The Coutinho Conundrum

Probably my favourite stat from 2012/13 was the following:

In eleven of his twelve Liverpool starts, Philippe Coutinho either scored a goal or created a clear-cut chance

A remarkable level of performance from a twenty year old taking his first steps in English football. But a closer look at the stats (via EPLIndex) reveals one area of concern regarding Coutinho’s performances to date.

Quite simply, his level of performance was markedly better away from home than at Anfield, as the following headline statistics will attest:

All five of his assists, six of his nine clear-cut chances and eight of the ten successful through balls he threaded through opposition defences occurred away from home. It’s interesting to note that he creates regular chances at essentially the same rate at home (every 47 minutes) and away (every 46), but not the the top quality opportunities.

What’s even stranger is that he made less of his on-pitch actions at the attacking end of the pitch on the road too, so he was far more efficient whilst he was there.

77% of his passes were in the attacking half at Anfield, with 50% in the final third, compared to 68% and 44% respectively away from L4. Similarly, he made just 3% of his possession regains in the final third on the road, compared to 29% at home. Whichever way you slice it, it appears he was generally further back on the pitch on average when the Reds were visiting rather than hosting.

Although his final third passing was 1.6% more accurate at home than away, at Anfield he created a clear-cut chance every twenty-six final third passes he completed, but he required just twelve accurate passes in the opposition’s defensive third on the road to create a top quality goalscoring opportunity.

Read that again: a clear-cut chance created every twelve accurate final third passes! Gut instinct tells me that this has to be the best such return in the Premier League, and now I have discovered this stat I will investigate it further for a future article.

Coutinho also only attempted a through ball every 140 minutes on his own patch, but every 46 when visiting others. His accuracy level was essentially the same, but he was attempting such passes over three times as often away from home.

So what’s the reason behind these differences? I have two theories.

article-2269556-1738832F000005DC-506_634x457Firstly, Coutinho is the kind of player who benefits from having space to play in. When Liverpool are the guests, the home side have to attack more in order to try to take advantage of being on their own turf, which leaves more room for the Brazilian to weave his magic in.

The other issue is the quality of opponent faced. The average finishing position of the teams Coutinho played in his six home starts was 8.8 (and if you exclude bottom side QPR, the other five averaged 6.6), against a full season average of 11.1, yet away from home the average was 15.7, and the highest any of the teams finished was twelfth.

Of course, prospering against lower ranked sides is no bad thing; based on last season, Liverpool will play 26 matches against teams that finished below them, versus just 12 against clubs that out-performed them.

But when the lesser clubs come to Anfield, they will not afford Coutinho the space he has used to devastating effect at their grounds, and threading a through ball between a deep and compact defence is borderline impossible. The Reds will probably need to stretch the defence out wide first, before Coutinho can work his undoubted magic.

Please don’t think I’m trying to engineer a Coutinho backlash, or that I wish to be controversial for the sake of it; clearly the young Brazilian is a fantastic talent, and having just turned twenty-one, the young man will no doubt have a decade-or-more at the very top of the game ahead of him.

But if he fails to set 2013/14 immediately alight on the opening day at home to Stoke City, then maybe give this article a second read.

Related articles you might enjoy:

The Creative Impact of Coutinho – The Brazilian is outperforming the Premier League’s elite level creative talents right now.

Coutinho: The Lowdown – A look at the new boy’s stats.

Please check out my other articles, and follow me on Twitter or via Facebook. Thanks.

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10 thoughts on “The Coutinho Conundrum

  1. Good article as ever. Simple explanation: he’s very effective on the counter attack. Thoughts? If I remember right, Villa had a number of players who could move and pass quickly 4/5 years ago and so were very effective on the counter attack.

  2. Or it could be that the home crowd are intimidating. It’s always hard for a 20 year old to come to England and listen to 40,000 odd people tell him that he’ll never walk alone.

  3. This is another excellent piece Andrew – Thanks very much .. will help keep things in a very sharp perspective, which I’m sure will be needed in the season ahead!!

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  5. Pingback: Liverpool’s Chance Quality | Bass Tuned To Red

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