How Philippe Coutinho became the key in Liverpool FC's 3-4-2-1 formation (Kristian Walsh, 2/09/15, Liverpool Echo)
The contrast before and after Liverpol’s switch in tactics – and therefore, Coutinho’s switch in position - is stark. Most notable of all is how the midfielder managed to create just five chances in 12 appearances before 3-4-2-1, but is now on 23 created in just nine; zero assists have transformed into four.
His shooting accuracy has also improved – 57% now, 45% then – having taken eight more shots at goal in three fewer games, though he’s scored the same number of goals (1).
His passing has not been as accurate, although he averages more passes now; an explanation also comes with the sort of passes he’s making.
In a more advanced position, he is taking risks and looking to feed his team-mates, rather than the risk-averse style which crippled his style earlier in the season. That is evidenced in his pass length also lengthening in the 3-4-2-1, as well as making six successful through balls – five more than he managed in his first 12 games.
He has also produced more successful dribbles (31 v 29) with a better success rate, and is fouled far more now in his advanced position.
The 3-4-2-1 is a curious system. At its optimum, it is a phenomenal mix of control and attacking balance - but if some key components are missing, replicating previous performances could prove difficult.
Coutinho is one of those players who turn the system into a winning one. His pressing is excellent, as his ability to find little pockets of space between defence and midfield – something this position allows him to do often.
He also has plenty of options in front of him. The striker, usually Sterling but soon to be Sturridge, is available; there will also his attacking midfield partner to his right. The wide men also push forward, as does one of the central midfielders. Coutinho fills his boots, and fires them towards the ball.
The space this movement creates also allows him to move further up the pitch. Coutinho is at his most dangerous close to goal. He has been tasked with improving in front of goal, but when his sights are locked on players to pass to, he is a dead-eyed sharpshooter.