Unquestionably, one of the best parts about being a Liverpool fan these days is deliriously cheering on one Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian pug whisperer is, unbelievably, still younger than Luis Suarez was when he became the greatest accomplishment of Damien Commolli's life and signed for LFC. Which means, like Suarez did from this age range on, it is reasonable to expect Phil to get better. Perhaps even quite a lot better.
One of the things he could get a lot better at? Shooting. Even though he's awesome at it. That is confusing, but to help break down why it is true we invited TLO contributor and longtime statistical apologist, Khaine, for a chat about the dynamic Brazilian's most mercurial attribute.
LTB: So, Khaine, thanks for stopping by the salon--can we get you anything? Cucumber water, single malt? A quick line up perhaps?
Khaine: I'll have a double kale juice spritzer please, with a pinch of cinnamon.
LTB: Well chosen, the Red kale's been very robust this year. To business: why is it that you hate Philippe Coutinho shooting the football and does that also mean you hate such great things as state fair turkey legs or bouncy castles?
Khaine: I don't always hate Coutinho shooting, but when I do, I sigh very loudly. Then I formulate protracted writings on the internet to talk about how much I hate Coutinho shooting. When he's not taking shots from silly areas, gets it passed the block and actually hits the target, I'm actually quite fond of his shooting.
Problem is this season that combination of outcomes has occurred even more rarely than usual. He still takes 60% of his shots from outside the box, 39% of all his shots are blocked, and his shot accuracy is down to a fairly miserable 25%.
LTB: Sidestepping the heart of the matter by honing in on percentages and points--give the people what they want, sir.
Khaine: Bouncy castles are treacherous pieces of air and rubber filled with noisy, combustible children. Hard pass on bouncy castles.
LTB: So, full disclosure, we're talking as Liverpool are engaged in a vicious cockfight with Crystal Palace, a cockfight in which a Coutinho finish brings his tally to three goals in two games. This reality is what gives us the confidence to politely refer you to SCOREBOARD SUCKA!!! Booty Dance, do the Booty Dance--what, what--Booty Dance, do the Booty Dance--what, what!
Khaine: No pants booty dance in full effect.
LTB: The percentages appear compelling, but we still feel Coutinho should be given the rope of the terrible shots. Doesn't a streak of facemelting goals bookended by streaks of stink eyed sky scrapers level out to something you can live with?
Khaine: Coutinho has taken 7 shots in the last game and a half, only 2 of which have been from outside the box. So 71% of shots from inside the box, compared to his usual 40%. And he's scored 3 goals. In other words, shot selection is of critical importance to score goals and an improvement in the former would be likely to increase the latter. So that's what I want from Coutinho: better decision making--
LTB: You say better decision making, we say worse audacity.
Khaine: --better decision making when it comes to taking the shot or making the pass, which I think would lead to more consistency and less streakiness. But to answer your question--
LTB: Instead of rambling?
Khaine: --I think Coutinho has always been streaky with regards to his goalscoring. That doesn't mean he has to be.
LTB: So you say. Did you know that Philippe Coutinho's favorite player of all time is also our favorite player of all time?
Khaine: I did, and I've been looking forward to this comparison.
LTB: Did you know that for Ronaldinho evangelists, every shot that skies off Coutinho's boots and into the stratosphere is merely a sacrifice at the toothy altar of the Samba King?
Khaine: I was unaware of this part of the gospel, I only remember hang loose hand signs and big booty pool parties.
LTB: Objection. The suggestion that Ronaldinho restricted his pool party invitees to only gluteusly gifted sorts is hearsay, at best. Move to strike from the record on grounds that the man is a well known equal opportunity partier.
Khaine: It is true that The Great Gaucho knows how to get down and does not discriminate. It is also true that in his time at Barcelona and AC Milan, he only took a shot every 33 minutes, yet converted at a steady 16.6% clip, nearly thrice as effective as his young Padawan's rate this year. Shot selection at work.
So, were the shorn curls also a necessary sacrifice? Yours is a merciless god indeed.
LTB: HOW DARE YOU? You know damn well we believe the shorn curls to be the precise thing holding Phil back from the consistency that will catapult him from Liverpool's best player to Barcelona's 7th or 8th best player. You go too far, Nordsman!
Khaine: I make no apology. Though it does seem the curls ultimately hold the power of creativity, as Pug Daddy is passing less these days.
This season, he has taken three shots for every chance he has created for a teammate. That ratio was 1.5:1 only three months ago. This comes out in the assists, as he has created a goal every 557 minutes this season compared to his old average of an assist every 375 minutes.
LTB: How many of those passes found our heart, you ask?
Khaine: I actually didn't--
LTB: All of them, friend, all of them. Also, the mixing and matching of those teammates due to injuries, coaching change, and the subsequent system change should be considered, no?
Khaine: What was that about our hearts?
Khaine: You're right though--
LTB: Oh? Go on, then.
Khaine: --there does seem to be an improvement under Klopp. As mentioned earlier, he has been doing a better job of picking his shots for the last couple of games. It would be understandable if the anguish of the past 16 months got to him, leading to hopeless shot after hopeless shot as a representation of the direction the club seemed to be heading. And he does like the through ball, which has rarely been an option recently, given the club's lack of a striker that sufficiently stretches the pitch vertically.
Those are extenuating circumstances, certainly, but the overall point of less shooty more passy, please endures like Westley's love endured for Buttercup.
LTB: You seem to be saying that with a fit Studge, or maybe a leap from Origi, the statistical indicators overwhelmingly predict a run of form for Coutinho on par with ‘05 vintage Ronaldinho. Or is that being too conservative?
Khaine: I... What are you spiking your cucumber water with there?
LTB: With all of it. Why won't you just let your stats line up with what we feel.
Khaine: I am broken inside and don't allow myself to enjoy nice things. What of it?
LTB: What of it is that your stats refuse to match up with our need to see a Unicorn roam free like Fowler intended. We're left with no resolution! And no resolution leaves no choice but to reach for the emergency recourse.
Khaine: Blame Canada?
LTB: You bet your keister we blame Canada.