Philippe Coutinho gives Liverpool big reason to hope as Man City chances ‘less than 50 per cent’

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If Liverpool accept the word of election forecast specialists FiveThirtyEight, there is a 22 per cent chance that Aston Villa will cause an upset against Manchester City on the last day of the season. All things considered, those are reasonable odds. But Philippe Coutinho might just provide an even bigger reason for Anfield optimism.

First, it is worth contextualizing the FiveThirtyEight figures. A proprietary ‘Soccer Power Index’ (SPI) ratings system evolves as the season progresses, responding to results and underlying performance levels to predict how many goals a team could be expected to score and concede against average opposition at a neutral ground. Estimated team value is also fed into the mix, with this factor considered to be a strong indicator of performance.

Then, when two teams go head to head, various bits of mathematical wizardry help to determine the likeliest outcomes. The SPI ratings determine the number of goals each team can be expected to score, which are then translated into possible scorelines. For instance, if Liverpool are overwhelmingly likely to score at least two goals against Wolves, but their opponents will struggle to net more than one, the probabilities will reflect a huge advantage for Klopp’s side.

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Sure enough, Liverpool are heavy favorites for the final-day meeting with Wolves. Encouragingly, they are considered more likely to get a favorable result than Man City: whereas Pep Guardiola’s team have a greater than one in five chance of slipping up, Klopp has been given an 83 per cent chance of delivering a victory.

But while all of this number-crunching is impressive, Klopp will be pinning his hopes on a different kind of wizardry. Coutinho was known as the little magician at Liverpool, and he often unleashed his box of tricks against Manchester City.

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The most memorable example came in 2014, before Klopp had even arrived at Anfield. Chasing the Premier League title, Liverpool had let a two-goal lead against Man City disintegrate. Up stepped Coutinho, with a sweetly-struck, curling strike into the corner to win the game. The outpouring of euphoria was that of a stadium full of fans who thought that a first league title in 24 years was on the horizon.

Of course, things unravelled in the weeks that followed. This time, should Coutinho make a telling contribution for Aston Villa, there will be no more games in which the pendulum can swing again. If he prevents Manchester City from winning, and Liverpool do their job, the title will be going to Anfield.

Nor is 2014 the only source of encouragement for Liverpool. In fact, in the seven games Coutinho has played against Man City, he has avoided defeat in more than half of them – winning three and drawing one. This ‘metric’ pins Guardiola’s chances at less than 50 per cent: this is the kind of maths Klopp can get behind.

Even more pertinently, Coutinho has tended to have a big individual impact. He has scored an impressive five goals against Manchester City, assisting one for good measure too. It works out as 0.95 goal contributions per 90 minutes.

Naturally, most of these involvements came against a team that looked very different to the side Guardiola has now assembled. Even so, there has rarely been a point in the last decade where Man City have not been right up there among the best teams in the country – it is a notable opponent to have such a good individual record against.

Perhaps it is down to the nature of Coutinho as a player. He reliably creates chaos. Up against structure and order, he conjures something that does not quite make sense. This is anathema to Guardiola, and indeed to every Manchester City side that have tried to tame the unpredictability of football since their big-money takeover.

Whatever it is, Liverpool will be desperate for Coutinho to extend his personal record. If he can make it five games out of eight without defeat against Manchester City, the chances are that the Premier League trophy will be lifted at Anfield. Given the circumstances, Klopp will certainly take those odds.

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