Philippe Coutinho’s transfer to the Catalan giants earlier in the week brought an end to the worst kept secret thus far in this season. The Brazilian playmaker made the switch from Merseyside to the Blaugrana and has in the process, completed his dream move. The Brazilian is now the second costliest player in the world behind Neymar and his transfer offers interesting narratives and options for both the clubs in question, in this transfer- Liverpool and Barcelona.
From a Liverpool perspective:
From a Liverpool perspective, the timing of the move in particular is really damning. A ‘big club’ does not sell its best player in the winter transfer window. And somewhere on the way, the prices do not mean a significant deal anymore either, after a certain other Brazilian made the departure from the Catalan club in the summer. With the Liverpool trio of Mane, Salah and Firmino feeding off Coutinho, Liverpool looked a formidable side with much needed quality, if you are to challenge on both domestic and European fronts.
While Liverpool have not really threatened to come anywhere near the top of the Premier League table, albeit largely down to the incredible run of Manchester City, they are an extremely potent attacking side, as any Premier League fan would vouch for. Add to that their win over City earlier, they are a side that is more than capable of beating any team on their day.
Coutinho has always been a game changer with his Brazilian flair, creating chances for his teammate and always a great threat with his long distance shooting and technique. This season though, has been a leap above his usual standards as he has arguably made the ‘world class player’ discussions.
Having largely played in the left flank or in the #10 role, Coutinho’s transformation into a number 8 this season has been splendid. Jurgen Klopp has managed to include the Brazilian while also retaining the triumvirate of Salah, Mane and Firmino up front and Liverpool have been reaping its rewards, or well, at least were. Coutinho’s versatility plus the general fluid nature of Liverpool’s attack meant that they could also field Coutinho on the right side with Mo Salah slotting up front with Roberto Firmino.
A hefty sum in the region of 160 million Euros has been paid by Barcelona for the services of the Brazilian and even in today’s inflated market it is quite a large sum for a player that would not probably be a top ten player in the world. However, the nature of Neymar’s transfer in the summer and the world record money spent on his move to Paris meant that any club in negotiations with the Catalan club could hold Barca ransom to an exorbitant fee.
A call from Barcelona or Real Madrid is virtually irresistible for any player and in so many cases, the dream move for any player, irrespective of their nationality. It does appear that the long drawn out process earlier in the summer was all but finished except for the transfer fee as the player had set his sights on playing in the Camp Nou eventually. But one must question the timing of the move though. Coutinho is in the best patch of his career so far with regards to form and is crucial to Liverpool’s hopes in any front this season. He has the opportunity to play week in, week out in both the league and the Champions League. While his position in the Brazilian squad for the World Cup is almost non-tangible right now, it must be said that he could have continued with Liverpool until the end of the season and hopefully, carried on with his blistering form.
But the scrupulous nature of the transfer has ensured that the Merseyside team lose their best player in a time where it seems that Jurgen Klopp has not found it much of a necessity to sign a replacement first and then sell Coutinho. Rather, Liverpool have signed long term target Virgil Van Dijk for a lofty fee of 70 million, world record for a defender.
No doubt that some or even whole of the money to fund the Van Dijk transfer has been funnelled via the Coutinho transfer. If the media reports are anything to go by, Riyad Mahrez has been shortlisted as the candidate to replace Coutinho, which could see Klopp shift to a high pressing 4-2-2-2 formation with Mahrez on the right and Salah partnered up front with Firmino. It is a possibility that can be worked upon and the fact that Mahrez is not cup tied for the Champions League works in Liverpool’s favour.
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Klopp’s teams and especially this Liverpool side are not reliant on a single individual, although it can be argued that Salah has had a massive say in how the things have gone so far this season, signing Mahrez and giving a new outlook to this Liverpool side is very much a possible task in hand. The crucial thing remains that signing a replacement is of paramount importance.
While they did dispatch of City and scored four goals in that process, it does remain a fact that Liverpool need a player who can take on the mantle of the creative burden against the sides lower down the table, who generally defend deep. Klopp is one of the best in the league when it comes to breaking down a deep block, but Liverpool have more often than not dropped points against sides that they should be winning against. Only time will tell how they will fair for the remainder of the season.
From a Catalan perspective:
Coutinho’s transfer signals a statement of intent from the board. The same board who were heavily condemned by massive sections of supporters at the start of the season, with Barcelona deemed to be in a ‘crisis’. With Coutinho’s arrival, Andres Iniesta can be relived off some of his duties in the league season, as the Brazilian will remain cup-tied for the CL. This once again brings up the question as to whether spending such a fee on Coutinho in this January transfer window only for him to play in the league, which they all but have wrapped up within the first half of the season, is worthy enough or not.
One angle of reasoning that must be taken into account with regards to the transfer and the money paid is that the market seems to be on a steady upside, and a potentially good showing in the summer World Cup later this year is only bound to increase the price for the Brazilian. Barcelona might have just wanted to get it over with and not want to pay near 200 odd million in the summer.
Putting all the transfer uproar aside, Coutinho can slot into this Barcelona side seamlessly. Whether he will be able to put out the same level of numbers he has been this season for Liverpool remains a question as the contrast in the styles of play cannot be more evident. Ernesto Valverde has instilled a very unique system here at Barcelona and has tweaked it further due to the long term absence of Ousmane Dembele, who incidentally happened to be the club’s record transfer before Coutinho now broke it.
With Dembele’s return, there are a wide range of possibilities as to how Coutinho will be integrated into the side. My best guess would be that Valverde aims to return to a proper 4-2-3-1 in which Coutinho can function as a number 10, while drifting towards the left side of the midfield and forming an oscillating 4-3-3, given Leo Messi’s nature of drifting towards the centre.
With Nelson Semedo looking increasingly confident in attack down the right flank, this can well be considered as a viable option for Valverde. Dembele’s untimely injury once again earlier in the week might mean that Valverde plays a 4-3-3 with Coutinho on the left and Messi on the right, or the 4-4-2 that has given them so much success this season, with Coutinho in place of Iniesta.
Coutinho might just end up replacing Iniesta in the side, especially before the Champions League games when Iniesta can be rested for the knockout matches while Coutinho can take on his role of being the wide midfielder on the left that Iniesta now dons in this asymmetric 4-4-2 formation.
Coutinho has been injured and will be out for three weeks before he plays his first match in his new club according to FC Barcelona, and will definitely be eased in and not rushed. On the plus side, Barcelona are in a very comfortable position in the league. Albeit they cannot tend to take the foot off the pedal, it is good for Coutinho that he is not expected to be a saviour of sorts for the Spanish giants. However, the price of the transfer makes all this non-sensical and he shall be expected to be amongst the goals and assists, and replicate his current form for the club.
His versatility is key as he can assume any of the roles among being the left winger, the #10 or as a creative interior in a 4-3-3. Judging by how Valverde has motivated and brought out the best in the likes of Alba and Paulinho so far this season, it would not be beyond him to have another functioning outlet in the team other than Messi and build the team to his strengths.
Only time will tell whether Coutinho justifies the price tag or not. His form and abundance of talent point to him being a hit in the Camp Nou, considering how some of the previous Brazilians have performed in the past. One thing is for sure- he shall be under the microscope due to the nature of the transfer when he does play for Barcelona and he’d hope that he plays at his best, something that will definitely answer his doubters and critics. The believers, they shall be right in believing that the Brazilian was indeed a very good signing and help them in their pursuit of the league title.
Coutinho, out with a thigh injury currently, will be hopeful that he can make a return soon enough and continue with his form, ensuring his place in the starting eleven for Brazil in the summer World Cup is confirmed. As of now, Football Betting Tips have Brazil as joint favorites for winning the Cup along with Germany and Coutinho is a massive part in this. Only time will tell how his transfer will work out for Barcelona, and Brazil.