Healthy competition for positions in a squad is often regarded as vital, with many Premier League sides having two, three or maybe four players able to play and compete for a starting spot in any one position. Forcing players to directly compete against each other for the starting spot can often pay dividends, both for the team and the individual. All the players involved are pushed to their maximum, and the team then benefits from having two players trying their hardest to push for a certain position, and that obviously helps the team's performance because they get the best out of their assets .
After Adam Lallana's arrival, that is exactly the kind of situation that Liverpool face in the creative outlet role. The 26-year-old will directly compete with Philippe Coutinho for the central attacking midfield position, but not because Coutinho isn't good enough, rather that strength in depth is a must if Liverpool are to continue enjoy successful seasons like 2013-14.
Champions League qualification has added extra games for the club next season, which means both Lallana and last season's primary creator Coutinho will have to sit back and look their teammate start ahead of them. Certainly, they will both be needed in order to share the load in the final third, but Lallana's arrival brings added competition to Coutinho's no.10 spot, not to mention the fact that Raheem Sterling can also play in that role. But who will be Rodgers main creative man in the upcoming campaign?
Lallana and Coutinho may be direct competitors, but that's not to say they couldn't also be used at the same time, in the same system. Rodgers has the potential to utilise a number of formations this season due to each player's versatility, but what are those options?
Both Lallana and Coutinho are best deployed in an attacking midfield role. For the majority of last season, for Southampton and Liverpool, that is where the two played and they both performed relatively similarly.
There are numerous formations and set-ups that incorporate a classic 'no.10' position, including 4-2-3-1, 4-1-2-1-2 and even 4-3-3 when deployed offensively. Noticeably, these formations only have the single central attacking midfielder - the position both are best in, so on the basis of attacking merits, which one is a better bet for first-choice?
|Statistics (Total - Per 90)||Coutinho - 2326 mins played||Lallana - 3084 mins played|
|Goals/Assists||5/7 - 0.15/0.21||9/5 - 0.24/0.13|
|Key Passes||57 - 1.73||63 - 1.66|
|Chances Created||64 - 1.94||68 - 1.79|
|Total Shots/Shots on Target||94/36|| |
|Conversion Rate of SOT||14%||22%|
|Total Successful Dribbles||59 - 1.8||70 - 1.8|
|No. Of Times Dispossessed||48 - 1.45||92 - 2.42|
Lallana's numbers outright seem to be more impressive than his creative counterpart. More chances created, more key passes, more goals, a better pass accuracy, more accurate shots and a higher conversion rate.
Considering per 90 minutes however, in that Lallana played 758 minutes more than Coutinho, the stats take on a different outlook. For example, Lallana has seven more key passes than the diminuitive Brazilian in total, but per 90, Coutinho actually averages more with 1.73 per game compared to Lallana's 1.66. That same goes for chances created. Therefore, had the former Inter Milan man have recorded the same amount of playing time that Lallana did, he would have more of all the above categories.
Coutinho's inferior pass accuracy, meanwhile, can be explained by his often ambitious passing style, shown by his trademark through balls. You can see below, that he has an almost perfect execution of that particular style of passing, but his tendency to attempt them means his accuracy can suffer, as he obviously cannot pull each and every one off.
The Englishman on the other hand is a lot more careful in possession. Jokingly dubbed 'the English Iniesta', Lallana averages 38.9 passes per game and attempted only nine long balls throughout the campaign, as well as trying just nine through balls in comparison to Coutinho's attempted 51. Instead, the 26-year-old prefers short and simple passes, only trying the extravagant when the time is right. Yet, neither's passing is superior to the others, despite the difference in accuracy.
One potentially decisive attribute which may decide who comes out on top for the no.10 role, is shooting. Not only did Lallana contribute four more goals last season, but his overall shooting ability is superior to Coutinho's. He recorded less shots on goal, but more on target and the ex-Saints skipper averages a 20% better shot accuracy percentage whilst also having a much better conversion rate with 22% to the 14% rate of the Brazilian. Coutinho was often guilty of dragging shots wide last season, but Lallana's increased joy in front of goal could be attributed to his ambidexterity. His ease of use with either of his right or left foot means that he can shoot and pass seamlessly off either, creating more opportunities for him to do so. Coutinho does not have this freedom, meaning he is almost bound not to have the same stats as Lallana.
The fact that Lallana scores more goals may just be decisive, as Rodgers looks to replace Suárez' goals from across the field and midfielders such as Coutinho or Lallana will be expected to chip in. Still, on an attacking basis, both are more or less equal to one another and it would be harsh to say one is much more superior than the other. For now, you would imagine that Lallana will slowly be eased into the side as Coutinho keeps his role. The competition certainly won't hamper the Reds in the final third, that's for sure.
As shown towards the end of last season, Rodgers' midfielders are tasked not only with forward-thinking duties but they are also expected to help out the defensive cause. For example, Coutinho was used in one of the sides of the diamond midfield against Manchester City and put in one of his best performances of the season, including scoring the stunning winning goal.
Lallana's recruitment fits exactly that same bill, in that he had the same requirements under Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton. Furthermore, both have been tasked with high-pressing throughout the course of the season and so they are equally as important in being a nuisance creatively, but defensively. So which one is more capable in defensive responsibilities?
|Statistics = Total - Per 90||Coutinho - 2326 mins played||Lallana - 3084 mins played|
|Tackles Won/Lost||56/81 - 2.17/3.13||47/64 - 1.37/1.87|
|Interceptions||16 - 0.62||37 - 1.08|
|Aerial Duels Won/%||11/27%||15/34%|
|Fouls Committed||15 - 0.58||33 - 0.96|
|Was Dribbled||56 - 1.7||42 - 1.1|
Both Lallana and Coutinho are equally able as a deep-lying playmaker if Brendan Rodgers chooses to use a 4-3-3, and again there is relatively marginal difference between the two defensively, however the stats support the former.
The Brazilian has won more tackles, but also loses more and as a percentage, he wins 41% of his attempted tackles whilst Lallana wins slightly more with 42%. Lallana would appear to fit into the Coutinho mould, too; tricky but tenacious. Lallana will be well at home alonside Jordan Henderson, both were amongst the most frequent sprinters in the league, highlighting how well the 26-year-old pressed the opposition from the front.
Coutinho lost more aerial duels, but committed less fouls than Lallana. He was also dribbled more and managed much less interceptions, almost half in fact.
Lallana is extremely strong, fit and willing to press – an element Coutinho has added to his game in the past few months. Coutinho making more tackles than most midfielders last season, including Oscar, Juan Mata, Mesut Özil and David Silva. Evidently, hard work and industry was a key aspect of the Reds' success last season, particularly high up the field. In a Dortmund-esque manner, Rodgers has identified the need for defensive hard work from his attacking players and again Lallana and Coutinho are relatively similar.
To choose one over the other would be tricky. Both have different styles. The new man is more continental, with a terrific technique with both feet and plenty of intelligence to support it. Composed and comfortable, he will add an assured presence in the final third. Coutinho meanwhile has heaps of flair and just as much hard work. He has incredible vision and is very strong at dribbling and taking on opponents, and his passing ability is delightful.
Both Coutinho and Lallana are grafters, and perfectly fit the requirements of Brendan Rodgers all-rounded role. It's no surprise the ex-Southampton captain has been recruited to the ranks, and the fact Liverpool have two players poised to fill in for each other at any given moment will prove extremely beneficial.