Premier League
November 5, 2016

Philippe Coutinho – living up to the hype?

Many thought he had the potential to do something great, but Liverpool’s Little Magician is starting to deliver at last



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The youngest of three brothers, growing up in a shanty town in Rio De Janeiro, playing football on concrete – everything in Philippe Coutinho’s childhood was a challenge he had no choice but to rise to. His brothers Cristiano and Leandro first introduced Coutinho to his sport through futsal, the mother of so much of the brilliant ‘Samba football’ to stem from Brazil.

Where most would have given up the fight and gone home, the Little Magician learnt to cope with boys bigger than him, developing an innate ability to worm his way out of small spaces with the ball. No point in diving and play-acting on those concrete pitches – the bigger lads would have just taken the ball off him anyway. It was either toughen up or give up.

This baptism of fire really shows. You watch the kid now and he never goes down easy. So often we find this in South Americans – Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi and Edinson Cavani are just the same. Their mentality reflects this battling desire as well, and while they may have blips in form, they may suffer media scrutiny, but they keep coming back stronger. Luis Suarez has deservedly had his fair share of prying eyes and stabbing tongues, and now look. Is there anyone Liverpool would rather have back on current form? Nothing has stopped him getting to where he wants to be.

A great example of this steely South American head space is shown in Coutinho’s failure to deliver at Inter Milan and upturn in fortunes at Anfield. After joining the Nerazzuri aged 18, manager Rafael Benitez labelled him the ‘future’ of Inter Milan. In two and a half years (six months of them at Espanyol on loan), he played 47 games in all competitions and scored just five goals. Though he did manage 5 goals in 16 games in his time in Spain, this wasn’t close to what Rafa had hoped for.

Cue Liverpool’s intervention. At £8.5m, he seemed a fairly cheap deal at the time but my word, fans at Anfield are feeling smug now. 3 goals in 13 games in his first half season, and in every season since his goal return has been better, scoring 5, 8 and 12 up until this current campaign, with a goals per game average of 0.13, 0.15 and 0.27. This season, 5 in 10 games – 0.5 – is a marked improvement and the way he and his side are playing, that doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon.

Finally he’s living up to his potential – but is he one of the best players in the division, as some people are saying? Well, take the number of goals and assists he’s got in the league so far, and compare them to other playmakers in the league to see how many goals he’s contributing to per game so far this season.

Player

Goals

Assists

Starts (all comps)

Goals per game Contribution

Coutinho

5 (2nd)

4 (2nd)

10 (5th)

0.9 (1st)

Kevin De Bruyne

3

5

11

0.72

Mesut Özil

7

3

12

0.83

Dele Alli

3

0

13

0.23

Dimitri Payet

1

5

8

0.75

Riyad Mahrez

4

1

13

0.38

As you can see, he’s leading the way in his contribution to the team as a whole. A real weakness of Coutinho’s in the past is his inconsistency – from brilliant one week to absent the next has been the story of his time at Liverpool. A big issue has also been his finishing and his ability to convert chances, while his passing selection and accuracy has been under scrutiny in the past. Here’s how he ranks this season compared with the past:

Statistic/Season 2016/17 2015/16 2014/15 2013/14
Shot accuracy 64% (1st) 44% 53% 38%
Pass accuracy 84% (1st) 79% 80% 81%
Pass distance 17m 17m 16m 17m
Chances created (per game) 2.5 (1st) 1.88 1.65 1.94

Clearly, his teamwork is improving as well. His passing success rate is up to 84%, even though the average length of his passes has pretty much stayed the same in that time. This is that South American mentality shining through – he doesn’t try and make things easier, he just becomes better at what’s difficult.

Depending on how you look at it, there are areas in which he is quite plainly keeping up with, or even bettering, other more celebrated individuals, such as Özil and De Bruyne, who cost a bomb more and who seem to gain rather more plaudits historically than Coutinho.

Another thing in the Brazilian’s favour is his age. Four years younger than his Arsenal rival Özil, it makes interesting reading to see how they compare when you take the German back to Coutinho’s age:

Stat/player (season) Coutinho aged 24 (2016/17) Özil aged 24 (2012/13)
Goals 5 10
Assists 4 17
G+A per game 0.9 0.87
Passing % 85% 84.7%

This, don’t forget, was the season that convinced Arsenal to utter obliterate their transfer record and spend a staggering £42.5m on Özil (at a time I’d have considered him in the top ten players on Earth). Aren’t these particular statistics – very much the things that make these two the great players they are – outrageously similar? The distribution of goals and assists might differ a little but I find it amazing the average contribution to team goals as a whole is so close.

This now puts Coutinho at a really key point of the season. While his form dips and rises regularly, Özil, De Bruyne and a number of other playmakers in the Premier League have proven the ability to keep this level of form up for an entire season. The next few games will tell us whether Coutinho remains in his typically inconsistent ways or whether we have another truly great, great playmaker on our hands. It seems he’s finally delivering on the hype and people are finally starting to believe it.

About this author

Jack Watson

I’m an aspiring sports writer with a genuine, deep-rooted love for anything that involves balls.

For more of my work, or to keep up to date on the EFL 2016/17, follow me on twitter @journojackattack

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