Big matches call for big words, and for years silly mind games were the specialty of Alex Ferguson while he ruled the roost at Manchester United. With their fiercest rivals coming to town on Sunday, Liverpool come face-to-face with the Red Devils sans Ferguson for the first time, but this time the barbs are coming from the club's angel-faced Brazilian, Philippe Coutinho. As delightfully reported by The Guardian:
Confusion reigns when Coutinho is asked whether he knew of David Moyes before his arrival in England. "What?" is the reply. Try again. Before coming to England, did you know who David Moyes was? "Who?" One last go. David Moyes? "No."
It's probably unfair to attribute any sort of malice to Coutinho's obviously translated words — after all, Coutinho had as little reason to think about Everton's former manager while playing in La Liga and Serie A as his English contemporaries might have for thinking about the managers of mid-table Italian sides. Still, it's a potent quotable from a much loved player about a man who has Liverpool's two biggest rivals listed in succession on his resume, and that's bound to curry more than a little favour with fans.
Sunday is Coutinho's first derby against Manchester United and having successfully stood up to the bullies from Stoke City two weeks go, he's more than ready for whatever United might attempt to dish out.
"I've not had the chance to play United yet," Coutinho said, "but from what I have been told about the history between the clubs, it's even more passionate and stronger than the Milan derby. Football is more disputed in England than it is in Italy. Every match is a very hard match because the referee doesn't blow his whistle as much as in Italy and every team plays against each other like it is a final. I enjoy it more in England because you have to think quicker. The pace of the game is faster so you don't have much time to think."
Still, for all his success, Coutinho remains cognisant of the increased scrutiny he is now under after quickly burrowing deep inside the hearts and minds of the Anfield faithful in the short time he's been with the club. His off days have been few and far between, but Coutinho is modest about his work and self-aware enough to know how to improve his game.
"I know the expectations are higher on me now because I've played more matches and done well," said Coutinho. "But I need to keep improving to make the supporters happy. I know I can improve. I know I have to be ready for every single ball, every pass, every challenge. Everything has to be at 100%. You can give no advantage to the opposition player and that's how I intend to approach this game against United."
Manchester United may bring an extra level of stress to any Liverpool match, but Coutinho's wonderful lack of interest in the details of clubs that don't affect him help to temper that stress just a tiny bit. Coutinho is quick to admit that "[he doesn't] remember watching United win any cups," and while in context he might be admitting to not having watched a lot of United games in the past, it's just too good a line for most Liverpool fans to give such a generous interpretation.
One of us, Phil, you are one of us. Or at least your translator is.