With wide reports of Philippe Coutinho being heavily linked to Chelsea circling around social media, it made sense to address the player and his recent career. The proposed offer seems to be a loan move with an option to buy, similar to the Mateo Kovačić deal completed last summer. With many quick to criticise his big money move to Barcelona in 2018, his dream move has failed to pan out, as after a season and half with the Catalan giants he was sent out on loan to Bayern Munich.
A slight upturn in fortunes commenced but nothing concrete in terms of holding down a place in the team- though definitely signs that in a creative team he can still perform. Many are debating the idea of even going after him considering the acquisition of Hakim Ziyech and plethora of midfielders at the club’s disposal. Although, some see it as the big-name signing and added quality the club needs to move forward. However you see it, it’s important to explore the relevant questions such as how would he affect this team? What positions does he regularly take up? What can he offer to Chelsea football club?
Career Thus Far
As we mentioned, his time at Barcelona left much to be desired. His return of 21 goals and 11 assists in 76 appearances isn’t something you’d expect off the back of a £142 million transfer. Reasons for that included constant changing of positions, a manager who made Barcelona play some of their worst football in years, and perhaps the price tag weighing him down all had an effect on the little Brazilian. His move to Bayern this season saw him feature predominately in a number ’10’ role, and before the season interruption he was sat on 9 goals and 8 assists in all competitions. A decent return considering he had a whole new team and a new style of play to integrate into.
His time at Liverpool was incredibly successful, with many Liverpool fans holding him in such high regard as he was a prominent member of the first team for over four years. Excelling under Jurgen Klopp, the fast-paced football suited him as he was the main man for the Reds and often their main threat. His return of 54 goals and 45 assists was notable, featuring plenty of eye-catching goals and free-kick strikes that could easily fill up a YouTube compilation video.
Comparisons With the Squad
With Chelsea harbouring the likes of Mason Mount, Ross Barkley, Christian Pulisic, Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi, we can use these players as a way to compare Coutinho. It’s clear that these players all feature in different positions; Hudson-Odoi, Willian and Pulisic have all operated as left wingers and Mount and Barkley in the ’10’ role, or in a midfield three. Therefore, with Coutinho’s general positions being those three, its an easy comparison to make having seen him play there in his time at Liverpool, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
In terms of this season, comparing him to Chelsea’s ‘creative’ sources is a viable avenue to explore. Comparing the six players in question included statistics such as: shots, key passes, dribbles, long balls, total passes, pass success (%) times dispossessed, times fouled and through balls (the majority of these being per 90 minutes from the Premier League and Bundesliga)
In terms of shots per 90, he was ahead of most of the pack with 3.74 per game – only bettered by Barkley with 3.91. Putting that in context, he takes more shots than James Maddison, Jack Grealish, Dele Alli and is just behind Kevin De Bryune. Impressively, he was top for long balls per game (2), through balls per game (0.2) and was dispossessed the least times per game (0.8) As well, he was second- just behind Willian- for total passes per game.
From that we can see that he likes to be a regular feature on the ball, either looking to move the ball quickly either over a short or long distance, or look to shoot. Not being dispossessed is a key skill to have, especially when looking to be effective going forward (a trait he shares with Hudson-Odoi who registered the same score). From his time at Liverpool, we knew already that he likes to have the attack go through him, and his technical ability is there for all to see.
Chelsea have struggled to find a player who has the ability to shoot regularly and successfully since Lampard himself was still playing. One thing that can be called into question is perhaps his inconsistencies in front of goal. Looking at the stats of his shots on target percentage, it shows that in his last three seasons, his average percentage was 49%. In context, the only player to come close was Pulisic with an average of 41% in the last three years. We know Coutinho likes to shoot, but these stats show he often tests the keeper, which compensates for his shots per game being high. In contrast, he has only ever reached double figures in the league once – for Liverpool in 2016/17.
He has always exceeded his Expected Goals (xG), except from the last two years at Bayern and Barcelona. This could be down to getting used to a whole new style of football in Germany, and a new situation where he was in and out of the team. Also, not forgetting the fact there were two managers in the 2019/20 season alone at the Allianz Arena. With Barcelona he was moved around positionally, again never really holding down a place in the team, which clearly affected his confidence as his xG and expected assists were both down.
His Natural Positioning
Looking at the graphic below, it shows the majority of his positions when shooting have been mostly central. This is due to his position at Bayern being in that number ‘10’ creative role. I believe this is his best position, as this was where he had the second highest return of goal involvements in a league season (8G, 6A). It’s also important to consider that this was in a season cut short, restricting him from topping his best season in the league for Liverpool (13G, 7A). It might well have been surpassed considering this Bayern was one of the best teams he has been involved in, and he had world class players all around him. Picking up these positions are key to scoring and creating goals; being a more integral figure in this Chelsea team as opposed to the Bayern team may help him rediscover his swagger and confidence he had at Liverpool where attacks went usually through him.
*All goal attempts from open play and set pieces for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga 2019-20
Throughout the seasons between 2014-2017 at Liverpool, it shows here that he picked the ball up and took aim in more positions – being given a license to roam across the attacking line, rather than his central role he took up at Bayern. Of course, there is much more data to go off with three seasons worth. However, it’s clear in the Liverpool team he was an integral player, with almost everything going through him. At Bayern, on the other hand, there are more top class players- especially good wingers and full backs- meaning his role as a number ten in that particular side was to stay more central, and let them prosper in the wide areas. This is reflected in the previous map (above) of his shots and the attacking areas he picks up. Whereas as below, we see a much more varied coverage (noting the attempts from deep here as well as in and around the box).
*All goal attempts from open play and set pieces for Liverpool in the Premier League between 2014-2017
One clear point illustrated throughout, is the fact that he tends to pick up the majority of his positions from the left to central area. His career has shown him coming off the left-wing position and from a slightly deeper left-central midfield role, as well as the typical number ‘10’ role – both seen at Barcelona and Liverpool. This means if he were to play at Chelsea, his natural positioning would see him occupy those areas. This would likely mean that the right hand side could be slightly neglected by him, simply because the natural positions he takes up when shooting would move him further away from that side and whoever plays there (such as Reece James or Hakim Ziyech). However, this could work in their favour as James likes to overlap, and Ziyech likes to come inside.
If he were to succeed at Chelsea, he would have to operate in those positions – which is fine for a traditional 4-2-3-1 which the Blues’ have utilised this season, but in a 4-3-3 he may have to feature out left or slightly deeper in a midfield as he did for Liverpool in the 2017/18 season when Salah came in. He was successful in that role as he was starting out in the left inside forward role the season before. With similar tactics to Klopp, Frank Lampard’s team pressing and high energy game could go hand in hand with Coutinho’s skill set.
This could further translate into the fact that the left hand side would have him taking up position in those spaces, creating opportunity for the wingers like Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi to have the option of either beating the man and crossing, or coming inside (as they both like to do) and finding Coutinho who generally will be lurking around those left/central attacking positions. Likely he’ll be looking to use his famous technique to bend the ball with pace, similar to what we’ve seen so many times before. In the season under Klopp with his most goals (13), he saw an average 4.21 shots, with his position when shooting successfully being very central. This was before Mohammed Salah’s arrival, and being in a front three with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino allowed him to take up any number of positions across the front three. But his average shooting position was very central, illustrating that perhaps he is most comfortable in that role.
*All goal attempts on target from open play and set pieces for Liverpool in the Premier League between 2016/17
In summary, Coutinho coming off the back of a season playing in the number ten would bode well for Lampard and Chelsea. It’s also key that he is coming into his prime years, and previous experience in England could allow a quick acclimatization to the much faster pace of the Premier League. His prior experience playing in a similar style of football with Klopp would benefit him here, as he could feature in the positions already listed, adding that extra depth and quality to the Chelsea squad. The stats show he would add a creative, potent, direct attacking threat unlike anything currently at Stamford Bridge.