The Reds got all they could out of the Brazilian midfield star, and when they could not get any more, they cashed in at the highest possible value. Last week’s sale of Coutinho to Barcelona was the best possible result for the Merseyside club, one still looking to regain its footing as a top challenger in the Premier League.
There was no keeping Coutinho forever. He was always going to leave, ever since he came closer than many thought over the summer. Nay, instead, they cashed in on a peak 2016/17 season where Coutinho was arguably the best player in the Premier League, a sell-high proposition that only the most wealthy of clubs would have been able to pass up.
Coutinho is an unbelievable player, and Liverpool will surely be the worse for wear without his brilliance on the ball or magic from set-pieces. It may even cost Liverpool a top four place this season, as holding off Tottenham and Arsenal without the club’s best creator will be a daunting task. However, every player has his price, and Liverpool surely exceeded Coutinho’s.
It all becomes clear when looking at the numbers.
The biggest difference between Coutinho’s 2016/17 brilliance and this half-season appears to be his shot-selection, which has declined considerably. Last season, Coutinho took a total of 106 shots in Premier League play, with 40 of those coming inside the penalty area ((38%). The combined xG per shot for Coutinho through last season was about 0.09. We know Coutinho is not a pure goalscorer first and foremost, and those paltry numbers shouldn’t surprise anyone given his style of play and his ability to score fabulous goals from great distance. Nevertheless, giving up possession in the hopes of scoring a wonder-goal is a negative aspect of Coutinho’s play, and that has done nothing but get worse this season.
This year, through half a season, Coutinho has taken just 14 of his 54 shots (26%) from inside the penalty area, for a total xG per shot of 0.06. That paltry number has gone down even further, despite the benefit of a better attacking side around him that has helped increase his key passes per 90 minutes by nearly three quarters of a point.
While this is just one small aspect of Coutinho’s game, it suggests that Liverpool have sold high on a player who, while brilliant, may have maxed out his play while in the Premier League. It would be foolish to say Coutinho’s 2016/17 season was a fluke, or even an outlier, but it was likely above the mean for his ability.
What Liverpool must now do is bank that $192 million and reinvest it properly, and there’s no reason to suggest they can’t.
Liverpool has already added Mohammed Salah this past offseason, a brilliant arrival that is almost certainly the signing of the season already. Sadio Mane, an addition last summer, has brought a cutting edge to the attack. Roberto Firmino was expensive, but worth it. Heck, they even bought Coutinho from Inter in January 2013 for pennies on the dollar (which is becoming a VERY bad look for the Italian side).
However, like any top club, they’ve also missed a few. The $33 million spent on Georginio Wijnaldum at this point appears to be a miss, although he’s settled into more of a starting role of late suggesting things could turn around. Christian Benteke was a disaster, although they managed to con Crystal Palace into giving them a hefty chunk of it back. Lazar Markovic was a waste. This is normal, and Liverpool has done well to mitigate the failures in the transfer market while highlighting the successes.
There’s plenty of pressure on the Reds to finish the job and reinvest properly. They need to replace the Brazilian (Christian Pulisic, not Riyad Mahrez) while also improving at the back (Virgil Van Dijk hopefully plugs a big hole there) and filling a need at goalkeeper (Samir Handanovic, anyone?). Despite that, all the signs point to a bright future for Liverpool, and this massive influx of cash could be the turning point that gets them over the hump to returning as a perennial Champions League contender, even if it costs them a top four spot this season.