Football is back! I missed it. There’s only so much golf and cycling I can watch. And believe me I watched a lot.
But my hunger for football saw me playing more and more FIFA this summer. With no World Cup to hold my attention, I needed my fix – ITK transfer rumours and pre-season friendlies just won’t do it. It’s like being allowed only a single nicotine patch and a packet of chewing gum to kick a 50-a-day habit.
And during my PS4 sessions, I noticed something rather odd. I noticed that EA Sports had given Phillipe Coutinho a 68 rating for long shots. The scandal of my summer!
Now, EA do so very well with their player-scouting, and games in general have really kicked on in this pursuit, so much so that we’re starting to use them as real scouting tools, apparently. Well, not you and me per se, we’re the discerning kind of football connoisseur who prefers to keep a close eye out on all of the emerging talent from around the world, compiling reports and DVDs so we can tell our mates down the pub that that young full back at SM Caen is worth a punt. Right? No, not us, more the media behemoths that are Sky Sports, but still, you get the point. Video game scouting is becoming alarmingly accurate.
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So when I saw that Coutinho was given a paltry excuse of a long shot rating, I started to question my very view of the player. I had him down as something of a long shot specialist, actually. Information I had gleaned from my many filing cabinets of DVDs compiled on the brightest young talents on this continent, if you must know.
How many times, I asked myself, has Coutinho popped up with a lovely top-corner strike to send the Kop into raptures. Or pulled Liverpool’s chestnuts out of the fire with a spectacular strike only minutes from time. I started to wonder if indeed he is just a decent dribbler with little to no flair for a cracker from distance. Even worse, that I should really stop writing about football if I thought he was actually good at them.
Step up Mr Coutinho in the dying minutes of a game in Stoke this weekend. Like Michael Owen, Miroslav Klose and ‘fox-in-the-box’ Francis Jeffers, you should always trust your instincts. He belted in a wonderful goal from long range, right into the top corner. And my mind then wandered back to the goals he scored against Manchester City over the last two seasons – one last season when Jordan Henderson scored with an equally good strike from almost the same blade of grass, and one two seasons ago in an almost-title decider against Manchester City and Vincent Kompany’s clearance landed at his feet – and his goals against Bolton and Blackburn in the FA Cup.
There are more I couldn’t remember at the time, and probably even more that I still can’t remember. Three of his four goals this calendar year for Liverpool have come from outside the box. I knew those DVDs would come in handy! Coutinho really does have a penchant for a worldy 25-yarder.
So yet again a Coutinho long strike has saved Liverpool, and it has managed to exorcise some of the demons of last season’s humiliation at the same stadium. Nothing like getting a second bite of the cherry, a chance for revenge at the very earliest possible opportunity.
But there are things stats won’t tell you. Things you’ll have to rely on memory and feel to suss out for yourself. The familiar feel of a Coutinho wonder-strike, but also the familiar feel of Liverpool passing the ball around and sniffing out blind alleys, looking devoid of ideas. It’s the first game of the season, so I won’t criticise too much, especially with all the nervous debutants on show and the fact that the Britannia must trigger some awful memories for the survivors of last season. I can only surmise that Brendan Rodgers hired a therapist specialising in PTSD in order just to get his boys onto the pitch on Sunday.
But all I’ll say is that stats can be deceiving. Liverpool probably just shaded the stats in that game, not by much though. And if all you saw was the match stats you could certainly make a case for it being a draw. But the ones that count show a Liverpool win, and a Liverpool three-point haul. But the look and feel were all too familiar for Brendan Rodgers. He’ll be hoping he didn’t bring in all of those new players and still see his side play like they did last year.
But that’s for another day. For now, Liverpool have three points, they’ve exorcised the demons and they have a home game against Bournemouth next week where they can bag some points before the really daunting away fixtures start to come thick and fast, and then thicker and faster still.
It’s job done for Liverpool. It may have had a familiar hue, but winning that game was very important given the away games they’ll face between now and the end of November or so.
For now, a win is enough, and we’re all just glad the football’s back – and I can stop trying to score screamers with Coutinho on FIFA now!