Is this really Philippe Coutinho’s year?

Is this really Philippe Coutinho’s year?
Aug 25, 2016

Liverpool

Recently, there has been a lot of talk from players, fans and people in the media about Philippe Coutinho and how 2016/17 could be the year that he takes the step up and becomes one of the Premier League’s, if not the worlds, best players. His captain at Liverpool Jordan Henderson has said Coutinho will show he is on or close to the same level as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo very soon, a comment which is a great compliment to the Brazilian’s abilities. But, despite all of this talk, is he really ready to take such a huge step in his career? Let’s take a closer look.

Arsenal was the perfect start for Coutinho to the new season. 2 goals, one of which was an outrageous free kick, and a massively influential performance, especially in the second half at the Emirates, saw Liverpool win the game 4-3 and start the season with a rare win in the red half of North London. He could have even had a hat-trick were it not for his legs cramping up as he was running on to a through ball that would have seen him go 1 on 1 with Petr Cech. It was certainly a promising start to the season for him and with more efforts like that or even close to that this season then he could be on for his best campaign yet and potentially even a player of the year nomination, but let’s not get carried away just yet.

The reason we shouldn’t get carried away on the basis of his display against Arsenal is because we have seen him do that before. Coutinho often turns up in the ‘big’ games but then drops off for the ‘lesser’ games. His inconsistency is a source of huge frustration for fans and almost certainly will be for himself, teammates and coaches too. They all know what the ‘magician’ can do, but don’t see it enough for their liking, particularly in the games against the teams like Watford and Bournemouth, who he should really be putting to the sword and showcasing what he is capable of.

Look at the Burnley game last weekend. Liverpool went to Turf Moor full of positivity after their win at Arsenal and were expected to make easy work of the newly promoted team, but instead lost 2-0. Now the blame for this should not and is not being placed solely on Coutinho, but his performance in that game as an individual was way below par. He was involved in the play a lot, but to little effect. He was very predictable, cutting in from the left to take on a long range shot 6 times in total, all of which were off target. It wasn’t just his shooting that wasn’t on song, his passing was sloppy too and the overall intensity of his game just wasn’t there. Some of this was down to the fact that the pace and sharpness of the whole team in comparison to the Arsenal game had vanished, but his approach to the game in terms of attitude and desire didn’t seem right at all. So already, 2 games in, we have seen the best and worst of Liverpool’s number 10.

This could be down to the pressure that he is sometimes put under. When things aren’t going well for Liverpool it is more often than not Coutinho who everybody looks towards to pull something out of the bag. His knack of scoring spectacular goals is unfairly relied upon when the Reds are struggling to break down the oppositions defence, as they were in the Burnley game. This been the case for a while now, and he hasn’t dealt with all the expectancy that is placed on him too well. Whether it is just one game Liverpool are struggling in or over a few weeks, his effect on a game tends to drop and he goes into his shell. This leaves Liverpool with not only one fewer answer to getting past a stubborn defence but also with an out of form and confidence Philippe Coutinho, which isn’t any help to anyone. He is still developing so to have all of this pressure on him will affect his game, but on the other hand any player wants to reach the top they have to overcome that and thrive in that kind of situation sooner or later.

However, he may not have to deal with this pressure if his fellow Liverpool attackers help him out. Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi, Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino were already at the club and over the summer Jurgen Klopp brought in Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum. These 6 players are all well capable of taking control of a game and winning it for their team, so if Coutinho isn’t at his best then Liverpool should be able to rely on at least one of them to take the responsibility away from him. All of these players have been directly involved in goals already this season, with Sturridge (2), Origi, Lallana, Firmino and Mane already getting on the scoresheet and Wijnaldum has provided an assist. If those players can continue to make an impact on games, it would take the spotlight off of Coutinho, allowing him to play with less expectancy on him and with more freedom, which would suit him better, and that would hopefully lead to better and more consistent displays.

The last time Coutinho played in a Liverpool side without being the ‘go to guy’ was in 2013/14, when Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard were the players who were seen as the ones who should be taking the game by the scruff of the neck and making the difference. That season, he scored 5 goals and provided 7 assists, which isn’t an overly impressive return, but he was a main cog in the system that made Liverpool tick so well and came out of that season with a lot of credit and admirers. He flourished in a team where he wasn’t required to be the man scoring all the goals and winning games all on his own. Although he will be expected to score and create more goals than that now as he has progressed as a footballer and has become one of Liverpool’s most important players. If he could slot into a similar role in the team in 2016/17, albeit in a different system, to that of 3 years ago then we could see the best of Coutinho in the near future.

This will be his fourth full season in England and at the age of 24 this is about the time in his career where he should be taking the said ‘step up’ if he wants to become one of the best, which he undoubtedly will want to do. It’s fair of fans to expect more from him this year, he’s got plenty of Premier League experience now as well as the skill and knowhow to produce more than he has done previously. Below are his stats for goals and assists in the Premier League alone since he signed for Liverpool in January 2013: (Information from Transfermarkt)

 

2012/13: Goals-3/ Assists-7/ Total = 10

2013/14: Goals- 5/ Assists- 7/ Total = 12

2014/15: Goals- 5/ Assists- 5/ Total = 10

2015/16: Goals-8/ Assists-5/ Total = 13

 

As you can see, the stats show that his contribution to goals in each of the three and a half years he has been on Merseyside are very similar. Last season was his best with 13 direct contributions to goals and it was also his best season in terms of the influence he has on games and the threat he poses to the opposition too. He now needs to build on the 8 goals he scored and 5 assists he made last season and should be aiming to get his combined total of contributions in to the mid 20’s, something that is realistic for a player with his talent. Getting his Premier League goal tally into double figures for the first time is the thing he should be prioritising, as finding the back of the net on a regular basis is probably the thing he is criticised for the most so reaching that milestone would be a big achievement for him. Should he manage to do that and get a similar number of assists, then we can say that he is has started his journey to being in the top bracket of footballers, but he wouldn’t be there yet. To be classed as one of the top players in the world Coutinho would need to be scoring 10+ goals, assisting frequently and playing well consistently each season over a 2 or 3-year period, as doing it over one year proves little. Eden Hazard is a good example of that, in 2014/15 he was on fire for Chelsea as they won the league. He was talked about as though was on the same level as Ronaldo and Messi throughout that season and he earnt that, but in 2015/16 he was nowhere to be seen for the majority of the season, scoring just 4 goals with all of them coming at the back end of the season when there was nothing to play for and now he has to go about building his reputation back up.

Due to that, even if Coutinho does have a brilliant season it will probably be one year too soon for people to be able to say that Coutinho has arrived on that level. This may be the season that he makes people really sit up and take notice of what he does, as before people have only seen flashes of his brilliance in the form of those long range goals he scores and some of the silky skills he brings out from time to time. But, if we do see a rise in the level of performances that Coutinho puts in then we will know he is heading in the right direction, which will be exciting for Liverpool fans to witness and will do him and his team the world of good during the current season and beyond.

It’s hard to judge how Coutinho will do this season going off his 2 games thus far. How he played against Arsenal is what we need to see more of, and were he to repeat that several times this season then he will easily surpass the 10 goals mark and could light up the Premier League. But, from what we saw of him against Burnley it would suggest that he hasn’t yet worked out how to tear that type of team apart. With 36 games left of this season he has more than enough time to take his big game performances into the smaller games, and if he does that then there is no doubt he will be one of the league’s top players and would be well on his way to reaching his potential.

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