Coutinho could fit in to the Barcelona team if they sign him this summer
7th June 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
Picked up from Inter Milan for Just £8.5million in January 2013, Philippe Coutinho has to be considered one of the greatest signings in Liverpool’s recent history.
In his three-and-a-half years with the Anfield club the Brazilian playmaker has 42 goals in 182 appearances, marking himself out as one of the Premier League’s finest creative talents along the way.
However, the 24-year-old’s superlative form on Merseyside is a double-edged sword for the Reds; his performances have helped elevate Jürgen Klopp’s men to Champions League qualification for next season, but they have also drawn the attention of Barcelona, who are reportedly considering a big-money summer bid for his services.
Liverpool will be reluctant to part ways with their star man as they look to build towards a title push next term as well as aiming to be competitive in the Champions League – a competition the club has a rich history in. But if they are to sell Coutinho, they could quite reasonably expect to recoup as much as £80 million for the gifted attacker.
A switch to Barcelona would beg the question of where Coutinho would slot into the Camp Nou side’s starting line-up. The 25-cap Seleção star has spent most of his time in England playing on the left side of Liverpool’s attack, cutting inside onto his stronger right foot, creating opportunities for team-mates with his clever, incisive passing, and shooting for goal with his trademark powerful, swerving strikes.
But the current occupant of Barça’s left flank is none other than Coutinho’s illustrious compatriot Neymar. The 25-year-old superstar is coming off arguably the best campaign of his career on a personal note, even if the Blaugrana experienced a difficult season under since-departed coach Luis Enrique.
Combined with a newfound level of work rate and industry, Neymar’s always-impressive creative skills have seen him become almost as important to Barcelona as five-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi.
Neymar himself has been open about his desire to see the Liverpool man arrive at the Camp Nou in the near future, telling the Daily Mail in March this year: “A Premier League player that I would like to have in Barcelona is Coutinho.”
But to think that Coutinho would either usurp his international colleague on the left wing, or be content to act merely as a back-up option for the role, would be misguided. However, the Brazilian’s displays in a deeper position at the tail end of last term suggest that he could be the heir to a different hero of the Barça side.
Andrés Iniesta, scorer of the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final for Spain and a four-time Champions League winner, is arguably the greatest central midfielder of his generation, and remains a key player for Barça.
But at 33, the diminutive creator is beginning to slow down and, much like with Xavi a few years back, the Catalan giants must begin to manage his workload, ensuring that he is sufficiently rested throughout the season and saved for the games in which some of the old magic would be most valuable.
That may mean that, under new manager Ernesto Valverde, Iniesta becomes a less regular feature of the Barça line-up in 2017/18 – there have even been suggestions that the player is open to a switch to Juventus this summer.
Having excelled as a No.8 in the closing stages of the 2016/17 Premier League season, Coutinho, with his outstanding technique, intelligent passing, savvy movement and world-class creative gifts, could be the perfect candidate to take the reins from Iniesta as Barcelona’s chief midfield instigator.
In Liverpool’s final two games of the season — a 4-0 win away to West Ham United and a 3-0 victory over Middlesbrough at Anfield – Coutinho was unplayable as a roaming playmaker from the No.8 position, scoring three times and registering an assist across the two games.
He also made an average of 81.5 passes at a completion rate of 89.45 percent over the two fixtures, as well as completing nine dribbles and seven key passes.
By way of comparison, Iniesta averaged 76.6 passes and 1.7 key passes per 90 minutes last season. Of course, Coutinho’s midfield masterclasses came against a relegated side and a West Ham team with nothing left to play for, but his remarkable productivity is a sign of his potential in the role.
The fact that he made so many passes shows that, unlike when tied to his customary left-wing berth, he is perfectly able to be involved in Liverpool’s build-up play more deeply and willing to take responsibility for tying the Reds’ midfield and attack together, something that Iniesta has made an art form of over the last decade.
Coutinho’s versatility could also be an asset for Barcelona. If new coach Ernesto Valverde chooses to revisit the 3-4-3 formation that Luis Enrique had a measure of success with last season, in which Lionel Messi came in from his right-wing spot to play at the point of the midfield diamond, the Liverpool man could operate on the right of the front three.
This would also be an option should Valverde decide to use a 4-2-3-1 system similar to that which he preferred during his time in charge of Athletic Bilbao. Coutinho could again play in the right attacking midfield position. Or, if the manager elects to leave Messi out wide, the Brazilian would be even better suited to playing as the team’s No.10.
Liverpool will be hopeful of hanging on to Coutinho beyond the summer as they prepare to demonstrate their ambition with a string of big-money signings in the transfer market – Roma’s Mohamed Salah and Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk are reportedly close to sealing moves to Anfield for a combined outlay of almost £100 million.
But Barcelona will know that players with the requisite skill and temperament to succeed at the Camp Nou are few and far between; Coutinho will be high up on their wish list and, as was the case when they signed Luis Suárez from Liverpool in 2014, they usually get who they want.