Liverpool have avoided transfer trap that Barcelona keep falling into
Philippe Coutinho just does not quite fit in.
Not quite a midfielder, not quite a forward, and certainly not a winger – the Brazilian can be magical to watch, but needs deploying as an out-and-out number 10.
Coutinho’s magic relies on a huge volume of each skill – a large number of shots to produce the one that flies into the top corner, and a significant number of attacks for the eye-catching through-pass or piece of trickery to result in a goal.
That is not unusual for a player who plays with his style, or in his position, but it does cause a significant problem in terms of fitting him in.
As Josh Williams explained on the Analysing Anfield podcast: “Coutinho would do things on the ball that from an entertainment perspective makes you fall in love with the game.
“But he has lots of touches, lots of passes and lots of shots. Most attackers tick one box, two maybe, but not all three.”
Mohamed Salah, for example, has lots of touches and lots of shots, but only 26 passes per game in the Premier League compared to around 80 for Virgil van Dijk, who has played the most of any player in the league so far this season.
Coutinho is even more ‘ball-dominant’ than Salah, through whom a large number of Liverpool attacks go through now.
Williams continued: “Ernesto Valverde [the ex-Barcelona manager who signed Coutinho] had a very functional system and maybe you can allow one player to have a free role, but if you let another player do that, things get a little messy.
“Coutinho fulfilled a Dirk Kuyt type of role at Barcelona – a cog rather than a star man.
“I’m not sure why Barcelona bought him in the first place, because the reasons he shined as a top player, he was not permitted to do that once he got to Spain.
“It would have been a decent move if Barcelona had wanted a player who could replace Lionel Messi like-for-like in terms of being a ball-dominant player, and they would have been able to continue at a fairly strong level.
“But the fact they signed him and expected him to play alongside Messi, it caused problems.”
Coutinho is a gifted attacking player with a perfect touch, capable of great things, but when Messi is in the side, or at Liverpool, your biggest strength is the team’s cohesion, that doesn’t suit.
And so spending £142million to snap him up in January 2018 made no sense at all from the Catalan side’s perspective, especially only to use him in what is an effectively a functional role.
Williams concluded: “Liverpool rinsed Barcelona, even though I rate Coutinho really highly.
“If you are paying that much, he has to be ideal for your squad and he wasn’t.
“You’re expecting a transformational player for upwards of £100million, and to pay that and just deploy him as though he is just another workhorse is baffling.
“They’re competing at the top because of Messi but if they keep making strange decisions in the transfer market [they won’t stay at the top].”
It is a mistake that Liverpool and Michael Edwards would never make.
Under the management of Jurgen Klopp, the Reds would only splash a figure close to that on someone deemed a game-changer, as Van Dijk and Alisson Becker were, and would certainly have a concrete, well-defined tactical role in mind for when they arrived.
Liverpool’s biggest strength – recruitment that aligns perfectly to a long-term strategy – has shown up positively again.
Liverpool fans already knew Edwards’ magic, but it has only been further highlighted by Coutinho’s struggles and lack of suitors.