Philippe Coutinho’s status in European football has been reduced to a flagrant example of Barcelona’s mismanagement. He arrived in Catalonia in 2018 to redress the void left by Neymar’s exit to Paris Saint-Germain, but as the status and glamour of the signing took centre stage, his actual fit with the existing squad seemed to be overlooked.
Coutinho made a reasonably good start in the team, playing as a narrow left-sided midfielder in Ernesto Valverde’s 4-4-2, and would go on to have a sensational World Cup for Brazil. That, however, would be the apex of his time in Spain.
After Valverde shifted to a 4-3-3, Coutinho struggled to complement Lionel Messi in attack and slowly faded out of the team.
Initially, his loan to Bayern Munich was fairly positive, but after Hansi-Flick replaced Niko Kovac, Coutinho lost his place in the team and was sent back to Barcelona to a disinterested Ronald Koeman. Ever since, he’s spent much of his time on the sidelines, his talents seemingly forgotten by the club who paid an astounding £142 million to acquire him.
With his six-month loan to Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa, though, Coutinho could rediscover his best form. Throughout his career, the Brazilian has seemed to be a player who needs to feel appreciated and understood by his coaches rather than treated as just another component of the team.
Gerrard, who played with Coutinho at Liverpool, will feel as though he can provide the midfielder with such coaching and help him rediscover his best form. The coach even included a section about the Brazilian in his autobiography, in which his affection and admiration for the player is clear. From a personality perspective, this should be a perfect match between player and manager.
— Grace Robertson 🏳️⚧️ (@GraceOnFootball) January 5, 2022
Tactically, Coutinho should suit Villa’s system well and enhance their attacking productivity. Gerrard has consistently opted for a 4-3-3 but with extremely narrow wingers, almost making a 4-3-2-1 or “Christmas tree” formation. Coutinho is an ideal player for the left-sided attacking role.
At his peak, Coutinho was a lethal goal-threat from outside the area and was a constant attacking threat from the left-half space. His propensity to take shots from range can at times be a source of frustration for fans, and he can appear a bit selfish. However, for Aston Villa, this trait may actually be welcome with the Villains having fewer shots and shots on target than the league average.
Ready for more moments of magic like this? ✨ pic.twitter.com/X9NsSikufv
— Premier League (@premierleague) January 7, 2022
Beyond his shooting, Coutinho can be a genuinely elite creative player. For statistics like progressive passes, passes into the final third, passes into the penalty area, key passes, progressive carries, and carries into the final third, the Brazilian ranked above the 90th percentile when he received significant minutes for Bayern and Barcelona. It’s not an exaggeration to say he possesses the vision and technical quality of few other players in Europe. That kind of quality will be of immense value to Villa, and could add a new dimension to their attacking play.
Of course, Coutinho has not played much football of late. While Xavi has given him some starts recently, he has certainly not been a fixture of any team’s starting XI, making just 10 La Liga starts over the last season-and-a-half. As such, he may take time to adapt to regular starts again.
Coutinho’s work rate has also never been one of his strengths, and this will be the first time in a long time that he’ll be playing for a team who could spend spells of games chasing the ball rather than controlling it. Whether he’ll be able to make that transition with this six-month window remains to be seen.
When Jürgen Klopp said this to Philippe Coutinho in 2017 before he left to Barcelona 👀 pic.twitter.com/aAStoSHYii
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 7, 2022
Yet the beauty of this move for Villa is that it’s just a loan. If the move fails, if Coutinho seems unable to rekindle what had once made him such an exciting player, then they can refuse the opportunity to purchase him in the summer. But the upside is that if Gerrard can get Coutinho back to anything close to his best, the club have an elite creative attacker who could be part of their ascent up the Premier League table.
After years of aimlessness, Philippe Coutinho may have finally found his home in Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa.