Kicking off the new campaign against one of the toughest, most physical sides in the league poses a serious test for Brendan Rodgers as he looks to start his sophomore season in charge of Liverpool Football Club on a high note. And with Luis Suarez managing to be both suspended and once again caught up in the continuing soap opera that is his career, Rodgers' and the club's hopes on Saturday will rest heavily on the 21-year-old shoulders of Philippe Coutinho.
"There will be no more responsibility than what has ever been asked of him," insisted Rodgers, though with Coutinho now the primary outlet for Liverpool's attack—and the primary target for most opposition defences—it's difficult to imagine how there won't be more pressure and responsibility placed on the young attacker heading into his first full season in English football than there was when he arrived for a bargain £8.5M fee in January.
"He is a player that you would actually pay money to watch," continued the manager. "He's an absolutely incredible talent. He's just turned 21 years of age and he's got great humility to want to improve and be better. He can play in a number of positions, that's the beauty of him. You'll have seen him play in the number ten role, in behind, and off the side. He can even play as one of the central midfield players—he's a wonderful footballer."
Coutinho never got to face Stoke last season, arriving in January after Liverpool had played both their league games against the West Midlands club, but even under a new manager it's unlikely the Potters will have changed their approach all that much—an approach that will most resemble West Ham of the sides Coutinho did face after arriving at Liverpool in January, and the side against which he looked least effective.
Rodgers, then, will be responsible for setting up the team to help provide space for Coutinho, and while most believe his long term role is in the middle of the park playing off the striker, against a physical, regimented side like Stoke it seems more likely he'll be placed on the wing, free to roam while a more physical player—such as Jordan Henderson or a more advanced Steven Gerrard—will be given the duty of providing attacking support in the middle.
"We ask everything of the players, they all know their jobs inside out right the way through the team," added Rodgers. "There's always that responsibility on the attackers to create and score, but it's the responsibility of everyone. If everyone takes up that challenge, we'll be okay.
"With us as a group, we're flexible tactically. We'll make subtle changes to our structure. When you work with intelligent players, they have the capacity to play in one or two positions—and that's what Philippe is. I know what his best position is, but in order for the team to maybe win a game or do something tactically different [and] he's flexible and happy enough to play in a different position."
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