Liverpool clocked up a record-breaking win over Newcastle United at St. James' Park in their Premier League match on Sunday, trouncing the Magpies 6-0 in what was the Reds' biggest win under manager Brendan Rodgers.
There were plenty of impressive performances all over the pitch, but the standout performance certainly came from Brazilian attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho, who was instrumental in much of the Reds' best attacking play.
Considering all the pre-match chatter had surrounded the absence of Luis Suarez and questions over whether the Liverpool attack would survive without him in the team, it was refreshing to see the Reds put in not only an effective attacking performance, but also a highly clinical one.
In short, Coutinho and Co., with Daniel Sturridge leading the central striking role, showed the fans and the manager the exact way forward for the side from now until October, when Suarez is likely to return from suspension.
The duo linked up particularly well, with Coutinho playing in a central playmaking role, with Brendan Rodgers shifting Jordan Henderson wide onto the left side of the attack.
Coutinho's creativity and technical ability provided a constant spark for the Reds, and though they didn't dominate possession and look as fluid and consistent in their passing as they have done in previous games this season, the Brazilian was regularly able to find space between Newcastle's midfield and defensive lines.
Every time the Reds won the ball in the opening half hour, and for the final 40 minutes of the game—after a bright start from the home team after the break—a quick transition inevitably saw the ball pass through the feet of Coutinho.
Dropping deeper to pick the ball up goalside of the over-aggressive Cheick Tiote and the ineffectual James Perch, he dragged the Newcastle midfield 10 yards up the pitch. This created space for Henderson to dart into and for Sturridge to drop deep into, receiving the ball without a defender close to him and giving the striker time to turn and run toward goal.
Positioning himself between the midfield and defence, Coutinho was much closer to goal and used his intelligent on-the-ball ability to assess situations to consistently pick the right pass.
Very early on he lofted the ball over the entire out-rushing defence for Daniel Agger to nod home, unmarked, the opening goal of the game. A quarter of an hour in it was Coutinho again who split the Newcastle defence, this time with a fantastic disguised pass along the ground to Sturridge, who unselfishly squared first-time for a Henderson tap-in to an empty net.
After the break it was Coutinho again the architect as he helped pressurise the home side in their own half, drove toward goal and cleverly flicked the ball between two defenders to give Sturridge the chance to lash in the third.
A fierce drive from range almost brought the Reds' No. 10—and it was as a true No. 10 that he operated against the Magpies—a deserved goal of his own, only for the home goalkeeper to make a rare save, tipping the shot onto the crossbar.
Coutinho's wonderful awareness of space and his teammates' movement was the decisive factor on the day, but two additional facets of the game should also be noted, lest an overreaction lead to over-confidence thereafter.
Firstly, the poor tactical display of the home team. They allowed far too much space between the lines of defence and midfield, and midfield and attack, to ever be able to function properly as a unit. There was little support for striker Papiss Cisse for too long, and the defence were rarely afforded proper protection from those in front.
Secondly, the clinical edge that Liverpool showed.
As top scorer of the club and, until recently, the entire league, accusations should not be levelled at Suarez for missing too many chances and the club scoring six goals when he was absent; instead it was a case of the entire team making the right decisions in the final third, and getting a little bit of luck too with the likes of the final goal, a free kick which bounced through the crowded penalty area and directly into the net.
This is a performance and a three points which Liverpool cannot afford to now have seen as a one-off.
Inconsistency, in terms of tempo, quality, creativity and defensive solidity, has plagued Brendan Rodgers' debut campaign in charge of Liverpool.
A wonderful performance and result against Newcastle United should now provide the blueprint, to the players especially, of what is required in future games. A fast start, clear-minded decisions in the final third and, perhaps most pleasingly, a ruthless streak to bury the opposition once the game was already effectively won—these are the facets of Saturday's game that the Reds must take into the remainder of this campaign, and the beginning of the next.
There will be no Luis Suarez to provide the creative element and final touch for another nine domestic matches, but with Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge in particular showing such electric form and understanding, there are many reasons to remain positive for Liverpool's team and support.
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