BANGKOK - A South American. Quick feet. Not the tallest. Magical, magical Liverpool player. Luis Suarez's Anfield future is still in doubt but Philippe Coutinho is fast making himself the new Kop idol.
The little Brazilian impressed the most as the Reds won 3-0 in Thailand on Sunday night, comfortably beating a national Under-23 side reinforced by senior internationals such as striker Teerasil Dangda and midfielder Adul Lahso.
It was all perfectly encapsulated in the 16th minute, a breath-taking moment of sorcery as the 1.71m attacking midfielder took on three defenders all on his own, feinted five times, left all his markers for dead before calmly stroking the ball home.
Very samba and very Suarez. This has given Liverpool hope that there could be life should their No. 7 leave, there is optimism that Coutinho can be their maker and taker of goals. As for the Uruguayan himself, he watched quietly from the far right corner of the Liverpool bench, feet resting on the cooler box.
In a very brief media conference, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers answered only two questions: His round-up of the pre-season tour and the other, from The Straits Times, on Suarez's future.
The Northern Irishman was full of praise for his side, saying: "This game, against a very tactical Thailand side, has been another step up for our fitness level.
"Our attitude, work-rate and intensity were very good. I am very pleased with the performance, we scored three terrific goals and I'm happy that the players are getting more minutes under their belts."
As noted by Rodgers, the seamless shifting through the gears will have pleased Liverpool fans.
After Coutinho got his wonder goal, the 21-year-old provided more entertainment four minutes after half-time with a slide-rule through pass for striker Iago Aspas to finish into the bottom corner.
Captain Steven Gerrard, who played the full 90 minutes, did not let his fans down when he dominated midfield and he sent the crowd into raptures with a classy chipped goal in the 59th minute after neat combination play from Aspas and Joe Allen.
But Suarez, who played the last 28 minutes, was far from enthusiastic.
Arms akimbo, the star striker hardly ran for the ball. But he still underlined his class when given proper service, looping a header against the bar in the 69th minute off Gerrard's free kick and chipping an outrageous 25-metre effort just wide in the 80th.
"He still has some way to go in terms of fitness," Rodgers noted.
As for Suarez's future, the manager insisted: "He played on Sunday and that means he's still a Liverpool player. Nothing has changed.
"He's still part of the group. He still has three years left in his contract."
But given Liverpool's record of losing key players - Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso - in recent years, Coutinho could well be the next on the crosshairs of Europe's biggest clubs.
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