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So Who's Pinky Then, Brendan?

After looking like Liverpool's best player for a third pre-season match in a row, Philippe Coutinho has been receiving managerial praise for his game intelligence. One can't help but wonder about who might balance out the Brazilian's cleverness.

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Philippe was thrilled with his new Flanno Snood - it really was the season's must-have accessory.
Philippe was thrilled with his new Flanno Snood - it really was the season's must-have accessory.
Alex Livesey

Team building, as Brendan Rodgers will know, is all about balance. As the Antrim man searches for the perfect alchemy in the formation of his new Liverpool side, different players will serve different roles. Steven Gerrard will be the exemplar, the one to be emulated in terms of attitude and deportment. He will also provide wise counsel to the many emergent talents in Rodgers' young squad. In a different way, Raheem Sterling, despite his comparative juvenescence, will hopefully serve as a muse for those same youngsters, a walking embodiment of how fresh-faced boyish promise need not go unfulfilled and an inspiring totem of the Liverpool manager's admirable faith in talent, irrespective of age.

Off the field, the gaffer himself is a fine example to his charges. Aside altogether from the coaching insight and almost paternal man-management he has always provided for his group, the Carnlough native is a visual manifestation of self-discipline and reinvention. As he stalks the training ground resplendent in the uncharacteristically attractive training kit Warrior have produced, a picture of svelte haleness due to his own daily training, Rodgers words will, ironically, carry more weight with the body-conscious professional young athletes he leads. Similarly, should those same young men require any advice in the shameless and inappropriate sporting of shorts in all climes, Colin Pascoe is there to field those queries with a rakish panache. As we said, balance is the key.

It is on the pitch, however, that equilibrium and harmony are most vital. To that end, the manager must fashion a complex new equation which allows for the negative of Luis Suárez's absence and the unpredictable positives of the various new additions he has made to his squad. Rodgers' brain is no doubt straining with the two sides of the equals sign as he tries to balance the personnel available to him. Happily, to negate the loss of a former superstar, he can now factor in the youthful élan and trickery of Lazar Markovic, the inventive probing of Adam Lallana, the guile and experience of Rickie Lambert and the pulchritudinous powerhouse thrust of Emre Can.

Despite these new positives, it is likely to be from the more experienced and established members of the team that the initial impetus will come. The aforementioned Gerrard and Sterling will need to be on top of their game as the season begins, and with Liverpool's comparatively difficult opening fixtures in mind, the likes of the indefatigable Jordan Henderson and the impishly brilliant Philippe Coutinho must begin the campaign with the same brio as they ended the last.

Interestingly, due to his ludicrous omission from the Brazilian squad by the now axed Luis Felipe Scolari, Coutinho is a few weeks ahead of his other regular first team chums and the number ten has been to the fore in the pre-season fixtures to date. Clever movement, strength, mobility, guile, vision and an eye for a shot have all been on display from the attacker and despite his relative youth, Brendan Rodgers has no problem in pigeon-holing Coutinho as a leader, an intelligent reader of the game, whose ability to see a picture of what is taking place and spring teammates with and incisive pass, will be vital, according to his manager.

"Coutinho is the brain in our team, the continuity player," enthused Rodgers. "He might not score many goals, but he's a wonderful reference for the team. He is the one that gets the team ticking, gets the movement in front of the ball. He goes and gets on the ball. He's a fantastic talent for such a young player and he's still gaining his fitness. He makes the crowd get off their seat. For someone so small, he's very tough and robust. He's a wonderful technician that has a great idea, tactically, of the game."

As the teams lined out in the green-hued stately magnificence of Fenway Park last night, it was a thrill for many Liverpool fans to see the likes of Can and Lambert but it was that familiar astute presence of Coutinho that lit up a desperately drab affair on a couple of occasions. Francesco Totti et al grabbed a late late winner to consign Liverpool to their second defeat in three games but in Coutinho, Liverpool fans found consolation that all may be well. His capacity to ghost past defenders and the strength he developed so notably last season are the perfect foils for that game intelligence his manager is so enthused by. Unsurprisingly, Rodgers seemed unfazed by the result and preferred to focus on what had been gained from the exercise.

"These are two Champions League teams, two teams that are at a good level of pre-season and two sets of committed players that are very competitive," insisted the Anfield boss. "Pre-season friendly or not, both teams wanted to play well and work well. I thought it was a perfect game at this stage of our preparation phase. This is one of a number of good games that we've got coming up that are going to really sharpen us up for the beginning of the season. It's not about results at this stage. The most important result for me is the first game of the season. You have a choice - you can play friendlies that probably make you win every game and you might not find anything out.

"We've got a really tough set of fixtures over the course of the pre-season. We've got a great tour out here and then we go back and within a few days we'll play Borussia Dortmund. We're really pitching ourselves in at a good level to get a good gauge. The most important objective is that we're in a really good physical condition for our first game of the season, against Southampton. And that technically and tactically, we'll have honed up all of the principles and ideas that have made us so successful in the last couple of years. That will be the most important result for us."

These, of course, are undeniably sound, if predictably upbeat musings from Rodgers but it is his earlier observation that really sets one's mind to work today. If Coutinho is the Brain of the team, who is it's Pinky? Who is the vacuous but likable presence whose bovine ineptitude is the yin to the Brazilian's yang? As your scribbler watched the recorded highlights again this morning before penning this typically addled offering, it was as painfully apparent as it has always been. For there, with his latest daft haircut and bulging biceps was Jose Enrique, without the faintest clue what was occurring, dreaming only of his next zany selfie. You have to love him.

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