Philippe Coutinho’s first successful dissection of West Ham arrived on 35 minutes. Before calling for possession, he had spotted Daniel Sturridge’s exploitation of their defence and duly threaded a pass through five markers into the path of the striker’s run.
Coutinho and Sturridge sizzle
But the Brazil international’s intention - from a deeper midfield position - to ensure Sunday’s game at the London Stadium belonged to Liverpool and him had been signalled much earlier.
Soon after kick off, he was harrying Slaven Bilic’s side out of possession, clearing one of the hosts' early breaks to set the Reds on the counter.
Coutinho was demanding to be fed at every opportunity, and on more than one occasion, instructed the full-backs to give him an extra outlet.Reds unbeaten in London this season
Liverpool had adopted a safety-first approach in their previous four games, but with the 24-year-old tasked with orchestrating play in a 4-4-2 diamond, a more expansive and inspired performance was obvious.
Former Reds boss Brendan Rodgers had envisioned him as the club’s No.8 in a long-term plan and worked to sharpen up his defensive elements.
Jurgen Klopp felt the switch would make the side “stronger for sure” with Coutinho having more influence and Liverpool able to introduce another natural wide player on the left in future.
All the evidence over the weekend rendered both managers correct as he dominated in the 4-0 victory, to dribble and dazzle the Merseysiders closer to Champions League football.
When Joel Matip supplied him from the right early on, Coutinho could’ve released an unmarked James Milner. Instead, he cut between two West Ham players before standing up a third, to find Adam Lallana’s intelligent run through another pair.New landmark for Liverpool star
By the time Sturridge had rounded Adrian to finish off Coutinho’s glorious service, the playmaker had already delivered a corner to the back post that Matip headed onto the bar, as well as had two shots of his own.
When he wasn’t managing the supply into the final third, he was darting there to directly influence the scoreboard himself.
As Coutinho weaved his wizardry for Liverpool’s second - his first of the game - six opponents were shifted and twisted before he found the far corner.
‘O Magico’ seemed to stop time and West Ham as his next trick when he casually dribbled round James Collins, before slicing a shot between a diving Adrian and Aaron Cresswell for his double.
The composure, control and artistry on display from the player Luis Suarez described as “the difference that makes Liverpool” completely belied the situation his team were in prior to the encounter.
Klopp was inundated with questions about how the Reds would cope with the pressure of needing to win at West Ham - a side they hadn’t beaten in the previous five clashes in all competitions.
The importance of victory was further stressed by Manchester City and Arsenal’s maximum-point hauls on Saturday, which sparked jitters through a large section of Liverpool’s fan base.
There was no margin for error, and yet, there were no nerves from Coutinho, who completely bossed proceedings.
At differing periods, Emre Can, Milner, Dejan Lovren and Matip all got out of his way and let him get on with it.
Liverpool needed a win, they needed someone to look to, they needed someone to believe in.
Every time Coutinho was in possession, Lallana, Sturridge and Divock Origi were on the move - he was the one they looked to, he was the one they believed in and ultimately, he was the one who transformed their necessity into reality.
Steven Gerrard had long labelled the little genius as Liverpool's “leading player” and this is what the very best do: drive clubs towards their ambitions.
When Coutinho signed a new five-year deal in January without a release clause amid a charm offensive from Barcelona, he indicated his aim was to have Liverpool “fighting with the best teams in Europe.”
His performance on Sunday illustrated just how much he wants the Reds to return to the competition, and how much he deserves to showcase his talents on that premier stage.
Sturridge and Lallana had both pointed towards Coutinho on the pitch in recognition of how influential he’d been. And Lovren provided a splendid assessment post-match to Liverpool’s official website.
“Our quality decided the game,” the centre-back offered. "Philippe was amazing today, he was the difference I would say.
“I said to him ‘soon you’ll be a defensive midfield player!’ and he was laughing. It says everything, he can play in every position, up front, in the middle, like a 10, he’s just brilliant.
“It was definitely difficult for them because he took the ball deep and with his skills, his fast movements, it’s quite tough to stop him. You can just stop him with fouls!”
“He was taking two players on straight away and then you had space for the long ball, for Sturridge, for Divock [Origi].”
Klopp has been perplexed by the reports linking Coutinho to Barcelona, which will not cease.
“Before he signed the new contract there were rumours, after he signed the contract there were rumours,” the manager said. “What can you do to stop the rumours? I have no idea.”
Luminary displays like the one at West Ham will only elevate interest in Coutinho, who has continuously expressed his desire to remain on Merseyside in the immediate future, from the world’s premier clubs.
Liverpool have to be relentless, as per Klopp’s blueprint, to be among that pack again. The longer they keep their Brazilian virtuoso, the more likely that scenario is to materialise.