Belfast Telegraph

Sterling's new role allowing classy Coutinho to flourish: Rodgers

By Carl Markham

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes playmaker Philippe Coutinho has come into his own in the last few weeks.

The Brazil international struggled to find his form in the early part of the season but the Reds boss believes that was down to a readjustment process the youngster was going through after the sale of Luis Suarez and the long-term injury to Daniel Sturridge.

However, the installation of Raheem Sterling as a central striker providing pace and movement on the forward line has brought the best out of Coutinho, who produced an influential performance in Tuesday's Capital One Cup semi-final first leg 1-1 draw with Chelsea.

He has also been helped by the reintroduction of two central midfielders, particularly one as defensively-minded as compatriot Lucas Leiva, as it has relieved some of the responsibility of tracking back.

"He was outstanding the other night," Rodgers said of Coutinho.

"He is that bit of magic who makes that last pass in the final third.

"Last year he had Suarez and Sturridge to make those passes to but he hasn't had that.

"Up until six or seven weeks ago he didn't have that ability to make the threaded pass through.

"Once we had that bit of mobility and speed and movement at the top end of the field - and the others around him - that has really helped him.

"He is a class act and still has so much development left to make and he is playing very well."

With a must-win semi-final second leg against Chelsea coming up on Tuesday, Rodgers has to decide just how many changes he can afford to make to rest important players for the FA Cup visit of Bolton without interrupting the rhythm of a side who look to have finally found their feet.

Since the turn of the year Rodgers has kept changes to a minimum as, with the exception of AFC Wimbledon in the previous round, he has made no more than two alterations to his line-up in their four other matches.

"We want to progress to the next round. I will do what I have done right the way through the season and look at our squad," Rodgers added.

"We have some very good players and we make some changes but not too many.

"We have kept it pretty consistent through December and I think the players who haven't been playing have been on the outside looking in seeing how the team has functioned and how well it has functioned.

"There is always a balance between consistency and rotation but it shouldn't disrupt the flow of our play so much."

Wanderers may be 15th in the SkyBet Championship but Rodgers will not under-estimate them as he has been impressed with the turnaround fellow Ulsterman Neil Lennon has affected since taking over in early October.

"He has been outstanding. I was very surprised he didn't get a Premier League job," said the Reds boss of the former Celtic manager.

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