In August, Barcelona were rumoured to have offered as much as £138 million (€155 million) to sign Philippe Coutinho, a figure which would have made the Brazilian the world’s second most expensive player at the time.
With Coutinho having signed a new contract extension earlier this year, Liverpool have been in no rush to cash in on their star, a fact made palpably clear by Jurgen Klopp’s statement that he had no intention of losing a player who has become integral to the team over the past four years and who he views as having a key part to play during the coming seasons.
But might Klopp have been better served by cashing in his chips and using the money to invest elsewhere in the team? Andy Dickinson gives three reasons why Liverpool are better off without their diminutive midfield talisman.
1 The stats don’t lie
So far this season, Philippe Coutinho has only started five league games with one win, a loss and three draws coming from those games. By comparison, Liverpool have recorded four wins, a draw and a loss - to Manchester City - without him.
In addition, during a series of seven matches he missed around December of last season with an ankle injury, Liverpool lost only one with noteworthy wins achieved against Manchester City and a then-in-form Everton.
This season, the Brazilian's individual statistics are already shaping up to be similar to those of last year, with an average passing accuracy of 82% (as opposed to 84% last season) leading to a chance being created every 19.02 mins (19.52mins last season).
Likewise, his shooting accuracy of 56% (55% last season) is almost identical, suggesting that Coutinho has reached a plateau in his progression, albeit, at a very high level.
If this is the case, then his ability to change the course of a game is not likely to improve drastically anytime soon. While his technical ability can prove decisive to unlocking games, it’s currently not proving enough to catalyse the team and lift Liverpool consistently above their opponents.
2 Chalk and cheese
This weekend, Jurgen Klopp switched Liverpool’s formation to a more standard 4-4-2 for their win over West Ham. Across the last two seasons, they have rarely wavered from playing as a 4-3-3. Neither system really features a stereotypical number 10, Coutinho’s most effective position within a team.
Having played in the left-wing position of this formation for much of last season, it seems he may not be the first choice for this role any longer. In Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah, Klopp now has the perfect wing players for his front-three with Roberto Firminho the preferred tip to this attack.
Pace and pressing ability are the all-important criteria Klopp demands from his players and, while Coutinho plays with a high energy level, he is still viewed as a luxury player in comparison to the alternatives.
The answer appears to be in playing Coutinho in a deeper-lying role in central midfield. From here Liverpool can either operate as more of a front-four diamond or deeper still which can see him control the tempo of the game from in front of his defence.
Either of these are credible options such is the versatility of Coutinho. However, these are not positions designed to get the best from the player.
3 A balancing act
The problem with deploying the little magician centrally is in the imbalance this causes across the team. Liverpool becoming much more attack-heavy which is fine when an opponent is sitting deep and allowing the Reds to keep possession but less than perfect when faced with a more dangerous foe.
There’s also the argument that the team are drastically lacking in height with this set-up, as such being at a disadvantage during set-pieces.
With the imminent return of Adam Lallana from injury and Naby Keita’s acquisition next summer, there’s a lot of competition in this area of the pitch. Emre Can may well move on after improving leaps and bounds in the past two seasons but it’s hoped that Ben Woodburn will be pushing his way into the first team by then.
While Coutinho will undoubtedly be the best option for some games, he could see himself drift to the role of a rotational player who is a specialised weapon rather than an outright regular in the team.
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