4 Future Stars Ready To Replicate Coutinho Impact

 • by Sam McGuire
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Liverpool wasted no time getting Philippe Coutinho out of the door this month.

The Brazilian completed his Barcelona medical on January 8, just four days after Jürgen Klopp said in a press conference that he expected his No.10 to be fit for the match against Manchester City.

Liverpool are now £106million better off but a player light in an attacking area. Not just any player, either, one who had been involved in a goal every 73 minutes this campaign. Even with Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané at his disposal, there’s a void there for Klopp to fill. And fans will hope it’s sooner rather than later.

Reports that the club won’t rush into splashing the cash this month knowing full well there will be a premium added onto any player haven’t been well received. It can hardly be a surprise though, what with January being a seller’s market.

Now, however, Liverpool find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

Not bringing in attacking reinforcements leave the club open to criticism if the second half of the season is a disaster. While overpaying for a target now will be seen as negligent if the Coutinho money is just wasted.

However, with the Reds still in two cup competitions and in the mix for a Champions League place, it’s an ideal time to build on a good first half of the season.

With this in mind, we’ve taken a look at possible Coutinho replacements. They’re not like-for-like replacements because it’s near impossible to find a player capable of doing what the Brazilian did at Anfield. He excelled as part of the middle three while being ruthless in the attacking trio.

Instead we looked at players who could replace Coutinho in the squad. We concentrated our efforts on more attack minded individuals because Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been impressing in a withdrawn role this season and Naby Keïta is coming in during the summer window.

An attacker has to influence what goes on in the final third so extra emphasis was placed on expected goals (xG), expected assists (xA), key passes, dribbles and shots. These can be shown in the graphic above – all stats are for the 2017/18 season.

We also looked at his shot map for the past 18 months which can be found above courtesy of understat.com. The goals are shown by the green circles. While this isn’t the be all and end all, it helps build a picture.

For example, If all their shots are from outside the 18-yard box then they’re not going to score as often as someone who gets off more shots inside the penalty area.

Liverpool often buy forwards under the age of 24 so we’ve kept our search to players that age or under – it’s why Riyad Mahrez isn’t included.

We’ve also tried to find tactically versatile players, those who can play a number of positions comfortably without it having a negative impact on the dynamic. And, finally, we tried to be realistic. There’s no point suggestion Paulo Dybala as that’s never going to happen.

Nabil Fekir

Fekir has been on the radar of most top clubs for a number of years. He’s linked with a move to Arsenal on an annual basis while reports suggested he was also a Manchester United transfer target.

Injury ruined his 2015/16 season while he used the 2016/17 season to get back up to speed.

Lyon sold Alexandre Lacazette and Maxime Gonalons in the summer, replacing the pair with younger players. By default it made Fekir, who is still only 24-years-old, the senior figure. And he’s relished it this season.

He’s been deployed as an attacking midfielder behind Mariano yet only Edinson Cavani and Falcao have scored more goals than the Lyon No.18.

His xGP90 is better than Coutinho’s as is his dribbles per 90. As you can see from his shot map, he’s not about trying his luck from distance but he scores the majority of his goals inside the area. What’s also worth noting is he gets into high quality goalscoring positions with regularity.

Andrew Gibney, Football Whispers’ very own Ligue 1 expert, believes Fekir’s best position is as a second striker in a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 system.

Liverpool have used a 4-4-2 at times this season and it’s not always been Salah and Firmino leading the line.

Coutinho took up the role as the support striker with Salah and Mané occupying the wide areas. Fekir could slot in there, especially with Klopp now using more of a midfield two on a regular basis.

However, Lyon chairman Jean-Michel Aulas is notoriously tough to negotiate with and he’d demand nearly all of the Coutinho money in January to even entertain selling Fekir.

Thomas Lemar

The 22-year-old was a target for Liverpool in the summer and has been linked in the since Coutinho’s departure. Monaco are thought to want in the region of £90million for the Frenchman and if you look at this season’s stats in isolation it’s excessive. However, there needs to be context.

The Ligue 1 champions lost a host of stars in the summer and are currently in transition. Last season his xGP90 was 0.27 while his xAP90 was 0.32 – not too far off Coutinho’s number this season. The ability is there and Klopp would no doubt add consistency to his game, it’s inevitable that it’d happen when playing alongside better individuals.

At 22 he’s at an ideal age for Liverpool to take the plunge and he’d be a long-term investment.

For Monaco he’s played primarily on the left flank but there’s no reason he couldn’t play that free No.8 role Coutinho was often given when he was tasked with linking the midfield and the attack.

His ability on the ball could cut open some of the best defensive units in the Premier League.

Leon Bailey

The Bayer Leverkusen wideman has been linked with Chelsea and Arsenal over recent weeks but neither side made an official approach. Reports suggested Antonio Conte wanted to use the 20-year-old as a wing-back while The Gunners had lined him up to replace Manchester City transfer target Alexis Sánchez.

Bailey is having the best season of his short career in the Bundesliga this campaign. His xG is 0.41, far superior to Coutinho’s, and his xA is 0.28, the joint best on the list of four possible replacements we looked at.

At first glance Bailey appears to be a stereotypical winger. He’s full of pace, really direct and aggressive when in possession. However, he’s a lot more creative than he’s given credit for and has great vision – highlighted by his key passes per 90 just being shy of Lemar and Fekir’s number. He’s versatile and can play anywhere across the front line, too.

Bayer Leverkusen will sell the winger if the right offer arrives, it’s their business model. He won’t be cheap with the left-footed forward having a contract with the Bundesliga side until 2022.

Jakub Jankto

Jankto is the wildcard on the list but the sort of player the club have moved for in the past. His numbers are impressive and, no disrespect to Udinese, he’s playing for an inferior team.

The Czech Republic international has been linked with AC Milan during the winter window but, as of yet, a deal hasn’t been agreed upon. The 21-year-old is an attacking midfielder, operating either in the centre or on the left. A detailed look at him can be found here.

He’s not your usual attacking midfielder, though. Instead being the link man he likes to drive into the penalty area, often playing like he’s a second striker. You can see on his shot map that he plays to play in the half-space on the left hand flank. He xG and xA numbers aren’t too dissimilar to those of Lemar’s.

However, he doesn’t complete as many dribbles as the others on the list of potential Coutinho replacements, but that’s because he’s not the one pulling the strings and he does his best work off the ball. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Keïta’s arrival gives Liverpool a creative force in the middle third, adding Jankto increase their attacking options.

He’s the sort of player to arrive without much fanfare but quickly turn into a player Klopp and the supporters will appreciate.

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