It didn’t take too long into Liverpool’s preseason tie with Borussia Dortmund to be reminded just how devastating last season’s Premier League’s runners-up can be on the attack.
In a 4-0 win against the Bundesliga outfit, Philippe Coutinho was the standout performer for Brendan Rodgers’ side, adding the clear-cut creative inspiration that had been lacking for spells last season.
Where Luis Suarez has left a void as talisman following his big-money move to Barcelona earlier in the summer, Coutinho, if the win against Dortmund is anything to go by, is relishing the chance at stepping into that role.
Dortmund may have arrived on Merseyside short of some of their most important players – including Mats Hummels, Marco Reus, Sven Bender, Ilkay Gundogan, and Roman Weidenfeller – but Liverpool nevertheless used this game as an opportunity to sharpen their blades ahead of the new season.
The big talking point for the club is the need for an addition at centre-forward following the decision to back out of the deal to bring Loic Remy to Anfield. It hasn’t been about replacing Luis Suarez, rather to strengthen the whole side in preparation for a heavier schedule. At the moment, Daniel Sturridge and Rickie Lambert as the only forward options is far from good enough.
But a question that hasn’t really been put forward as much is who the team’s lynchpin will be, the catalyst for their good play and the driving force on the pitch.
Steven Gerrard was somewhat relieved of that duty, both in his conversion to deep-lying playmaker last season but also in the stunning performances from Suarez. There are good players in the team now, and further leaders, but Coutinho is leaving little doubt about who that star player will be.
The Brazilian is entering his second full season with the club, having arrived during the January transfer window in 2013 from Inter Milan. Though young, the midfielder has taken to the Premier League exceptionally well, aided greatly in the style of football offered up by Brendan Rodgers.
Against Dortmund on Sunday, Coutinho showed his trickery and skill to dodge challenges and create space. His passing and vision also came to the fore on multiple occasions, switching the play and sending teammates through on goal.
Liverpool’s blitzkrieg attacks tore through almost all of the Premier League’s defences last season. Now, Coutinho is adding a little sparkle and splendour to the play.
The club will certainly benefit from Luiz Felipe Scolari’s omission of the midfielder for his World Cup squad. In contrast and in an act to show their high valuing of the Brazilian, Liverpool have moved to make Coutinho the subject of their next major contract renewal.
In a team defined by its young stars, it is only fitting that Coutinho, having only just turned 22, should step forward as the face of the post-Suarez era at Anfield. With a firm understanding of the Premier League, this season should be the making of the Brazilian as one of the undeniable stars of English football.