Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: evolution of Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson prime examples of strides made at Anfield
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes the evolution of Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson are prime examples of the strides being made at Anfield.
Coutinho was signed just over a year ago from Inter Milan for £8.5million and immediately showcased his abilities as a playmaker with an eye for a defence-slitting pass.
Where the little Brazilian came up short was going the other way where his defensive contribution was often found wanting.
Coutinho's arrival also coincided with a return to the team of Henderson, who - after rejecting the chance to join Wednesday's opponents Fulham the previous summer - had been a fringe player in Rodgers' first season.
A year on and the pair have cemented their positions as first choices and the manager credits the players with stepping up their efforts.
On Coutinho, Rodgers said: "He's got wonderful technique but obviously coming into the British game and this league there are other components you need to play.
"He's five foot seven, he's got brilliant technique, he's tactically cute and clever, but physically he's has everything to cope.
"People always wonder about small players in this league, can they play and can they cope?
"I think for players like him and Joe Allen, it's about the talent and if you've got the strength, your brain, the power and the mentality, you can succeed.
"If you talked to him I think he'd say one of the elements of his game he's improved are his defensive qualities - and he needs that because it's important for us and how we play."
Coutinho's presence in Liverpool's midfield, harrying and harassing Arsenal in Saturday's 5-1 victory, showed how he was putting that improved physicality into practice.
"He's not going to be diving in jumping into challenges but he can intercept, he can block, he can get up to people and press the ball," added Rodgers.
"You see with the fourth goal how he intercepted. His positioning is good so he can block passes and intercept.
"He's got a wonderful feel for a pass that not many players have.
"You either get midfield players who are holding midfield players or they're runners - he's one that can do both.
"He can get on the ball, penetrate with his passing, and he gives us a wonderful cutting edge to go and put our talented players in."
Coutinho may well have taken note of Henderson's all-action, high-energy approach in Rodgers' up-tempo pressing game which has seen him flourish over the last year.
"Jordan is taking that mantra on as well as anyone," added the Reds boss, who believes the 23-year-old is deserving of a starting place in Roy Hodgson's England team at this summer's World Cup.
"He has got everything physically. He has stature as a player and I have been mightily impressed with his tactical idea of the game and now he looks like he is ready to play for England for many years.
"Jordan can break a line on his run, can press and run and tactically he is improving so much.
"The way he is working, we would want to secure his services (on a new contract).
"He still has all his best years ahead of him and you can see his growth and development.
"He will want to get better and I'm sure it is in the interests of the club to tie him down."
Rodgers believes had Hodgson come to Anfield last weekend instead of sending assistant Ray Lewington, he would have seen England's first-choice midfield in action.
"For me you had the three England players on the pitch on Saturday with Jordan, Stevie (Steve Gerrard) controlling and (Arsenal's) Jack Wilshere," he said.
"You would have Stevie playmaking from behind and two attacking players who can run, get forward and get into the box and can press.
"With Stevie's experience controlling from behind it would be hard to pick a better three than that."
Belfast Telegraph Digital