Why Liverpool might not miss Philippe Coutinho as much as people think | Sean Ingle

Liverpool feels it has lost its key man in Philippe Coutinho but statistics do not back that up and suggest that, while Barcelona have signed a fine player, Jrgen Klopp has alternatives

No sooner had Philippe Coutinho’s frenetic scribble sealed a PS142m transfer to Barcelona than he was forced to hurdle the first attempted tackle on him at Camp Nou. What, one interrogator asked at his unveiling, did he induce of his fee?” It’s an honour but I’ll leave the topic of fund for the clubs ,” he deftly responded. Yet the question is bound to scratching and linger, and to have been able to turn poisonous. Is such a sum- the second biggest transfer in history- for the 25 -year-old Brazilian justified?

Barcelona’s thinking is easy to comprehend. They are scooting away with the league title but their goals per game rate is at its lowest since the 2013 -1 4 season, after which they subsequently rearmed by signing Luis Suarez from Liverpool for PS75m. Their squad clearly needs freshening up too. For while Lionel Messi has 60 objectives and shall take part in La Liga since the start of last season- more than anyone in Europe’s top five leagues- and Suarez is second with 53, both are closing in on their 31 st birthday. Sports Science 101 tells us that physically they are on the decline, even if the eye exam does not always back that up.

Coutinho also represents a shiny upgrade on the 33 -year-old Andres Iniesta, the man he has been bought to replace. As Omar Chaudhuri, the head of intelligence at the football consultancy 21 st Club, points out, since the start of last season the Brazilian has scored 20 league aims and provided 13 assistances- while Iniesta has one goal and three assists.

Chaudhuri, who works with several resulting European clubs, also points out that Coutinho tends to get on the ball more inside the final third compared with Iniesta and is almost twice as likely to take over an opponent when in possession, which brings fans off their seats even it does not immediately lead to goals. He also, crucially, has his best years ahead of him.

Yet whether the Brazilian is one of the top half dozen or so players in world football is harder to demonstrate. One route to measure assaulting ability, for instance, is to look at a player’s goals and assists per 90 minutes( G+ A per 90 ). Coutinho medians 0.88 G+ A per 90 in the Premier League since the start of 2016 -1 7, which ranks him 31 st in Europe’s five major leagues. Messi, predictably, is way out in front on 1.42, with Kylian Mbappe second. Incidentally Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah is 14 th with 1.06. By this measure Coutinho is very good but not exceptional.

Coutinho also scores well on another metric- chances made per match. In the past 18 months he has averaged an impressive 2.81 chances per 90 minutes in the Premier League- the 22 nd best in Europe’s major league- although he does still rank behind Cesc Fabregas( 4.2 ), Mesut Ozil( 3.38 ), Kevin De Bruyne( 3.25) and even Christian Eriksen( 2.93 ).

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Of course such figures will not fully capture Coutinho’s ability, and Barcelona’s intention to construct him more of an’ interior’ midfielder- playing deeper than he does at Liverpool- will mean that other areas of his game, including his quick feet and accurate pas, could be as important as his objective production. Even so, it is tough to attain the occurrence on the numbers that he is truly exceptional.

Interestingly on Monday when the respected CIES Football Observatory published its annual assessment of the transfer values of top players, it ranked Coutinho as the 16 th most valuable superstar in world football at EUR1 22 m. Its computations, based on performances, international status, age and contract situation suggested that Neymar( EUR2 13 m) is the most valuable, with Messi( EUR2 02 m) second and Harry Kane( EUR1 95 m) one-third. Of course Barcelona had EUR2 22 m burning a hole in their pockets after selling Neymar to PSG last year, which inflated Coutinho’s fee.

The other question is how much Coutinho’s loss might affect Liverpool. Much, inevitably, will depend on whether they invest wisely, particularly on a new goalkeeper and better defenders. However Mark Taylor, a football analyst who works with a number of British clubs, believes the bargain is already a good one for Liverpool.

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His numbers suggest that Klopp’s side have actually made slightly greater chances when Coutinho has not been in the side this season compared with when he has.” It’s a great deal for Liverpool ,” he adds.” They haven’t missed a beat when Coutinho has not been playing. Sadio Mane takes up the slack .”

Meanwhile Chaudhuri insists that most people overestimate how much a single player improves a team’s points tally. Liverpool’s Fab Four are all in the world’s top 50 players according to his numbers but he believes Coutinho is arguably the least valuable to Klopp because his replacement-level options- Adam Lallana, and from August Naby Keita- are better or less injury-prone than Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Daniel Sturridge, who the hell is immediate replacings for Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino.

And, controversially, Chaudhuri suggests that the downgrade from Coutinho might cost Liverpool merely a couple of points over the season.” Often people( and clubs, in our experience) suppose the departure of a leading player will cost them five to 10 points ,” he says.” But if such were the lawsuit, if Liverpool lost all of their Fab Four and used their existing replacings, they’d be win just 40 -5 0 phases, which clearly wouldn’t be the case. Instead, they’d probably be closer to a 65 -point-per-season team, which is what is suggested by the model .”

Finally, whatever one’s view on the transfer, it is probably as well to get used to more nine-figure deals. As Northridge Law’s Ian Lynam- who advises clubs such as Chelsea and Everton and players such as Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli- explains, very big signings have historically cost around 20 -2 5% of a club’s revenue and Coutinho is no different.” The current transfer fees are actually fairly consistent with the revenue growth we have seen in recent years ,” he adds.

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