He was a bit older perhaps, but what a talent. All I need tell you is that he got a round of applause after his first training session. I can still remember that, because it was just pure quality, and that is what Philippe has. That's the profile. He's a little street footballer with wonderful vision. The type of player that can make the difference.

"Top players always like to know there are other top players around them and you could tell after a few training sessions that Philippe belongs in that category. Steven Gerrard probably never knew a great deal about him beforehand but straightaway I could tell he was impressed and you can see the trust they now have on the pitch.

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"Stevie knows he can lend Philippe the ball and Philippe knows he has that security and solidity behind him. I've taken a bit of stick since I've been here over my vision of where I want the club to be but the game against Arsenal was beautiful for a coach to watch. You could see the evolution; it made me very proud. Everyone looked at Arsenal and said they weren't very good but we were brilliant. Those games don't come around very often and I am not expecting the same in the Cup. We want to win all right but this time I'll settle for one-nil."


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