Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp sold Philippe Coutinho nearly five years ago and has since moved away from using a playmaker of that style. But three more are emerging.
When Philippe Coutinho departed Liverpool for Barcelona, few would have imagined that less than five years on, he would be at Aston Villa, the side that the Reds face next, later today.
Whether Coutinho features or not remains to be seen — he might be seeking a new club again in January and has been struggling with an injury of late — but at the time, he was a major loss, even if his inflated sale allowed for the signings of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker.
Coutinho, particularly in his final six months at Liverpool, was in sublime form. His quick feet and creativity laying on balls for Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané, he was, at times, unplayable.
But even then, he did not quite fit into what Liverpool were aiming to become. The Reds’ successes that they went on to enjoy came with a more functional midfield three, rather than a two with that exciting attacking four in front.
Jürgen Klopp moved away from having a player like Coutinho after the Brazilian departed. Like with Firmino, who was at Anfield when the German arrived, it is impossible to know whether Liverpool would have gone down that route — the false nine in Firmino’s case, and the floating free role of the number 10 for Coutinho — had they not been there to start with.
But while Firmino has since adapted his position as he can no longer physically manage the false nine role to the same level of effectiveness that he once could, Coutinho was never replaced directly and the system changed immediately after he went.
Now, though, Liverpool have begun to collect young players that are in the same mould again. Thiago Alcântara replacing Gini Wijnaldum has signalled a change in approach in midfield to some degree, but there are now others who are even more Coutinho-like in their tendencies.
Curtis Jones, too, started out as a number 10. He can play wide left perfectly well but has rarely had that chance at senior level for the Reds, becoming a Wijnaldum-style conservative number eight whose natural instincts have been curbed.
Wijnaldum, even, is another good example of a player who arrived as a playmaker and was converted into a more defensive and responsible player. He might physically be better suited to playing in a Liverpool midfield role than Carvalho, Elliott or Jones, but the Dutchman is at least proof that it can be done.
There is even an argument that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could fit into that category. He arrived as a versatile player that saw his future being in the centre of midfield, but has never really suited what Liverpool have been aiming for.
His most recent appearances — as rare as they have been — have come out wide and there was a plan in the summer of 2021 that saw an attempt to convert him into a false nine.
In the cases of Carvalho, Elliott and Jones, however, who are all players that have either been signed or promoted to the senior team and seen their roles adapted recently, there is a conundrum to solve around what each of them actually looks like moving forwards.
All are technically gifted and exciting talents, but none are quite what Liverpool have looked for during their successful period of the last few seasons.
All are very much more like Coutinho, but are being played in a system that the Brazilian never fitted into, and other, newer emerging young talents like Bobby Clark are similar types of playmaking number 10s who have been moved back to number eights.
If Klopp and Pep Lijnders can find a way of fitting them into the system, Liverpool will have at least three new Coutinho-style players to choose from, with high potential. Until then, though, quite what the future looks like for each of them specifically remains to be seen, with Carvalho, Jones and Elliott, like Coutinho, all best in a role that no longer exists.