The Brazilian was superb on his 200th appearance for the Reds to underline how important he is to them, and why Barca are desperate to get him
In December 2012, the mechanisms to recruit a special – albeit unrefined – player to Anfield were already in motion.
His talent was unquestionable, but there was an asterisk as to whether he could and would ever fully apply it. For just £8.5 million, though, Liverpool knew it was absolutely worth finding out.
Fast forward five years and Philippe Coutinho, who signed for the club in the winter window of 2013, is quite easily among the Premier League’s foremost geniuses; a headliner that is also able to make those around him operate at an elevated level like Kevin De Bruyne. A dazzler that can slice through opponents with deftness like Eden Hazard. An architect and the artist.
Against Swansea City on Boxing Day, marking his 200th appearance in all competitions for Liverpool, the Brazil international was the hangover from hell for the opposition: a head-spinning nuisance that sapped energy and sucked any of their efforts to be productive.
There were just six minutes played on Tuesday evening when Leon Britton, the visiting manager in a caretaker capacity, helplessly bowed his head in the technical area.
Jordan Ayew had ceded possession too easily, with Roberto Firmino pouncing to supply Mohamed Salah.
The Egyptian fed Coutinho with a quick, dissecting pass and, despite having the attention of Federico Fernandez, Roque Mesa and Kyle Naughton, Liverpool’s No.10 whipped his foot around the ball to wonderfully curl his effort into the top corner.
Like the rest of us, Lukasz Fabianski marvelled more than he could do anything else.
It was Coutinho’s seventh goal this December, his highest-scoring month since making the switch from Inter. The opener at Anfield was his 19th league strike from outside the box – one more than Robbie Fowler, with only Steven Gerrard managing more than him (33) for the Reds.
It wasn’t just his 12th goal of the season that set him apart under the Anfield lights. Coutinho’s deliveries from dead-ball situations troubled Swansea all evening, while he punctured their organisation from open play with his cerebral passing and fluid movement.
When Liverpool finally had their second, it was born out of his boot. The 25-year-old sent in a looping free-kick over the entire defence and onto Firmino’s right foot; his compatriot converting with a first-time volley.
And on 87 minutes, when the Merseysiders were already 5-0 to the good as Trent Alexander-Arnold struck a beauty Gerrard would’ve certainly appreciated, Firmino tapped in another and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain contributed a classy finish, Coutinho was still at Swansea; twisting through them before telegraphing a phenomenal ball to Dominic Solanke.
The effort from the Under-20 World Cup winner unfortunately went narrowly wide, but the spellbinding build-up was applauded on the terraces.
Coutinho has now both scored and assisted in 11 top-flight games with Gerrard the only Liverpool player to better him (16) in this regard again.
It is utterly absurd that there are still observers – several of them former footballers – who question Coutinho’s quality and consistency. There is a reason both Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona, two of the biggest attacking forces in the game, have circled his name on their transfer to-do list while Brazil regard him – along with Neymar – as their feiticeiros (wizards).
The Ligue 1 outfit had contacted the player’s camp ahead of the January window last year and strongly revisited the idea of trying to secure him during the summer. The Catalans saw three formal offers firmly rebuffed in July and August and have not ceased their charm offensive to unveil him at Camp Nou.