Is Philippe Coutinho’s new found fitness his biggest strength?

Coutinho Liverpool

Philippe Coutinho started his 19th consecutive game in Liverpool’s 2-0 victory at Southampton.

22-year-old Coutinho had a slow start to the season after missing Brazil’s World Cup campaign, but he has quickly become undroppable for Liverpool.

After a number of substitute appearances at the beginning of the campaign, when he was in and out of the side due to injury and poor form, the Brazilian playmaker has now started 19 consecutive games - finishing an incredible 17 of those. For a player generally considered to be lightweight and not much of a physical presence, that shows an incredible misreading of his abilities, and he has now cemented himself as a true star, rather than a luxury player in Brendan Rodgers’ plans.

His game changing output is starting to increase - he has scored or assisted a goal seven times in his last 16 games - and being impervious to tiredness and physical ailments has helped bring stability to a side who were floundering at the opening of the season.

When compared to other players, Coutinho is generally drawn alongside Chelsea playmaker Oscar, with them both playing in the same position. However, the comparison has always seemed strange, with Oscar providing less creative and more defensive action than Coutinho, who turns out much like a classic Brazilian number 10. Oscar has always been praised for his work rate and physicality, but it now appears as if Coutinho is starting to follow in his compatriot's footsteps.

Although completing less tackles per game than he was last season, Coutinho is performing in a deeper role to win the ball back, and is therefore completing more clearances, interceptions and blocks than he was last term. He is still off Oscar’s average of all defensive actions, but the recent encouragement suggests that he will only get better as the season wears on - rather than wear out, as the Chelsea man seemingly has done for the past few years.

It seems obvious to suggest that fitness should be a key trait for a professional footballer of any kind, let alone one playing in one of the top divisions in world football. However, Coutinho has often struggled with the rigours of the Premier League, and his form has suffered due to this. Yet, there are now signs that he has overcome his weakness and made it his biggest strength, with his ability to avoid fatigue making him a key part of the Reds plans. He still gets pushed off the ball too easily when faced with large, strong players - a problem due to his slight frame - and has a tendency to lose form for a number of weeks after a couple of brilliant displays, but these problems are also seemingly disappearing, and it may not be too long before the young Brazilian is taking his rightful place as one of the best players in the Premier League.

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