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Coutinho sour Barcelona outcome



It took the best part of a year for everyone to notice, but now there’s no hiding it – Barcelona playmaker Philippe Coutinho is not delivering at the level he must. For a while the simple fact he arrived at training on time and behaved professionally was enough to keep the spotlight off his back. Instead, Ousmane Dembele drew the focus, with the Frenchman’s teenage conduct drawing ire from fans and media, and more importantly, internally from the board and his own team-mates.

And yet, while Dembele’s improving on-pitch performances were clouded over by his off-pitch behaviour, Coutinho quietly continued slipping further and further from the level Barcelona need him to be at. Now Dembele looks the bargain at €147million, a 21-year-old with the capacity to do extraordinary things on the field and the potential to deliver so much more, while Coutinho, 26 and the club record signing at €160m, sinks.

“His droplets of magic must become an incessant rain,” demanded Sergi Capdevila in Diario Sport , acknowledging that in flashes Coutinho has showed the player he promised to be, but without any semblance of consistency.
Appearing from the bench against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey quarter-final on Wednesday, Coutinho offered the latest disappointment in his Barcelona career. The midfielder spurned a good chance to score and then conceded possession in the build up to the hosts’ second goal in a 2-0 triumph.

With Frenkie de Jong arriving from Ajax in July, many have started to wonder if Barcelona will fund that deal by selling Coutinho in the summer. The Dutchman’s arrival adds further competition in the midfield, and even if his best position is the No 6 role occupied by Sergio Busquets, De Jong can play in either of the two central midfield positions further forward too.

Coutinho has sometimes been deployed there and sometimes on the left wing, with neither working particularly well for him. His best position would be a No 10, a role Barcelona don’t employ – and when there is cause for one, it’s usually Lionel Messi drifting in from the right who occupies that space.

Coutinho was supposed to be Barcelona’s Iniesta replacement. The departed maestro painted his image all over games, controlling the tempo and always offering a reliable option to receive the ball, look after it, and send it somewhere better. But the Brazilian only appears in fits and starts, a waspish presence 20 yards out from goal when he can shoot, but too quiet, too passive the rest of the time.

With coach Ernesto Valverde reluctant to give Coutinho a string of starts in central midfield, the idea that he could be the next Don Andres has been firmly quashed. Iniesta enjoyed 16 seasons with Barcelona and will be remembered as one of the greatest to ever grace the shirt, whereas Coutinho must find substance and consistency to go with his undoubted technical ability or he won’t even reach two.

A year ago today, January 25, 2018, Coutinho made his Barcelona debut, replacing Iniesta in a tough away match at local rivals Espanyol. In that game he showed glimpses of his talent but was far from a dominant force, effectively his Barcelona career in a microcosm. There have been good moments too, of course. Coutinho scored in a 5-1 demolition of Real Madrid , and 10 goals in his first 22 appearances was an impressive total. However he has only managed a further six from 28 more games this season, with 16 from 50 overall a far less impressive reading.

Dembele earning the trust of Valverde has made things difficult for Coutinho because it further limits his chances of minutes, and when he does play, he appears low on confidence. “It’s hard to come in when you don’t usually play because you lack confidence and rhythm, but I think Philippe is going to help us this season,” said Sergio Busquets, after Coutinho’s poor performance at Levante in a 2-1 Copa del Rey last 16 first leg defeat. Valverde gave Coutinho a chance by starting him in the second leg at Camp Nou, which the Catalans won 3-0 and the Brazilian impressed, showing he’s not a write-off just yet.

The feeling remains that with the right set of circumstances, Coutinho could yet succeed at Barcelona. It might need a freak event, an injury to Arthur or Rakitic that sees him installed as a central midfielder, or a formation shift which suits him, operating behind Messi and Suarez, for example, as a pure playmaker.
For now, though, Coutinho’s struggles continue and with the Champions League knock-out rounds impending as things stand Valverde won’t be including him in the starting XI.



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Shell Digital Plan RESPONSIVE600x750