Barcelona shipped record-signing Philippe Coutinho off to Bayern Munich on a one-year loan following a woeful stint at the Catalan club.
The Spanish giants deemed it fit to allow the player to move – with an option for Bayern to buy – after he did not come close to justifying his hefty price tag of €145m in the 18 months since he left Liverpool.
Having made the switch to Barcelona in January last year, Coutinho garnered five assists and eight goals, including a hat-trick in a losing cause against Levante during his first half-season at the club. While these numbers are not extraordinary, they did not necessitate the sirens as it was his first few months at the club and he was settling in.
Last season, however, the Brazilian scored just five goals and created two in the 34 league games he featured in. He peaked when he scored in the Champions League against Manchester United but reverted to the downhill trajectory ever since.
So where did it all go wrong for Liverpool’s best player from the 2016/17 season? We take a look.
The price tag of €145m attracts huge expectations and this incites pressure. Once the pressure seeps in and affects performances, recovery becomes an arduous task.
It did not help the 27-year-old that Spanish fans are not the most patient. He succumbed to the immense pressure before ultimately reaching the point of no return.
Coutinho was Brazil’s best player in the 2018 World Cup where he played as a left-sided central midfielder in a 4-3-3. He scored twice, set up two more and contributed an average of 2.6 key passes per game.
In the 2019 Copa America, Coutinho assumed a more central role, playing behind Roberto Firmino in a 4-2-3-1. He scored twice, added one assist and was a crucial element of the title-winning team.
Brazil boss Tite brought the best out of the midfielder by employing him in a familiar position and playing to his strengths.
Jurgen Klopp – who is tactically superior to Valverde – could also get the best out of the player despite playing him out of position on certain occasions. Although Coutinho prefers to play in midfield, he did not disappoint when he played on the left wing under the German.
At Barcelona, it appeared that the coach was not clear about what he had in mind for the record signing. In the first few games, Coutinho played on the right wing, with Lionel Messi very close to him in the half-space. As expected, this set-up did not work out, for this would mean that two players of similar style had to play very close to each other and one of them eventually paid the price.
Valverde shifted Coutinho to the opposite wing, a relatively familiar position. In theory, this should have been a good move as it would allow the player to stretch play and cut-in for his trademark long-range shot that have hit a fair few nets in the Premier League.
But the defenders in La Liga were better prepared for what awaited them and closed him down comfortably, reducing his impact from the half-spaces.
With Jordi Alba – one of the most attacking full-backs in the world – marshaling the length of the flank on one side and Messi playing central, Coutinho was tied to space in between with very little freedom.
Summing up, Valverde was terrible at incorporating Coutinho to the squad. The Brazilian had to play in an incompatible system and had his talents wasted.
Coutinho’s lack of confidence in front of goal
The player himself deserves a chunk of the blame. While tactical frailties can be attributed to the incompetence of the manager, Coutinho has only himself to blame for some aspects of his game.
The Brazilian underperformed his xG (expected goals) last season. He scored just five goals in the league at an xG of 7.84 – which means, all things being equal, he should have scored at least three more. Never in his Liverpool career has the midfielder ever scored fewer goals than what his xG would suggest.
Position, system, and tactics mean very little in front of goal and it’s up to the player to make it count. Coutinho failed to do much justice to the chances he was presented with.
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