Fantasy Transfer Analysis: Coutinho to Liverpool

The New Kid on the Block at Anfield - Valerio Pennicino

Everything you need to know about Philippe Coutinho's move to Liverpool from a Fantasy point of view.

Apparently this transfer analysis is dangerous stuff. For those who didn't read into the comments thread of the Lewis Holtby to Spurs analysis, I was called out as something of a idiot by a reader who apparently doesn't believe I watch enough Premier League matches to made a qualified analysis. Now, given that I/we have chosen to write about topics that are almost entirely opinion-based I think we are all prepared for people to think we're off-base from time-to-time. If this were a science then there would be no need for blogs like this one. On the other hand, I want to make sure I'm clear on the purpose of these post-transfer analyses. It isn't to claim that we KNOW exactly what is going to happen but we want to intelligently speculate as to the possible value of incoming players based on:

a) what we know of their talents, skills and uses by previous teams;

b) how likely we think it is that this past history will translate to results in the Premier League; and

c) what their role is likely to be in the short, medium, and long term with their new team (i.e., amount of playing time, possible position, involvement in set pieces/penalties).

Until we see the player in action we won't know for sure and even then there are many cases where we won't know much about a player's ability to adapt until they have some time to adjust and the manager figures out how the player works best in reality (vs. whatever "on paper" plan they had when the transfer happened). So, with that, here are my thoughts on the fantasy value of Philippe Coutinho who was creating some real interest in yesterday's Barn Door Live Chat:

Here are the facts:

  • He's young (20 years old)
  • He has limited experience in "big" competitions. He didn't get much run at Inter Milan over the course of 3 seasons in Milan (11, 5, and 5 matches over the last three seasons) with 16 matches in La Liga (loan to Espanyol last season).
  • In this limited sample he has proven that he can score goals at a reasonable clip (8 in 37 matches across the two clubs with the number looking better 5 in 16 when he got more playing time at Espanyol).
  • He plays either as an attacking midfielder or as a forward.
Given his age and the concern at the beginning of the season that Liverpool didn't have enough goals in the squad this is a great acquisition in the "real world". That said, from a fantasy point of view what we care about is what he is likely to produce right now, whether he is worth buying, and what his impact might be on the fantasy value of others in the Liverpool squad.

My sense is that, like Holtby at Spurs, Coutinho will get some chances but unless he proves himself exceptional immediately that he will get those chances sporadically with a mix of bench and starting appearances. Basically, he is likely to be eased into a line-up that now has a variety of attacking options with Luis Suarez having an exceptional season, Daniel Sturridge starting strong, Fabio Borini returning to health, Raheem Sterling emerging as a talent, Jordan Henderson starting to justify his transfer price, and Steven Gerrard continuing to be at least a reasonable facsimile of "Steven Gerrard Liverpool Legend". Throw in occasional minutes for Stuart Downing and Luis Enrique in attacking positions and it doesn't leave many minutes for the new kid.

The great thing for Brendan Rodgers is that Coutinho gives him another look to throw at opponents which is great for tactical flexibility. Unfortunately, what is great for Rodgers (flexibility) isn't necessarily great for fantasy managers who love nothing more than for preferred starting line-ups to be well-known.

I think it is safe to assume that Suarez, Sturridge, and Gerrard's minutes will remain about the same. I'll posit further that Jordan Henderson, based on recent better play, the amount invested and the fact that he generally plays further back in the formation than Coutinho has thus far in his career, won't likely be losing much time. The question is whether Coutinho steals starts from Sterling (who has already been losing out on playing time and starts) and Downing (also starting less as Liverpool get healthier and acquire more talent).

This leaves me under the distinct impression that Coutinho will get a lot of time from the substitute's bench along with the occasional spot start as he adjusts to the Premier League. If he proves himself he may force Rodgers to find a place for him in the starting line-up but it seems unlikely that managers should dive in and buy him immediately (even more so because Liverpool play at Manchester City this weekend).

The other thing to note is that he isn't a winger/crosser of the ball per se, his points are likely to come from Goals (but not assists), Shots on Target, and Corners Won. He does shoot from distance which is great and is a strong shooter from set pieces on net (although it is hard to imagine him displacing Gerrard from these positions given that Gerrard is no slouch in this area and, he's Steven "f'n" Gerrard). As we see with players like Chicharito or Jermain Defoe who profile similarly, he is likely to be very inconsistent in returning fantasy points even when he does start.

Overall Verdict: Watch Closely But Don't Buy Immediately - too much risk of him being a bench player in his early days at Anfield.
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