30 January 2013

On Philippe Coutinho

Finally passing his medical and approved for a work permit, Philippe Coutinho is the 15th player bought since FSG took control of the club. 10 of the previous 14 are still with the club: Suarez, Henderson, Downing, Enrique, Coates, Borini, Allen, Assaidi, Yesil, and Sturridge (no, we're not counting Carroll or Doni). The average age of those players when they signed was 22.5. Downing was the only older than 25, Enrique was 25, and Suarez had just turned 24. Everyone else was 23 or younger.

Compare that to the players brought in during the summer of 2010, the last Hicks and Gillett transfer window: Jovanovic (29), Cole (28), Aurelio (29), Poulsen (30), Jones (28), Meireles (27), Konchesky (29), Shelvey (18), and Wilson (18). While Shelvey, Flanagan, Wilson, Eccleston, Pacheco, and Robinson – all younger than 20 – made appearances that season, you also may remember the likes of Kuyt, Poulsen, Maxi, Kyrgiakos, Konchesky, Aurelio (when actually fit), and Jovanovic playing key roles, especially under Hogdson. All were either 29 or 30. The only players in this season's squad who are that age or older are Carragher, Gerrard, Reina, and Jones.

Liverpool are not wholly without experience. In addition to those four who are 30 or older, Agger, Skrtel, Downing, and Johnson are 28; Suarez, Enrique, and Lucas are 26. Still, Liverpool are the only club to name three teenagers in a Premiership starting XI this season. They've done it in six of the 23 league matches.

That was a long, somewhat tangential introduction to that fact that Philippe Coutinho is 20. If you hadn't heard.

In theory, Coutinho is a player who fits into Rodgers' system, whether 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Predominantly right-footed but capable with his left, Coutinho is versatile enough to play anywhere along the attacking line of three. He made his Inter debut under Rafa Benitez, most often as a left-sided attacker, but has increasingly preferred to play as a central attacking midfielder, a #10 in the vein of how Suarez has played in the last 135 minutes of league football, a player who wants the ball at his feet, taking on a defender one-on-one.

Making just a handful of appearances for Inter this season, he's started in all four attacking positions: as a forward, on the left, on the right, and in the hole. His preferred position has usually been filled by Guarin or Palacio. With Stramaccioni often using three at the back, the width has primarily come from wing-backs or out-and-out forwards rather than midfielders, which is why more of Coutinho's appearances this season have come in the front three.

He's only started three league matches, also making seven substitute appearances, but started five of Inter's six Europa League group stage matches. Only Bayer Leverkusen's Karim Bellarabi, who's played in just two matches, is averaging more successful dribbles per match in that competition. There are just nine players who are averaging more shots per Europa League match than Coutinho (he's even averaging more shots than Suarez, although both players have scored just once).

Given his paucity of opportunities at Inter following the departure of Benitez, a loan to Espanyol last season came at a crucial time. Coutinho made 14 starts during his loan at Espanyol last season: 10 were on the left of Pochettino's 4-2-3-1, two were on the right, and two were as the #10. Only Sergio Garcia took more shots per game for Espanyol last season, only Garcia and Vladimir Weiss averaged more successful dribbles. All five of Coutinho's goals and his lone assist came as a left-sided attacker. This seems his most likely position at Liverpool, but it's also where Borini has looked most comfortable in his few appearances, as well as Sterling's preferred position.

The Score, In Bed With Maradona, and the Daily Mirror (I know, right?) have excellent articles about Coutinho's progress and promise if you're interested.

My short version: it's another raw attacker added to a still developing group. Rodgers already has to figure out how to combine Sturridge, Suarez, and the returning Borini (which went, um, poorly last time out); now he's adding another laden-with-potential youngling to the mix. And, of course, I can't go without mentioning that Coutinho will almost assuredly need time to adapt to the Premier League. Brazilian-born and coming from Serie A? Double whammy.

Have you repressed Oldham yet? I apologize for digging at recently formed scabs, but it's not as if Liverpool's problem appeared to be in attack, despite scoring just twice against the League One side. Liverpool were young (the starting XI had an average age of 22.7; only Skrtel and Jones were over 23), Liverpool were unbalanced, and Liverpool were outmuscled. Liverpool can be both mentally and physically fragile, and Liverpool are inexperienced. Coutinho, while an incredible prospect, addresses none of those concerns.

He has piles and piles of potential, but he is a project. Liverpool already have an awful lot of projects.

Also, loan Suso. Immediately. From all I've read and seen, he's the most similar to Coutinho in Liverpool's squad, if younger and even more inexperienced.


Biggestfandownunder said...

Come on Nate... Seems like you can't throw the Oldham hangover.

The goal for this window was always to improve our attacking options. BR was clear about that.

Of course, there are other gaps to plug but let's give credit where credit is due. To attacking players that fit BR's model, and the owners coming to the party.

In my opinion, With this new signing, BR may also be planning for the possibility Suarez moves on. (Having panic attack even thinking about it).

Anonymous said...

Too many outs and no adequate up to scratch player innings yet to perform as a team playing in supposes desired style to achieve creditable results. But no result yet in the shape of wins from top 6. Yet disastrous passing and non fluidity when pressed. We are an engine sputtering along unable to achieve the revolutions per cycle to even get pass the run out condition to achieve optimal drivability. The cam cover does have the liverbird insignia tho. Our cog. The irrespresible mr carragher who probably wouldnt be playing much of these high stake matches. Stevie g. The misplaced passes and failed interceptions when we were on the backfoot served to only highlight the gulf in the midfield standard. As big and valiant a heart one has but could not match the fluency and pace to prevent us being overrrun. Overrated ramsey and wilshere might be but it was practically impossible stopping them spreading play. Very similar to when we faced manu for a half. In terms of physixal matchup, if we cant battle the gunners then no wonder oldham is a given.

The next few matches will show if we can actually get to our feet and start reining in on those above us. But what a hefty run it will be though, these remaining matches to make anything out of it, considering that we have to garner a majorly blistering run to get the full points from the lesser teams and dock them off spurs, everton, chelsea, manc?

Would have been a sapping loss for the gunners and a heave ho for us. But hey 1 more day to transfer close.

I dont know man. Sturridge still learning. Sterling out of form. Lucas not in hyperdrive. Defenders out of place. No proper LB. Goalie yet to recover form of past. List goes on. Could a proper no 10 be a part of the missig jigsaw.

Big money. We have certainly spent a few without yielding discernable player output. There is really no true priced gems, valued ex-perienced contributor or a shoo-in bonafide star who has the right skill and ability to fit into our system. Really. Nope. If there is we would have gotten him. Let the black and whites get their undervalued players. Let the scum continually get the rising unheard of overpriced stars. And the occasional world star import. Let them. We are liverpool. We will get those who truly want to come to restore the club back to its shining glory. :-0

For years now still with same old problems. I remember quite recently we had to win agst arsenal to level up. We didnt.

Walcott. Will he disappear just like bentenke. Super strike needing a super save. Was it a dive for that freekick leading to the goal i dont know. But it sure did look like a stork fell over its spindly legs when giroud flew over agger. Got a card i believe, for diving?

Sonny said...

Good? We finally have a 10. Suarez has attempted to fill in as one. Effective in our style. Lets c how Rodgers plays him. We do need that touch of dare and panache in our attacking space.

On another note who can play those quick and splitting passes. Our downing and Henderson were slightly off the mark in the arsenal game.
If only Suarez was not so much doubling up as lb or left alone upfront. Or if we somehow could have attack more and not expose to their constant wave of defence splitting scares around our box.

But damn our same failings exploited again.