Coutinho handed in a transfer request in August after Barcelona had a bid for the Brazilian rejected, but the Reds turned down a further two offers, with owners Fenway Sports Group publicly stating he was not for sale.
The 25-year-old missed the start of the season with a back problem, but has been outstanding since his return and it was his superb strike that set Liverpool on their way at the Vitality Stadium.
Interviewed on Sky Sports alongside team-mate Oxlade-Chamberlain post-match, Coutinho was asked whether he wanted to stay at Liverpool until the end of the season.
“I always say the same thing – I try to enjoy the moment,” Coutinho said. “I like to play football and every time when I go on the pitch I try my best.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain then interrupted, adding: “He’s a Liverpool player right now and he’s doing really well for us.
“He’s been the most professional person I’ve seen all season; he’s been top quality from the start and every time he gives his all for the club.
“That’s the most important thing right now. It’s not fair to ask those kind of questions, I don’t think, but he gives us his all every game and that’s all you can ask of him.”
“It was a nice goal but for me the most important thing is Liverpool getting better and winning games.”
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 17, 2017
It was far from a vintage United performance as they had to hold on at the end to secure all three points, but a win is a win, and this Manager Microscope dissects the tactics that saw United get all three points.
Jose Mourinho wore a scowl throughout and rarely got up from his seat, but he said he was happy with his team’s performance and the result. Here’s an analysis of how the Portuguese fared.
BASIC RED DEVILS STATS
Shots – 7
Shots on target – 3
Pass success – 82%
Aerial duel success – 65%
Dribbles won – 8
Tackles – 11
Possession – 57%
STARTING FORMATION [4-2-3-1]
Despite success with three at the back last month, Mourinho has reverted to his usual 4-2-3-1 in recent fixtures and stuck with that again, allowing him to field four attacking players against what he no doubt expected to be a compact and defensive West Brom side.
Marcus Rashford came in for Anthony Martial in the only change from United’s mid-week win over Bournemouth, starting alongside Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata behind Romelu Lukaku, while Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic continued in midfield as Paul Pogba served the last game of his suspension. Phil Jones started for a second straight game after returning from injury, alongside Chris Smalling, while Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young took up the full-back positions.
TACTICAL TURNING POINTS
Patient attacking play
United built slowly but with thought, as they had to do against a West Brom side set-up to contain first. Mata saw a lot of the ball and popped up everywhere, despite starting on the right wing, and Lingard was equally mobile in his No. 10 position.
The movement between those two created United’s second goal, but it was Rashford’s play hugging the left touchline that opened the scoring. His perfect cross left Lukaku with little to do to head the ball in and score for the second straight game – signs that the striker’s form is returning.
Lingard’s goal to put United 2-0 up was fortunate in that his seemingly innocuous shot took a huge deflection, but credit to Mata’s movement to emerge on the left wing, dribble inwards and at the heart of the defence, and then lay the ball off to Lingard to shoot.
Foot off the gas
Sitting on a two-goal lead, United were content to control the game rather than kill it off completely, although they did come close to scoring a third on occasion. The Baggies also made some tactical tweaks to come out of half-time looking a more dangerous side.
However, United’s inability to take the game to West Brom was frustrating. Perhaps the experience of last month’s 4-2 win over Watford, when they took a 3-0 lead but saw it slip to 3-2, influenced the choice to hold firm rather than putting their foot to the throat, but the decision to shut up shop, more or less, was disappointing – and nearly came back to haunt them.
Withstand late barrage
The inability or unwillingness to push on nearly cost United, as West Brom scored in the 77th minute to set up a nervy finish. From that point, it was all the home side, as United’s back line had to withstand a barrage. In fairness, other than one moment when David de Gea flapped at a corner, only to gratefully see it bounce back into his arms, West Brom didn’t have a clear-cut chance to equalise.
Jones and Smalling took responsibility in dealing with the crosses, with ample help from Nemanja Matic – who was partially at fault for West Brom’s goal, caught ball-watching as a corner went just inches over his head before ricocheting back into the goalmouth. The midfielder made up for it over the next fifteen minutes, while Herrera did well to cut out any attacks that came through the middle, and United hung on for victory.
Mourinho set United up to create and take chances, and saw his side do just that in the first-half. They built a platform for a big win by going into half-time with a 2-0 lead.
But whether he instructed his charges to sit back in the second period, or West Brom just found another gear, United rarely threatened to extend that lead and put the game beyond doubt. They defended well when they were put under pressure as their hosts chased an equaliser, but they shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place.
In the end, however, three points, away from home – and against a team that was coming off of holding Liverpool to a 0-0 draw – is a result Mourinho will take any day, regardless of whatever criticism he may face.
Jose Mourinho, the nasty dinosaur taking football back to the dark ages, currently has his team 10 points ahead of the innovate, swashbuckling Mauricio Pochettino’s…
— Andy (@andykeating) December 17, 2017
José Mourinho is often accused of not improving players but I think he’s worked wonders with Jesse Lingard
— Ryan Baldi (@RyanBaldiFW) December 17, 2017
2-0 up, #mufc fans loving it, and now singing the “…park the bus, Man United…playing football the Mourinho way” song.
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) December 17, 2017
Having gone into this game 14 points behind Manchester City after the Premier League leaders won on Saturday, Manchester United knew that any residual title hopes resided in whether they could avoid slipping up.
A visit to second-bottom West Brom seemed like the perfect match, but this is the same West Brom side that held Liverpool to a draw at Anfield in midweek. However, United raced to a 2-0 lead thanks to first-half goals from Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard, before holding on for a 2-1 win after withstanding some late pressure.
Here are the ratings for both sides.
Ben Foster – 6
Could do nothing for either goal, and was particularly unfortunate on the second, when he seemed to have Lingard’s shot covered only for a deflection to take it away from him. Otherwise was largely untroubled.
Allan Nyom – 6
Rashford and then Martial enjoyed some good fortune against the West Brom right-back, but he held his own more often than not. United’s opener came down his side, however, with Rashford afforded the time and space to cross.
Ahmed Hegazi – 6
Had an engaging duel with United youngster Marcus Rashford, in which he largely came out on top. It was unfortunate that his attempt to block Lingard’s goalbound shot gave United their second goal.
Jonny Evans – 7
Largely martialled the West Brom defence well, although questions will be asked as to why neither he nor Hegazi picked up Lukaku for United’s opener, with the striker pulling onto Gibbs instead.
Kieran Gibbs – 6
Did a poor job defending Lukaku for United’s goal, although it was a mismatch that the striker ruthlessly exploited. A quiet performance otherwise.
Livermore – 6
Another solid but unspectacular performance from Livermore. He was bypassed too easily on a couple of occasions when United broke in the second-half, but otherwise followed the brief of sitting back and absorbing the pressure.
Claudio Yacob – 5
Was hooked off at half-time as West Brom looked to gain control in midfield, which was telling. There are days when Yacob is West Brom’s best player, but this wasn’t one of them.
Grzegorz Krychowiak – 6
Krychowiak is growing in confidence under Alan Pardew, but he still hasn’t been able to have the impact that was expected of him when he arrived from PSG. This was another game in which he looked steady, but didn’t do much.
Oliver Burke – 6
A first Premier League start for the highly-touted Burke, and he showed his potential at times. He’s still raw, and there were times when it was easy to spot why West Brom have been cautious with him, but getting on the pitch will have been a boost.
Salomon Rondon – 6
Kept quiet by United’s defence, until a late burst in which he made a nuisance of himself. Even then, however, he didn’t look like he could make his usual impact in front of goal, although in his defence he barely had a chance.
James McClean – 6
Never really looked a threat in attack, although he defended well, which must have been the original plan until West Brom went behind. Failed to take advantage of Marcos Rojo’s apparent shakiness, letting the substitute off on a couple of occasions.
Gareth Barry (Yacob, 46th min) – 7
Was a surprise introduction at half-time, but it was understandable given West Brom’s midfield had barely been in the game up until then. Was in the right place at the right time to score and bring the home side back into the game.
Jay Rodriguez (Burke, 65th min) – 6
Brought on to offer more to West Brom’s attack, but he barely had a sniff of goal.
Chris Brunt (Krychowiak, 72nd min) – 7
His arrival changed the game. That trademark left-footed delivery led to West Brom’s goal and a couple of other half-chances, and in general the hosts were much more of a threat once he came on.
David de Gea – 7
Had little to do – most of the saves he had to make were routine. Could do nothing about West Brom’s goal, which was poked home from close range.
Antonio Valencia – 7
Was solid throughout, quelling any West Brom attacking threat down his flank. Didn’t get up to join United’s attack as much as usual, although that may have been by design. Went off injured, which will be a worry for Mourinho.
Phil Jones – 7
Looked assured in defence, keeping Rondon quiet throughout the game. When West Brom ramped up the pressure, Jones dealt with the set pieces and aerial attack extremely well.
Chris Smalling – 6
Alongside Jones, did a good job of keeping West Brom’s attack in check for most of the game, and stood firm when the pressure was on. Took over the armband when Valencia went off.
Ashley Young – 6
It was a rare off game for Young this season. Although he was solid defensively, in attack he was below his usual level, failing to pick the right pass or cross on more than one occasion.
Ander Herrera – 6
Had an untroubled first-half, moving the ball on well as United dominated. Of the two midfielders, Herrera looked less uncomfortable when United came under pressure, reading West Brom’s attacks well and protecting his defence.
Nemanja Matic – 6
Had a solid opener, with usual disciplined passing and positioning, but seemed overrun when West Brom stepped up the pressure at the end. Lost the flight of the ball on the corner that led to West Brom’s goal.
Juan Mata – 7
Took advantage of the freedom afforded him in the first-half, seeing a lot of the ball and popping up all across United’s attacking line.
Jesse Lingard – 7
Was his usual busy self as United’s nominal No.10, linking up well with his fellow attackers. Got a little lucky with his goal, which came via a sizable deflection.
Marcus Rashford – 7
It was his cross that led to United’s opening goal, a pinpoint delivery to pick out Lukaku. Had a decent chance to score himself, in the second-half, and was full of running throughout.
Romelu Lukaku – 8
Scored for the second time in a week, which should silence some of the critics and questions regarding his form. Didn’t really have many chances otherwise,
Marcos Rojo (Valencia, 65th min) – 6
Was at fault for West Brom’s goal, failing to deal with a corner – watching the ball ricochet off his legs and back into the goalmouth. Nearly scored an own goal, slicing a clearance just wide off his own post.
Anthony Martial (Rashford, 79th min) – N/A
The customary Rashford/Martial swap. United had just conceded when Martial came on and were under the cosh afterwards, leaving the Frenchman with little opportunity to show his usual attacking flair.
Scott McTominay (Lingard, 85th min) – N/A
Brought on to provide more height in United’s side as West Brom launched a late aerial barrage in search of an equaliser.