Pitchside

Coutinho brilliance typifies Liverpool’s title charge

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"Champions take chances, and pressure is a privilege."

So said American tennis great Billie Jean King - and having won 39 Grand Slam titles, she would know a thing or two about winning under the spotlight. The same applies across all walks of life, and football is no different.

While fans may legitimately debate the controversy of results throughout a season, it is rare to find title winners that, by and large, are ever heralded as unjust.

Whatever the purists say, it is not a requirement for teams who lift the Premier League title to have played the most scintillating football for the previous nine months: just ask Arsenal fans, or even Manchester United fans from last year.

As King says, champions take the chances afforded to them - whether they be through good fortune or circumstance - and thrive under the pressure to perform when the heat is on.

It's fair to say that Sunday's clash between Liverpool and Manchester City was perhaps one of the most high-pressure encounters ever witnessed in the Premier League era. There stood Brendan Rodgers' side, edging towards improbable greatness week by week, with the world watching as they welcomed their title rivals on the 25th anniversary weekend of the Hillsborough disaster.

It is impossible to try and begin to understand how the Liverpool players must have felt, but the fact that they came through a nervy encounter to beat Manuel Pellegrini's men 3-2 and make themselves firm title favourites speaks volumes. Just four more wins will guarantee them the championship they have longed for for 24 seasons, and few would doubt they have the ability to last the distance now after 10 straight wins.

The game itself featured so many potential talking points that it is difficult to retain a sense of individual moments within the flow of the match, but Philippe Coutinho's expert finish 12 minutes from time handed the Reds all three points, and will live long in the memory of the Anfield faithful.

On a weekend of such significance, the 21-year-old Brazilian playmaker distinguished himself on a pitch full of international stars, and Rodgers will be delighted with his temperament as much as his talent.

Coutinho impressed as much off the ball as he did on it, and was a constant threat to City's attempts to establish control of the game. The former Inter player spent much of the game drifting between the middle of the pitch and the right flank, looking to stifle the visitors' attempts to overload the left side flanks and provide service for Edin Dzeko through Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy.

Coutinho Tackles vs Man City:

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Coutinho won the ball through five of his eight attempted tackles in the game, with four of those successes having come on the left wing: he and Gerrard won 73 percent of Liverpool's tackles against City between them, which highlights his key role within the side. The Brazilian also made one interception and won both of his headed duels, providing a physical presence in the face of a strong City line-up.

While Coutinho's battling display won plaudits, it is on the ball where he truly excels he truly excels - and he once again proved against City that Rodgers got the £8.5 million man from Inter at a snip.

Coutinho Pass Map vs Man City:

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The playmaker completed 40 of 50 attempted passes for a completion rate of 80%, with many of his efforts having come in bridging play between the right flank and the centre. With the likes of Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling to link with, the Brazilian's technique is not wasted as it would be on other teams in the league and Rodgers' focus on ball retention was a key reason for his pursuit of Coutinho.

The 21-year-old's build-up play was undeniably impressive, but champions take chances: with just 12 minutes left, the unlikely source of Vincent Kompany presented Coutinho with the perfect opportunity - and take it he did.

The City captain uncharacteristically sliced a routine clearance straight to the feet of the Brazilian, who duly found the bottom left-hand corner of Joe Hart's net. Pandemonium ensued, and the Kop potentially have a new hero as the youngster was smothered by a delirious Gerrard.

His game ended with a late substitution for Victor Moses, and he departed to loud applause and earned a Squawka Performance Score of 57 - no easy feat for a youngster against City.

Coutinho Goals Scored (Pitch View) - PL 2013/14:

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Coutinho has had an impressive season for the Reds, in which he has scored five goals in 29 league appearances - though surely no goal will come close in terms of importance to Sunday's strike.

With 51 goalscoring chances created, including six assists, the playmaker has both the brain and the brawn to complete in the English top flight.

Coutinho Duel Success - PL 2013/14:

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Fifty-six of 98 take-ons completed this season also shows his ability to drive Liverpool on from the midfield, while winning 39 fouls and conceded just 12 is a statement of his tactical ability and strength under pressure.

Based on his performances this campaign, it is no stretch to say that Coutinho is easily worth quadruple the fee that Rodgers parted with in January 2013; Inter fans must be apoplectic that the Nerazzurri hierarchy were so short-sighted in their planning.

In a situation of such momentous emotion and pressure, 21-year-old Coutinho thrived like a seasoned pro. After City hit back twice to equalise, it looked as if Liverpool's grasp on the title was slipping away - but with one glorious sweep of his right boot, he restored the dreams of the Kop; of a city, even.

A championship is never won purely by skill, or purely by luck - more so, they are won by those who want it most, and will seize their opportunities despite the pressure mounting.

Coutinho undoubtedly proved on Sunday that, should Liverpool lift the title come the final day of the season, they will be worthy champions. This could, finally, be their year.

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