When you’ve earned nicknames like ‘Little Magician’ and ‘Twinkle-toes’, you know you’ve got some serious pedigree.
So Philippe Coutinho’s imminent departure is undeniably going to hit Liverpool right where it hurts.
It now seems a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ he completes his dream move to Barcelona this January, with mixed reports in Spain claiming he believes he’s already played his final game for the Reds.
Coutinho is a special player.
He combines wonderful vision, magnetic-like footwork and the best long range shooting in the Premier League.
Now that’s a worthy £100m package.
But while Liverpool fans are spontaneously combusting over Coutinho’s exit, the stats prove that his loss isn’t terminal and, in fact, another member of the Reds’ famed ‘Fab Four’ is far more irreplaceable.
Liverpool’s record with and without Coutinho
Coutinho’s response to being denied his move to Catalonia last summer has been magnificent, particularly when you consider the temperament of Virgil van Dijk and Alexis Sanchez who suffered simile fates.
The 25-year-old has scored 12 times and produced another eight assists from just 17 starts this season, averaging a goal involvement approximately every 70 minutes.
But his individual brilliance hasn’t necessarily benefited the team’s cause.
With Coutinho in the side Liverpool average 1.8 points and 2.2 goals per game, compared with 2.2 points and 2.3 goals per game without him.
Arguably their two most impressive wins – the 4-0 battering of Arsenal and this week’s battling 2-1 win at Burnley – were also achieved without the Brazilian magician.
He’s a mercurial match winner capable of defining moments but the stunning impact made by Mohamed Salah has taken much of the responsibility off his shoulders.
Firmino > Coutinho?
Salah’s exceptional goalscoring rate has taken the Premier League by storm, but the role of Liverpool’s most important player falls at the feet of Roberto Firmino.
Coutinho is the most talented, Salah is the best finisher, Sadio Mane is the quickest but Roberto Firmino is the most influential.
That’s because, simply put, without Firmino the remaining trio cannot thrive.
Firmino is the best in the world at what he does; the unorthodox false nine role full of attacking vigour whilst also offering the first line of defence.
His intelligent runs create space for Mane and Salah to run in behind whilst similarly creating space for Coutinho from range.
Before this season Firmino was criticised for his lack of goal return, but 16 goals and eight assists in all competitions has silenced his doubters.
Liverpool are monitoring the likes of Thomas Lemar, Riyad Mahrez and Leon Goretzka as Coutinho replacements and while they might not be at his level yet, they have the potential to get there.
But Firmino’s influence is so niche and precise there are very few players out there who could emulate him.
Coutinho isn’t even the most important Brazilian at Liverpool, let alone player.
TIP OF THE WEEKEND:
Sun Bets, as always, are graciously rewarding any new customer to who stakes £5 with a £20 bet. Just like that.
So what’s the best way to spend that £20?
Well the magic of the FA Cup is very much alive with a number of lower league sides taking on the ‘elite’ of the top flight.
Not that you would call Southampton and Watford either ‘elite’ or ‘top’ right now.
Both Premier League clubs are really suffering and are there for the taking against Fulham and Bristol City respectively.