Apparently, 'when two tribes go to war, a point is all you can score.' However, when Everton face Liverpool in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park on Saturday, Roberto Martínez and Brendan Rodgers will utilise similar possession-based philosophies in the pursuit of all three points. But only one system can prevail.
Orchestrating their side’s offensive exploits throughout the attacking third will be Ross Barkley and Philippe Coutinho for the blue half and red half of Merseyside respectively. Two extremely gifted and inventive midfielders, who, if afforded acres of space in front of the opposition back four, will undoubtedly cause countless problems.
In response, the likes of Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin and Martin Škrtel need to ensure that organisation, communication and positional awareness are maintained, so that defensive structure is preserved. If a defender is lured out of position, Barkley and Coutinho undeniably have the necessary tools to punish.
According to The Telegraph, when speaking about Barkley, Everton’s manager said: "The balance he has with both feet is brilliant, and technically he’s really gifted. You would see that technical ability with any Brazilian or Dutch player. He is that exquisite technically."
With that in mind, let’s look ahead to the derby and pinpoint both players’ qualities and attributes. What have Coutinho and Barkley added to their teams’ attacking potency this season?
Direct Running & Magnet for Fouls
There’s not many things in football more exciting than seeing a talented player surging forward from the halfway line, full of purpose and power, with one eye fixed on the opposition’s goal. Two-time World Cup winner Ronaldo produced this moment of magic versus Compostela in 1996. Ronaldinho fashioned countless dazzling runs during his two-year spell at Paris Saint-Germain. And Cristiano Ronaldo’s captivating goal versus Villarreal on 23 September 2009 is yet another example.
While Barkley and Coutinho are yet to produce something as magical – although Coutinho’s pre-season goal versus Thailand was pretty special – they're both willing to beat their opposite marker via direct running. In doing so, the tricky midfielders frequently draw fouls, thus securing free kicks in dangerous positions.
Coutinho's duel success this season.
Liverpool’s Coutinho has suffered 14 fouls in only six appearances – the second highest number of received fouls at the club behind Daniel Sturridge (15), even though the Brazilian has played almost half as many games at the former Chelsea striker.
Coutinho’s impressive knack of drawing fouls is a result of successfully dribbling past opposing players 14 times this season, with a success rate of 52 per cent – an average of 2.3 dribbles per game. Many of his failed attempts are simply because of a well-timed kick to the shin from opposition defenders, in order to halt the midfielder’s forward momentum.
Barkley's duel success this season.
Similarly, Ross Barkley has suffered the most fouls (29) of any Everton player, winning a greater number of take-ons (31) than his team-mates in the process.
Therefore, if you allow the pair to surge into space you’re asking for trouble. But if you halt their momentum with a clumsy challenge, the likes of Luis Suárez and Leighton Baines will be more than happy to punish you from the resulting free kick.
Roaming movement off the ball is nothing new – the Hungarians routinely thrashed England 6-3 in 1953 utilising incredible player interchanging. However, if there’s one aspect that currently separates Coutinho from Barkley, it would have to be this particular attribute, formed, in Coutinho's case, from an understanding with the Liverpool attackers.
The location of Coutinho's chance creation.
As can be seen from the above image, Coutinho very rarely retreats to craft out chances for the forwards, preferring instead, to spearhead attacking moves from the left flank and advanced central zone; either inside or outside the box.
The location of Barkley's chance creation.
Whereas Barkley prefers to drop deep between the central midfielders and link up play throughout Everton’s patient transitions, causing most of his eight goalscoring chances to predominantly arrive (87.5 per cent) from the zone directly in front of the 18-yard box. The 19-year-old's positioning and attacking contribution is far more rigid and disciplined, supplying vertical movement throughout the attacking third in order to link up play.
Consequently, Coutinho’s greater positional interchanging, alongside Sturridge and Suarez, could be key for Liverpool.
He may have only played two full games, but Coutinho has currently achieved Liverpool’s third highest shot total (20) in the league this season, with an accuracy of 45%.
Coutinho has attempted 20 shots in six appearances this season.
Given that he’s more than willing to beat his marker with mazy runs, intelligently swap positions with team-mates, and fire a plethora of shots at goal, Coutinho’s participation could prove to be the key ingredient for a Liverpool victory in Saturday’s Merseyside derby.
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