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Coutinho Focused on Defensive Improvements

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With a role deeper in the midfield in recent weeks, Philippe Coutinho's defensive responsibilities have increased, and he's proven successful in winning back possession with smart pressing and an aggressive defensive mentality that hadn't previously been associate with the player.

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Mike Hewitt

There's not any sort of consensus about where Philippe Coutinho lines up best--some like him on the left of a three-man forward line, where he can drift inward, some prefer to see him as a more traditional number ten just off the striker, and still others held the belief that he would be most effective as part of a 1-2 midfield, where he could link play from deeper with the benefit of a bit more time and space.

Wherever he ends up, though, he's tended to provide moments of unmatched quality, and it's perhaps not surprising that when Brendan Rodgers decided to use him as one of the more advanced midfielders in a three-man setup, he was still able to have an important impact on Liverpool's attack. What did surprise, albeit only slightly given what we'd already seen, was the success and intensity Coutinho committed to the defensive side of the game, proving one of Liverpool's most aggressive players in pressing and dispossessing the opposition.

That success is partly a product of the Brazilian's fiery demeanor and, according to him, partly down to boring old practice:

"I always do my best and help my teammates when I'm on the pitch. I've been trying to improve intensity, marking and defence forms in training. I believe this is helpful at matches as we may take the ball from the opposition and it's easier to attack when we have more blank spaces. I've been trying to improve in this aspect. I've been trying to do this in training as well as in games. I believe this is a positive aspect at which I've been improving. I'm always working to be in good form for matches," he replies. "The team have been performing very well recently and of course all players do well as a consequence because we encourage and help each other. I didn't play so well in some games but I've had the chance to improve and I'm looking forward to improving even more going forward."

The payoff has been clear since he dropped a bit deeper to join Jordan Henderson; together they make for one of the league's most annoying midfield pairings, with smart positioning and clever tackling that often occurs before the opposition knows what's on them. Coutinho is quicker to tire, as most players are when compared to Henderson, but he's more than held his own in his new role and looks set to continue through the run-in.

He might not end up there heading into next season, with reinforcements likely throughout midfield and attack, but the evidence thus far indicates that wherever Rodgers decides to use him, Philippe Coutinho's got both the quality and commitment to have an impact.