Liverpool’s disappointing season so far can be summed in a stretch of play late in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at home to Norwich.
With 12 minutes remaining, Philippe Coutinho, burst forward on the counter-attack and as he approached the six-yard-box uncontested, Coutinho had the option of slipping Danny Ings in for a tap in or take it on himself, with Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy standing in his way.
Coutinho dithered and dallied, seemingly unable to decide what to do before tamely side-footing the ball into the stomach of Ruddy and Liverpool’s best chance of victory was gone.
Last season Coutinho makes the pass and Liverpool win 2-1. But this season the 23-year-old Brazilian is trying to do everything himself and it is simply not working.
Apart from his brilliant long-range match-winner against Stoke City in Liverpool’s Premier League opener, Coutinho has largely flattered to deceive this season, and has often been extremely wasteful and ineffective in the final third.
His goal against Stoke remains his only strike of the campaign, despite the fact he has taken on 28 shots in five games, the second-highest total in the division, behind Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez. Meanwhile a lowly shot accuracy of 35% is hardly a ringing endorsement of his current shoot-on-sight strategy.
One way in which his lack of goals can be compensated for, is if he is supplying them through assists or by making key passes. However, this is an area of his game that has been startlingly weak at the early stage of the season.
His three created chances (zero assists) means he has attempted less key passes than 108 other players in the division, including five of his teammates. For a player lauded as one of, if not the best in his position in the top-flight, that output needs to improve drastically over the coming weeks.
The fact that Alberto Moreno, a left back, who has completed 238 minutes less than Coutinho, has provided seven key passes that have yielded one assist, is a damning indictment of Coutinho’s current efficiency in the attacking area of the pitch.
Following the departures of Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling over the last 15 months, Coutinho has assumed the mantle of Liverpool’s talisman, and if the Reds are going to turn their season around they need their Brazilian star to step up and start to deliver on a consistent basis.