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Philippe Coutinho is being haunted by his inconsistent past



Photo by David Ramos

On the back of a sensational preseason with Barcelona shortly followed by a remarkable start to the new campaign; Philippe Coutinho won back the support of Culés worldwide. He was Blaugrana’s highest contributing player in terms of goals and assists ahead of La Liga’s return, and in the Primera División, a goal and two assists in his opening three games marked the start of what should have been, a redemption arc for the Brazilian.

Since the game against Sevilla at home, however, Coutinho has seems to be edging closer to his deplorable performances in the 2018/19 campaign, rather than anything next to that which was seen in his Liverpool days. Could his inconsistent past be coming back to haunt him, or is this just a hiccup on his path to success?

Statistical Analysis of Philippe Coutinho

Decision making is integral to the success of any footballer, and the zones in which the Copa America winner chooses to take shots at goal as well as create for others is indicative of how much of a threat level he as an individual can pose the opposition. As a footballer playing as high up as Coutinho, one of the most important facets in his arsenal should always be maximizing efficiency.

For the past 7 seasons in domestic leagues, this one included, Coutinho has taken a total of 556 shots on goal and scored 56 goals, giving him a shots to goal ratio of roughly ten to one. For most footballers, and especially attacking midfielders, this sort of return is anything but bad however breaking down these stats further, you start to spot a problem. Of the 556 shots he has taken in that time frame, 333 have been taken from outside the box, 208 from inside the penalty box and 15 in the danger area, or the 6-yard box.

Of the 333 shots Coutinho has taken from outside the penalty area, he has scored only 22 times, amassing a measly 10.35 expected goals (xG). As for those born from inside the 18-yard box, he has hit the back of the net 27 times at an xG of 29.2 and from the 6-yard box, scored seven times with an xG value of 7.91.

Coutinho has failed to grow as a footballer at Barcelona. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty)

Quite clearly, taking shots at goal from areas near the goal, preferably within the penalty box provides a higher chance at scoring, however, Coutinho tends to prioritise shooting techniques that not only have a staggeringly low return but which also have an even lower probability of going into the back of the net in the first place.

Those are his scoring stats but what about his creation of chances? After all, summing up his assists from the Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga will surely give us a better image of how creative he is right? Wrong.

Assists are by no means the best metric one can use when determining how creative one is because one’s ineptitude in finishing may give the impression that a midfielder is inherently weak in his creation of chances when in reality their excellent chances are being put to waste. Fortunately, we have Expected Assists (xA) to measure that for us.

From outside the box, Coutinho has made 95 key passes (KP) and provided 6 assists with an xA of 3.14. In the penalty area, he has made 195 KP and assisted 27 times with an xA value of 28.54 and finally from the 6-yard area, he has made 16 and got three assists with an xA value of 3.27.

Based on his scoring as well as chance creation, it’s clear his sweet spot is just inside the penalty area where he’s most consistent at generating quality chances for both himself and others.

One of his major problems from a statistical point of view is that he disproportionately chooses points to attack which are far from beneficial to him over the long term.

How do his stats fair in the current campaign? He has scored three goals at an xG of 3.62, however, he has provided two assists at an xA of just 0.57. why is his xA so low? His frequency at providing key passes is shallow, and his probability of assisting even lower. In eight games he has provided just six key access, and even though he had a seemingly bright start to things this year, his individual Key pass to assist ratio was anything but stainable.

Systemic Problems

It does not take much to know that the use of a footballer in their preferred zones in the pitch will result in an overall better output, be it in offence or defence. In the same light, to understand why Coutinho has been performing so poorly of late, questioning the manager‘s, as well as the squad’s role, is important in this.

The present-day Barcelona side has an abundance of attacking talent. One need only look at the names of Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembélé to get a picture of just how potent the Catalans’ front line is — or can be.

Man management plays an enormous role in how a player fits into a system or not. In 2018-19, despite scoring 5 goals and providing two assists, the Brazilian endured arguably the worst season of his career. Why so? He, simply put, is a footballer whose profile does not fit in with the Barca style of play or the formation that predominantly comes with it.

Coutinho also plays in the ’10’ role, and unfortunately for him, he finds himself in the club that has possibly the only two players who perform that role better than him. In 2018-19, because he could barely fit into the midfield as an interior, Ernesto Valverde cast him out to the wings, and such was the gravity of this failure that he had himself sent away to Bayern Munich.

The problems Coutinho faces at Barcelona are more than a product of his own poor decisions. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Bongarts/Getty)

Now back in the iconic Claret and Blue of Barcelona, the same tactical failure that Coutinho was victim to is showing its ugly face once more. In the past five games in succession, Coutinho has had himself contribute to just one goal. Not only is his output in front of goal decreasing, but his performances have also taken a nosedive too.

It is easy to understand why Ronald Koeman would even fathom attempting to utilise the Brazilian in a way in which he knows is far from productive, even though he started in his preferred attacking midfield capacity when the season kicked off. It comes down to a clash of personnel in the same zone, with Griezmann, Messi, Coutinho, and Pedri all preferring to play in that position.

But the impact of playing out of position if most apparent with Coutinho, who, in his last five outings, Coutinho has amassed 2.5xG — 1.9 of which came in the same match. But given the fact that he has not even come close to providing a single assist, with his xA in that period at a staggeringly low 0.12, something about how the manager is using him has to change. This does boil down to poor decision making to a large extent.

This, of course, is easier said than done as while he is going on a rough patch, Griezmann is having the time of his life in his attacking midfield role, and depriving him of it now that he finally found his feet does not, by any stretch of the imagination, seem fair to the Frenchman.


Therefore, is Coutinho’s inconsistent past coming back to haunt him? We here at Barça Universal think so. The problems are multifaceted and the solutions scarce. And if it continues on the same road, it is difficult to imagine his future in the Catalan capital.

On the one hand, Coutinho’s individual flaws will never cease to hurt him, as his neverending pursuit for his trademark scorchers will continue to harm him unless he adopts methods of playing that maximise efficiency. This is blatantly clear in his shots to goals as well as his key pass to assist ratios. In addition to his poorly picked chance creation zones, he fails to provide key passes at rates that could increase his chances at getting an assist, and until that is sorted out, then he might be on for one rocky road.

On the other hand, systemic issues, which he has next to no control over, will also harm him unless the manager finds a solution to his problems. Playing the Brazilian out in the left flank clearly disrupts his rhythm and efficiency on the ball, but given the form of his two competitors in the central attacking midfield as well as Ousmane Dembélé’s injury, will this end? Only time will tell.

Stats from Understat.

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