Philippe Coutinho: Bayern Munich's Brazilian magician and MD15's Man of the Matchday
Hansi Flick said it best after Philippe Coutinho scored a hat-trick and laid on two assists in Bayern Munich’s emphatic 6-1 victory over Werder Bremen on Bundesliga Matchday 15.
"Obviously Philippe Coutinho was Man of the Match today with three goals and two assists," Bayern’s interim coach told bundesliga.com. "That’s the Philippe we know from training, and I was especially pleased that the whole team was happy for him in performing the way he did today. He was just pure class."
No one would dare to argue with Flick’s assessment. Not even the most churlish Liverpool fan - Coutinho’s former club - could begrudge the Barcelona loanee his place back in the spotlight. His Bayern mentor insisted the watershed moment would come - but perhaps even he didn’t expect it to arrive so soon.
Watch: Hansi Flick reflects on Philippe Coutinho’s majestic display against Bremen
"He’s in very good shape and is on the right track," Flick said after Coutinho, 27, scored his fourth Bayern goal in the UEFA Champions League midweek win over Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur. "It's not easy to come to Germany and get a foothold straight away. He will show his quality again."
And so it came to pass - less than 72 hours later. Having conjured up only glimmers of magic in his previous 19 competitive outings in the red of Bayern, Coutinho channelled every ounce of his inner wizard in a spellbinding individual display.
The signs were there early in the contest as Coutinho - picking up where he left off against Spurs - breezed inside and fired over Bremen No.1 Jiri Pavlenka’s goal frame. At times he was Bayern’s furthest player forward, and when Serge Gnabry directed Joshua Kimmich’s intuitive chipped pass towards the back post it wasn’t top scorer Robert Lewandowski arriving unmarked to apply the finishing touch, but Coutinho.
Milot Rashica's smash-and-grab opener effectively a long forgotten memory, Bremen were a team possessed by external forces. Yet there was no black magic involved; just one mesmeric playmaker. Bayern supporters were still celebrating Coutinho’s equaliser when he blindsided the visiting defence with an audacious left-footed chip that Lewandowski gleefully put away in first-half added time. Roles were reversed soon after the restart, but Pavlenka was up to the challenge. It was a battle the Czech stopper would not win again.
Werder had lost their last 17 Bundesliga meetings with Bayern in a row, and Coutinho ensured the hoodoo would continue just past the witching hour (the 63rd minute, to be precise). After bringing defender David Alaba’s flighted pass through the middle under wraps with his studs, it was almost as if he summoned the ball up off the turf before lofting a no-look lob using the outside of his right boot over the nonplussed Pavlenka for 3-1. The temerity, the execution - it was footballing sorcery at its finest.
Lewandowski doubled up to draw level with Jupp Heynckes in the Bundesliga’s all-time scoring charts on 220 goals, but the day belonged to Coutinho. Following a selfless assist for substitute Thomas Müller, the former Porto, Inter Milan and Liverpool string-puller completed his hat-trick with a trademark arrowed attempt from the left-hand side of the opposition area. No wonder he left the field to a standing ovation with six minutes of normal time remaining.
"He ran the show today with the ball, with his movement," enthused Lewandowski after the game. "What he did was just incredible. We need a player like that. I’m really happy that he showed just how good he is today and what potential he has."
Coutinho has been here before - having hit club hat-tricks in Liverpool and Barcelona colours, and for the Brazil national team - but it is the first time in his career he has had a direct hand in five goals in a single game. It took him roughly 36 minutes to snare the match-ball - he had scored three in his previous 12 Bundesliga outings - and his unerring precision bumped his assist count up to five for the campaign.
Watch: Philippe Coutinho discusses his match-winning display against Werder
'O Magico' also completed 91 per cent of his attempted passes, while his eight shots and four passes to a shot put him one ahead of the entire Werder team for efforts on goal - as well as representing an individual season record shared with Lewandowski.
"I always try to do my best," Coutinho said modestly. "Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. The main thing was to win again and keep pace at the top. That’s where we want to be."
Bayern moved up to fourth and to within six points of the summit on the back of their Bremen drubbing. With peak Coutinho to the fore, the reigning champions will be quietly confident of reeling in pacesetters RB Leipzig and Borussia Mönchengladbach before the season is out - no dark arts necessary.
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