Coutinho's quality too much for Aston Villa

Posted by Dominic Raynor

Phillipe Coutinho celebrates Liverpool taking the lead with captain Steven GerrardGettyImagesPhillipe Coutinho celebrates with captain Steven Gerrard after Liverpool takes the lead against Aston Villa.

As Paul Lambert's fresh-faced Aston Villa threw away a one-goal lead and a golden opportunity to clamber out of the Premier League relegation zone, Liverpool's 20-year-old Brazilian, Philippe Coutinho, put in a performance that showed just how far short his young peers in claret and blue are from being the real deal.

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The difference, of course, is that Liverpool's starlet is surrounded by players of experience and quality who are looking up the table. Villa's youngsters are embroiled in a battle at the bottom and once again lacked both those previously mentioned qualities in sufficient amounts at Villa Park on Sunday.

In the five games Coutinho has started for Liverpool, he has been involved in five goals -- scoring two and assisting three -- and it was his vision that turned this game on its head as the Reds secured a 2-1 win. His well-crafted through ball from the left flank set Jordan Henderson racing free before the oft-criticised midfielder produced a sublime chipped finish to beat goalkeeper Brad Guzan and capitalise on Liverpool's domination after the break.

But it was Villa that started the game the better. Following victories against fellow relegation battlers QPR and Reading, Villa began the match in the knowledge they could escape from the bottom three with just a draw and bristled with an early confidence and resolve that had been absent for much of the season.

The first real chance of the game fell to Gabby Agbonlahor when, after a moment of panic in the Liverpool box, he smashed a shot straight at goalkeeper Pepe Reina, and although he should have scored, there were signs that Villa's luck might be changing. Villa also provided the game with the obligatory moment of defensive madness that has cost them dearly this season -- this time a mix-up between Barry Bannan and Yacouba Sylla -- but Luis Suarez failed to beat Guzan one-on-one.

Then on the half-hour, Agbonlahor laid the ball back to Christian Benteke, who leathered it in from the edge of the box to take his goal tally for the season to 18 and lift the Midlands club momentarily out of the relegation zone. But Lady Luck it seems is fickle, and the goal only served to wake Liverpool from their slumber.

The Reds had already had their moments, with the boot of Coutinho providing Suarez with resplendent passes from which the Uruguayan repeatedly failed to finish, but as the break neared, Liverpool cranked up the pressure to test Villa's resolve. First Suarez stung the hands of Guzan and then Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard called the American into action with a swerving, dipping strike that the goalkeeper did well to adjust to. It was a taste of things to come after the interval.

When the second half began, the previously confident Villa reverted to the shambles of earlier in the season, at least for the key period of the match, and as Liverpool took hold of the game, Coutinho stamped his mark on it.

Just two minutes after the break, Coutinho delivered a through ball from the left flank that bypassed Villa’s defence and fell at the feet of Henderson to equalise. Moments later, the Brazilian had his own chance to add his name to the score sheet, waltzing through the Villa offside trap to latch onto a Suarez through ball but placing his shot inches wide of the far post.

A marauding Glen Johnson hit the post as Villa crumbled and then collapsed. Nathan Baker, a defensive rock in the first half, was suckered into a challenge by Suarez, who went down in the box for a clear penalty. Gerrard scored from the spot to complete the turnaround.

Villa recovered to give it a go and as they pushed for the equaliser, it highlighted Coutinho's shortcomings on the defensive side. Despite his impact going forward, it is clear the youngster needs to bulk up and track back if he is not to be classed as a luxury player.

The early signs are that Inter Milan made a mistake offloading Coutinho for just £6.5 million, and if the Brazilian continues his current trajectory, he will be more than just a luxury at a bargain price.

Twitter @domraynorespn

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