If you had said to me at the start of the season that in a tight game tied at 0-0, Philippe Coutinho would be the first choice player to be substituted, I would have laughed and called you an idiot.
Our little magician and playmaker? Capable of unlocking a defence with a single piece of magic from nothing? Not a chance.
But when his number went up against Ludogorets last night to be replaced, I was in full agreement with the bosses decision.
Because despite being one of the most exciting Liverpool players of the past 12 months, Coutinho has started this season poorly.
So poorly in fact, that Brendan Rodgers has substituted the Brazilian in three out of the four matches he has played – whilst he remained an unused substitute for the Reds most impressive display of the season so far, the 3-0 win at Tottenham.
And it remains something of a mystery as to why, considering the 22-year-old was Liverpool’s most outstanding player of pre-season.
True, pre-season is never a time to judge anything, and this campaign remains just five games old. I fully expect Coutinho to turn things around, with the old cliche ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ making it’s first appearance of the season at this point.
But the statistics at the moment, make slightly worrying reading.
Coutinho has created one chance per game this season – he averaged almost two last term.
He has managed 2.3 shots per game in comparison to last season’s 2.8, whilst the amount of times he has lost possession on average has gone up to 2.3 from last term’s 1.
His dribbles past opponents has dropped most significantly, with a success rate of 58% last season going down to 30% after his opening four matches.
Of course it is early days, but why has there been such a dip in all aspects of his game?
It would be too easy to say he is simply missing Luis Suarez, but I believe the Uruguayan’s departure has had an effect on Coutinho – perhaps mentally and physically.
Not only has the young playmaker lost one of his closest allies in the Liverpool dressing room – two in fact when you consider Sebastian Coates has also left for Sunderland – but he has also been forced to take on added responsibility.
Pre-season could have proved to be slightly misleading, as well as with the recent call up to the Brazilian national team.
Bare in mind Coutinho is still just 22-years-old, and it would be unfair to place so much creative burden on someone so young in the absence of Suarez.
Whilst you could argue it has not effected Raheem Sterling – who is three years Coutinho’s junior – the Brazilian’s strengths lie in unlocking defences with passes, rather than Sterling’s directness and trickery in and around the box.
Coutinho developed a superb understanding with Luis Suarez during their time together at Anfield – although it could be argued his relationship with Daniel Sturridge is even better.
Coutinho has provided Sturridge with five assists since the pair arrived at the club together in January 2012 – and you would consider that figure would be greater had it not been for both having struggled at different times with injuries.
Sturridge’s pace in behind defenders makes him the ideal forward for a player of Coutinho’s qualities.
His goals against Everton and Arsenal last season, and finishes against Newcastle and Fulham the season before, are perfect examples of this – as was the stunning assist he provided for Sturridge’s pre-season goal against Borussia Dortmund.
But Coutinho has been unfortunate that in two matches alongside Sturridge this season, he has been played out of his favoured position – wide in a 4-3-3 formation.
Whilst he is capable of doing a decent job from either flank, Coutinho is primarily a number 10 player, most suited to playing off one or two strikers.
But the times he has featured for the Reds in that role – or in a midfield three last night – he has had Mario Balotelli ahead of him, a striker whose natural game is not to run in behind defenders and stretch the game.
Coutinho was having to perform eye of the needle kind of stuff too often last night, and it is no wonder his performance level and passing statistics have dipped when you consider he was providing service to the most feared strike force in the country last term.
It is easy to forget that with so many new signings having been brought in this summer, that the players already at Brendan Rodgers disposal will also need time to adapt.
Whilst it has been a tricky start for Liverpool’s little magician, we have all seen enough of his quality over the past 18 months to agree he will come good again sooner rather than later.
What have you made of Philippe Coutinho’s performances so far this season? Would you start him for our next game with West Ham? Let us know your thoughts below.