The Coutinho conundrum

Philippe Countinho has long been a tempting player for Fantasy Premier League managers. He tends to score enough goals each season to put him on the radar, without scoring enough to make him a key player. He also teases managers by backing up those goals with a high number of shots.

With two goals in Liverpool’s opening weekend win at the Arsenal, Coutinho has already put himself firmly on the radar for 2016-17. The 8.1m midfielder has been far and away the most popular transfer in, with more than 250,000 FPL managers adding him to their ranks, and he was one of the first three players to go up in price this season.
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reviewed Coutinho’s performance in November after a Gameweek 11 brace against  Chelsea. His underlying statistics showed a player who took a lot of shots, but they were often from long range and frequently blocked.

At that time, Jürgen Klopp had only been Liverpool manager for a few weeks. As Klopp is famed for gegenpressing (pressing the opposition as soon as possession is lost), I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of Coutinho’s key underlying data for the rest of last season to see if that approach was turning him into a more prolific finisher.

There wasn’t a huge difference in the rate at which Coutinho’s shots were blocked. The Brazilian had 37 per cent of shots blocked under Klopp, 42 per cent in the small sample size of games played in 2015-16 prior to the German’s arrival and 39 per cent in the last full season under Rodgers.

Philippe Coutinho Shots on Target conversion rate to GW1 2016-17

What has improved since the latter stages of Rodgers’ rein is the rate at which Coutinho converts shots on target into goals. Under Klopp, he turned shots on target into goals at a higher rate than the Premier League average for midfielders over the course of the season. However, it should be noted he achieved a shots on target conversion rate of 30 per cent in 2012-13 when he was managed by Rodgers. (We can put the 2016-17 numbers to one side for now because one game is too small a sample size to make a judgement on and I would be stunned if he maintained 67 per cent for the rest of the season.)
Philippe Coutinho percentage shots in the box to GW1 2016-17

One of the key factors I also like to look at is where players are unleashing their attempts from because shots fired from inside the area normally have a higher conversion rate than those hit from outside. In Rodgers’ last couple of months in charge, Coutinho was shooting from inside the box at close to the league average for midfielders, but since Klopp took over he has reverted back to taking about two-thirds of his shots from long range, as he did in 2014-15.

Philippe Coutinho percentage shots on target to GW1 2016-17

That distance shooting doesn’t appear to help Countinho’s ability to test the opposition keeper. The proportion of shots hitting the target under both Klopp and Rodgers was below the league average for midfielders last year. Nevertheless, Coutinho was also top among midfielder for shots taken in 2015-16, so his volume might compensate for his inaccuracy to some extent.

Countinho is a conundrum. His shots on target conversion rate improved under Klopp, but the reason why is not apparent from the statistics I have looked at here. The Brazilian still had a large proportion of his shots blocked (he topped the league among midfielders last season), he is frequently shooting from distance and he’s is still failing to hit the target with nearly three-quarters of his shots. Unless Gameweek 1 marked the start of a fresh beginning for Coutinho, I’m wary about buying into the notion that he has taken a major step up in performance. Some useful indicators suggest not much has changed.

However, statistics don’t always tell the whole story. I wasn’t able to watch Liverpool’s game against Arsenal, but if anyone who saw the game also saw something in Coutinho’s play that gives them optimism he can sustain this level of performance I’d be delighted to hear about it.