Friday January 19 2018
Barca's Coutinho conundrum

As Philippe Coutinho closes in on his first Barcelona appearance since his €160m transfer from Liverpool, Asif Norat wonders where the Brazilian will fit in at Camp Nou.

After being linked with a move away from Liverpool since the start of last summer, Phillipe Coutinho is finally a Barcelona player after his €160m transfer became official in the second week of January.

On the face of it, the 25-year-old is likely to be placed in a three-man midfield, but Coach Ernesto Valverde will nonetheless be considering his options as he now has a flexible squad to work with…

4-3-3 formation, Coutinho as a left winger

Valverde has built his Barca team around Lionel Messi and showed a tendency to change formation in line with the demands of their opponents. The option here would be for Coutinho to play on the left wing and Dembele to play on the other, which would leave Messi to carry out his false-nine role even deeper – something that he has been doing for a long time. However, with Ousmane Dembele back on the treatment table, the former Inter ace is likelier to be shoehorned into the right flank. Furthermore, Coutinho’s Barca can be backed in La Liga and the Champions League with as much as £200 in free bets.

Prior to this season, Coutinho had been enjoying his football at Liverpool as a left winger, always looking devastating when he had the ball in the final third. In this role for the Reds last term, the attacker managed nine goals, six assists and 52 key passes in 25 Premier League appearances.

4-3-3 formation, Coutinho as a central midfielder

Given Dembele has been touted as a direct replacement for Neymar, Coutinho could play as a central midfielder alongside or in the place of Andres Iniesta, who could now be rested for tougher tests later on in the season or Champions League fixtures, having been one of the Catalans’ most-used players in the first half of the campaign. With the maestro turning 34 in May, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Coutinho as his long-term successor.

Away from home, especially against the bigger sides, it’s surely possible that Valverde will pack his midfield, depending on the options that are available to him. This would generally include Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and potentially Coutinho, whose role would be to constantly drive the ball forward and unlock the opposition’s defence when Barca’s forwards are nullified.

4-4-2 diamond formation, Coutinho as an attacking midfielder

Valverde has partnered Messi and Luis Suarez at the top of a 4-4-2 several times this season, with the former dropping deep regularly to create chances for his teammates. Now that Dembele is settling into life as a Barca player and Coutinho is close to recovering from his thigh injury, the Basque will now be able to use his rotation policy whenever he deems it necessary.  

There will be a time when Iniesta and Messi will both be rested during a busy month of fixtures, so Coutinho will have to prepare himself to become the side’s main playmaker. Potentially playing at the tip of the midfield diamond, he will be expected to fulfil a huge role in connecting the midfield to attack, as well as making sure the service is there for the likes of Suarez and Paco Alcacer.

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