By Blair Newman, Football Whispers
The summer transfer window was turned upside down when Paris Saint-Germain moved heaven and earth, or €222million to be more precise, to sign Neymar from Barcelona. The moment that deal went through, the rumour mill was abuzz with fresh speculation of who the Catalan giants would target to reinforce their squad ahead of the new season.
After a Spanish Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid, Barca got their La Liga campaign off to a fairly routine start, dispatching Real Betis with a comfortable 2-0 win. However, their transfer market machinations haven’t quite gone to plan as yet. One particular saga, relating to Philippe Coutinho, rumbles on.
With Liverpool standing firm on their unwillingness to sell their star Brazilian playmaker, it may be time for Barcelona to move on and look elsewhere for midfield improvements. And the player himself should begin to consider the possibility of remaining at Anfield. Here, our friends at Football Whispers analyse the situation.
Camp Nou has been the location of much change over the last few months. Luis Enrique’s time as head coach came to an end, with Ernesto Valverde arriving to replace him in the dugout. Meanwhile, the major additions relating to on the pitch have been former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Paulinho, promising right-back Nelson Semedo and former Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu.
One situation remains unresolved, however, with a long-term successor to Andres Iniesta still not secured. The iconic creator missed the opening league game of the season through injury and, at 33 years of age, he is nearing the latter stages of a wonderful career. He has been at the heart of Barcelona’s play for the best part of a decade-and-a-half, but this torch could soon be passed.
The player’s contract is up next summer and, on the basis of his latest comments, he may not agree to an extension. “I’ve still not renewed. I’ve experienced a lot of sensations I’ve not known before, but I think they’re normal. It’s a scenario which three years ago I could never have imagined,” he told El Pais. “Let’s say I’m thinking about my future when before I wasn’t.”
Earlier this year, reigning Italian champions Juventus were linked to Iniesta. And, while he has ignored such rumour to stay put for the time being, he may be on his way in the near future. Replacing him will be almost impossible, but Coutinho is one of the most appropriate candidates for the task.
The diminutive ball-player has enthralled Liverpool with his skill and technique over the past five years. Having been rejected by Inter Milan, at Anfield he has re-found the ability that once made him one of the world’s most exciting prospects.
Stylistically, he makes weaving runs, possesses outstanding control and a fine passing range. Tactically, he has been moved deeper from a left wing or attacking midfield role to more of a central position on the left of a midfield three, from where he can have more influence over his side’s possession. In both respects, he is similar to Iniesta.
However, Coutinho is not the only player on Barcelona’s midfield shortlist. And, having had two bids for the player turned down by Liverpool already, the Catalan side appear set to pursue alternative targets, including Nice’s Jean Michael Seri.
The Ivorian was integral to his club’s surprise Ligue 1 title tilt last season, with his form making him an Arsenal transfer target. The 26-year-old provides the sort of incisive dribbling, penetrative passing through pressure, combination play and deep movement necessary to fill the void that Iniesta will leave either upon his departure or retirement.
Intriguingly, the statistics seem to lean in Seri’s favour. Last season, he averaged more passes and key passes than Coutinho. He also had a higher pass success percentage and, while his €40million release clause expired in July according to L’Equipe, he would probably cost significantly less than the Brazilian.
All of this means that, despite handing in a formal transfer request, the Liverpool man must now come to terms with the idea that he will be playing at Anfield, at least for the short-term future. But this needn’t be a problem.
Coutinho has developed during his time in England, but he has not yet ticked every box. For starters, he hasn’t won one single trophy during his five-year spell. He has also played just five Champions League games, all of which came in one frustratingly short campaign in 2014/15.
The 25-year-old hasn’t achieved the sort of symbolic status his talents merit, either. When he arrived, Steven Gerrard remained Liverpool’s hero, while in the title challenge of 2013/14, Luis Suarez led the team from the front with his goals. Only in the last two seasons, during the Europa League run of 2015/16 and last term, when he was the club’s top scorer in all competitions, has he stepped out of the shadows of others.
In short, there is still so much for Coutinho to achieve at Anfield. And those achievements are well within the realms of possibility. Jurgen Klopp is one of the best managers around and his results so far have been positive, while the addition of Mohamed Salah will simultaneously boost the team’s scoring potential and allow the Brazilian to continue in a deeper role of greater influence.
Silverware may not come this season, but it may not be far off. And the prospect of another Champions League campaign, this time with a more prepared squad, is an important step forward for player and club.
Barcelona seem set to move on after failing to bend Liverpool with several bids, and Coutinho should do so too. If he concentrates his mind to representing his current club, he can move closer to building his own legacy at Anfield by playing a vital role in a big season.