Let’s Bring Coutinho Back Home

After watching the site grow and my friend Venkat Ramamurthy posting his offerings both on his page and my local OLSC (big props Houston OLSC!), I talked to Timucin and am very excited to come on board. My focus will be the analytics side of the world. And my first offering will be very controversial so here goes.

LFC should call Barcelona and do a loan/purchase deal for Phillippe Coutinho.

I’ll let you yell and curse at me for a while, when you’re done, come back, I’ll be here still.

Phillippe Coutinho had his best years in his career in a reds uniform. His sublime touch, his shooting from the corner of the 18 yard box going opposite side top corner, his vision? We have so many fond memories of the man. And then, evil Barcelona came calling. For most South American born players, playing at Camp Nou is a siren song. For some, it’s the pinnacle of their careers. For many though, it’s like the story of the sirens. And such seems to be the case here.

While many of us were so upset with him for leaving, let me lay out the case for us to potentially put the past behind us and look to a guy who can really unlock the potential of this team.

xG/A Contribution

For those new to the advanced stats, xG is simply a mathematical model using past performance to determine the approximate theoretical value of a shot, goal or movement. For example, taking a shot from inside the 6 yard box with an empty net in front of you would have a very high xG (like 0.95). Meaning there is a 95% chance the player would score from that spot. It’s intented to be predictive and help explain how things could look in the future. It’s not perfect but no stat really is. But this will give us some idea of how good he still is.

A player who averages 0.5 to 0.75 xG/A in a game means that he is responsible for a goal or assist every 100-120 minutes. That is very high quality stuff. Coutinho is an xG/A machine. While his 2018-2019 season at Barcelona was an aberration (which I’ll explain later), his seasons before and after show that this is an area where he excels.

In the 1st half of the 2017-2018 season, his last at Anfield. He averaged 0.56 xG/A per 90 minutes. That means that if he is on the field, Liverpool expected to score at least 0.5 goals in every game just due to his contribution. And that was on a slightly broken Liverpool prior to Virgil Van Dijk showing up. Remember when they had no VVD in the back and had Lovren and others playing every week? Ouch, that was some scary times! In spite of all this, he still scored 7 goals and 6 assists in 14 appearances.

After he left, he continued that fantastic pace the remainder of the season at Barca. He averaged 0.47 xG/A per 90. Obviously it helps playing with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, etc., but if he were to come to Liverpool, he wouldn’t be playing with scrubs. During that season, he averaged the 0.47 xGA but also chipped in with 8 goals and 6 assists in 16 starts.

I tend to throw out the 2018-2019 season, mostly because he became a very poor fit for the very aimless Barcelona team with almost no coherent strategy. He doesn’t fit in a team with Arturo Vidal and Antoine Griezmann joining them. Plus, the fans got on his back and that really caused a rift that was hard to get over.

So let’s skip that season and look at this current season at Bayern Munich that has been paused due to the COVID-19 shut down.

During this last season at Bayern Munich, he’s topping both of those numbers. He’s averaging 0.76xGA/90. He is on a team that would be a bit more like Liverpool. They press more under Hansi Flick. And Coutinho has been a great player in their system. In 15 starts and 22 total appearances, he has scored 8 goals and 6 assists.

Adding a player like Coutinho makes the Liverpool offense far more electric than it already is.

Parking the Bus:

We haven’t seen Liverpool lose very much. It’s a fantastically fun thing to type. But we have seen Liverpool struggle occasionally. Napoli, Atletico Madrid and Manchester City have, at times, given Liverpool fits and slowed down their offense. The key way to slow Liverpool down was shown by Diego Simeone.

During the Champions League games between Liverpool and Atletico, Atletico continued to pressure Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. Liverpool’s strategy is to press up the field to create mistakes but if the buildup starts from the back, the fullbacks are the primary play makers on the team. When people pressure and attack our fullbacks, it causes the offense to slow down.

As we can see in the radar above looking at this current season with Bayern Munich, we can see that Coutinho is world class level at a variety of things. Crosses into the box, passing percentage and xG – he is world class from an attacking midfielder position. If teams continue to pressure Robertson and TAA, the buildup can come through the middle and completely eliminates the one way to really slow Liverpool down.

In a structure where everyone is healthy, having Fabinho as the primary defender and distributor with Henderson playing like an 8 on the right allows Coutinho to be the creative presence in the middle of the field. When he is creative, all kinds of good things happen.

Depth:

Coutinho is a player who can play at the left wing and at an attacking midfield role. Having him on the roster allows them to have a front four that would be near impossible to stop. But also, it would allow Mane to get some breaks, it would allow Salah to get a break (Mane can play left or right wing) and would allow Firmino to rest occasionally (Salah playing up top). With the front three being over 25 years of age, they’re entering a window where they will still be very good but will also need some rest to keep their body in good shape. Many teams will add young guys here. Adding Coutinho doesn’t help the age curve but the talent is undeniable. He was used to help rotate guys during those few months but the few times that all four were on the field at the same time, one of the big four were scoring every 23 minutes. That’s an insane level of production.

He’s Coming Home, He’s Coming Home:

All in all, the whole “adding Coutinho” thing is a very tense one. Many are so hurt by the way he left, angling for a move late in the summer window, paying part of the fee to get out, working with Nike ahead of time to work out the move, all of it was very distasteful. But for his part, he didn’t down tools during that season. He played well as evidenced by the numbers above.

But him coming back would be an admission by him that while Barcelona was a dream, sometimes the grass isn’t greener and he would be saying he gets it. He would come back and while I was very upset with the way he left, he not only adds so much to the team on the field, he really is one of ours. That statue that Jurgen Klopp told him about might still happen, just with a 2 year wandering time. And we have sung this for years, so I’d be fine singing it to Phillippe.

Mr. Coutinho, come back home. And you’ll never walk alone.

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