Why Liverpool must keep Coutinho, and why Barcelona want him so badly

Coach's column: With rivals Real Madrid set to create a dynasty, the Camp Nou hierarchy know they must act now or face an era of being second best

Pako Ayestaran
Thursday 17 August 2017 07:07 BST
From a tactical point of view, Philippe Coutinho is a perfect fit for Barcelona
From a tactical point of view, Philippe Coutinho is a perfect fit for Barcelona (Getty Images)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


From what we have seen, Liverpool will not budge on selling Philippe Coutinho, and that could well be one of the most meaningful decisions of this summer beyond Neymar’s move to Paris Saint-Germain - although it is of course connected to that.

This could have big repercussions for the English league, the Spanish league and the Champions League.

First of all, there are no two ways about it: Barca simply need a player like Coutinho, both tactically and for his quality. From a tactical point of view, I think he is a perfect fit.

They have already lost Xavi while Andres Iniesta is already in the latter stages of his career so will play less, and they thereby don’t manage to control the ball in the middle of the pitch in the same way, or make it arrive for the forwards at the right pace. They have lost that.

Coutinho can offer this, he ticks all the boxes, and especially those penetrating passes. He has sometimes been called “a highlights player” but I think that’s wrong and unfair. Liverpool’s game last year was all about attackers alternating positions so much, and it was often down to Coutinho to choose the right tempo of the play. He is also probably a better positional player than a player on the break, as he gives the right angles for passing options, his body shape is good, and he always chooses the right option. The fact he can score from distance is also such an important quality, given how so many opposition sides set up against Barca and look to close the gaps while defending deep. It’s also worth noting that, having just turned 25, Coutinho has greatly increased his Premier League goal tally in the last three seasons - from five to eight to 13.

He’s so crucial to Liverpool’s timing and build-up play that, without him, they would have to change their game significantly. I don’t know if they will continue with the same approach as last season but they often had close to 60 per cent possession in games over the 2016-17 campaign, whereas against Watford and Hoffenheim this term it dropped a lot without him.

If they did lose Coutinho, I would expect their play to be much wider, especially having pace on both sides now with Mohamed Salah having joined Sadio Mane.

But, given what Liverpool have already rejected - a latest bid of £91m - they seem intent on keeping him. The question is whether Barca can offer enough to prise him away; to make it basic business sense for Liverpool to accept.

Doing that is arguably essential to the Catalans because they badly require both real first-team quality as well as strength in depth, and that was even before selling Neymar. The PSG striker formed part of what was arguably the greatest attack seen in decades so you can imagine the necessity now.

Barcelona actually need a centre-half, a central midfielder like Coutinho and another star forward - so, essentially, an entire spine of a team. And they just need that to compete with Real Madrid, let alone get back to what they were, such is the power of the repeat European champions’ squad. Real could well produce a dynasty, and have a historic impact on football in the way Barca did for most of the last decade, if Camp Nou does not take action. If they don't do what they need to do.

It is actually remarkable how it has got to this situation, when it was the complete reverse just five years ago - with Barca looking so superior - but not all that surprising from one perspective.

There is a theory I have been reading about called “the performance clock” that is so fascinating to coaching, football and all walks of life.

It is fundamentally the idea that once you start what is essentially a new project and then reach a certain stage of success - so, you could say, the revolution at Barca from 2003 to their dominance of 2011 - you get into a “secret formula” mentality; that you just have to keep doing what they did but without the same innovation.

It’s difficult not to think this has happened at Camp Nou of late, and is why they now find themselves in the situation they are.

It is also just one other reason why Coutinho has become so key, why what happens next with him could have such a big influence on this window.

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