After one substitute appearance against Sevilla and a start against Burnley in the league and, by his third game—against Leicester in the League Cup—Philippe Coutinho was almost back to his best. Even if Jürgen Klopp only felt comfortable using him for 45 minutes. Even if it didn’t show on the scoresheet.
Four days later, against Leicester again but in the league, it did show. It was Coutinho’s fourth appearance of the season and third start. He had a goal and an assist in 79 minutes and was arguably the best player on the pitch. A month ago, even two weeks ago, getting to that point seemed far from certain.
“It’s not about Coutinho’s character, but it say a lot about the relationship between our supporters and Phil,” Klopp noted following Saturday’s 3-2 victory over Leicester in the Premier League that owed a great deal to the talented Brazilian who had less than a month ago been fighting to leave the club.
There may still be hard feelings—there almost certainly are given how Coutinho and his agent tried to push a move through—and it would be trite to say the events of the summer have been forgotten or forgiven after one star turn, but it’s to everyone’s credit they have turned their focus to football.
“When he came on against Sevilla, for the last 15 minutes, nobody knew how Anfield would react,” continued the Liverpool manager. “Anfield pushed. It was really there. That’s what I love in football. Maybe we don’t agree in each moment, but when you have a minute to think you remember we are a family.”
No grumbles and, while his name hasn’t been chanted like it was at times last season, Coutinho has been cheered. And Coutinho in turn has put his all into the action on the pitch; has put in the past all the talk from the Catalan press of strikes and strained relationships and deep unhappiness at his situation.
On Saturday, after 137 minutes in three games to serve as a substitute pre-season, Coutinho looked back to his absolute best. He will start again on Tuesday in Moscow, and the expectation will be another star turn. All may not be forgotten and forgiven, but for now there’s football to focus on.
“That’s how they reacted,” Klopp added. “They really loved it [when he came on against Sevilla] and it helped Phil a lot. He can just play football now, he can be concentrated on football, he can perform.”