Thursday 19 April 2018

Revealed: The stats that show Liverpool have improved since Philippe Coutinho departure

Mohamed Salah of Liverpool celebrates after scoring his sides second goal with Roberto Firmino of Liverpool and Andy Robertson
Mohamed Salah of Liverpool celebrates after scoring his sides second goal with Roberto Firmino of Liverpool and Andy Robertson

Alistair Tweedale

If ever there was a precedent for key players departing a football club just when it seems they are at their most important, it is Liverpool. Predictably enough, all the evidence prior to Philippe Coutinho leaving in early January suggested they would suffer losing him.

Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez all spring to mind, having each left Liverpool at the peak of their respective careers. In each case Liverpol's fortunes fell off a cliff.

Liverpool finished second in Alonso's final season at Anfield, four points off the title; one season later, Alonso-less, they finished seventh. In the 2010/11 season in which Torres departed midway through, Liverpool came sixth; they dropped to eighth a year later. In Suarez's last season, Liverpool pushed City close for the title. Without Suarez in the next campaign they came sixth.

That is why Jurgen Klopp fought tooth and nail to keep Coutinho despite Barcelona's unrelenting interest. £142m is what can only be described as 'crazy money', but even at that price few at Liverpool would have wanted to see the back of him.

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And yet two months on from his move, Liverpool are safely through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and up from fourth in the Premier League (when Coutinho left) to third, hot on the tails of Manchester United in second. Maybe everything will be alright after all...

But what's the reason behind Liverpool's ability, this time around, to contend with a key player's departure?

Klopp said recently he believes his team is less predictable now that Coutinho has gone, and there is certainly some truth in that: when Coutinho was available, all play went through him, and often he was the source of that moment of magic needed to break an opponent down.

"On a good day it makes you more unpredictable if you don't have this dominant player but on another day you miss a player like that,” Klopp said.

"Phil Coutinho was a very dominant player in our game and when we were not at our best it was always a good idea to give him the ball, maybe he has an idea. But it was always clear when Phil didn't play we had to do the job differently, to put responsibility on different shoulders and spread it between the players."

And that is exactly what Liverpool have done. After only half a season together, the 'Fab Four' have been disbanded, their work now shared among three. And everyone has stepped up.

Since Coutinho's departure, Mohamed Salah has nine goals and three assists in nine starts. Sadio Mane has six goals in five. Roberto Firmino has taken on greater all-round responsibility in his wonderfully unique gegenpressing 'false nine' role, with more tackles than any other attack-minded player in the Premier League in that time, his 17 enough to rank in the overall top 20, as well as racking up six goals and four assists in just 10 appearances. Indeed, Liverpool have become more of a team since Coutinho left.

Despite playing only 14 times in the league this season, Coutinho still ranks third for shots attempted in Liverpool's squad. He accounts for just 3.9 per cent of Liverpool's minutes played this season, but 10.7 per cent of their attempts on goal.

His 39 shots from outside the penalty area is 16 more than anyone else in the squad and makes up 20 per cent of their overall total.

Pot shots from distance are rarer these days, and Liverpool are having fewer shots in total in the post-Coutinho era, with 11.4 per Premier League game - down from 13.1, but they are scoring more goals, their conversion rate having improved markedly.

The players are attempting to dribble less often. They are making more interceptions and far more tackles. Chance creation is up, too.

There is a real sense that everyone needed to step up in Coutinho's absence, and they have delivered. They are winning more, having seen off teams like Manchester City and Porto, falling seconds short of beating Tottenham, too. The defeats to Swansea and West Brom feel like a blip that has now been overcome.

Goals are still being conceded, but in games other than the West Brom defeat and the 4-3 win over City, Liverpool have shipped just four goals in eight games since Coutinho left.

Virgil van Dijk's presence has helped steady things, while Andrew Robertson has been a revelation at left-back and Trent Alexander-Arnold is still improving on the other side.

Coutinho was a significant loss, particularly mid-season, but without actually buying anybody to replace him, Liverpool have dealt with his departure remarkably well. The burden has been shared and even though it is still early days, it looks like there will be no post-Coutinho collapse that many had quite reasonably predicted. Instead, Klopp's team are going from strength to strength.

Telegraph.co.uk

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