As Barcelona celebrated their third goal against Rayo Vallecano, the TV cameras looked to the Barcelona bench. There, a little crouched over in thought, was Philippe Coutinho. He’d barely even sat down having been taken off in the 81st minute by the time Barca scored a wonderful goal in the 82nd minute. It was the sort of goal they would have struggled to score with the Brazilian on the pitch.
Coutinho has become a misfit at Camp Nou. He was Barcelona’s record signing last year, arriving as the player to replace both Neymar and Andres Iniesta simultaneously. No pressure. Now, though, the Brazilian playmaker can’t even force his way into Ernesto Valverde’s strongest team.
Saturday, when Coutinho was handed a rare start against Rayo, was a chance for him to prove his worth. Instead, the Brazilian floated through the game without making much of an impression. It was only when he was taken off that Barcelona started to play the sort of football their fans have come to expect from them.
Far from being the solution to a problem, as he was billed when he first arrived just over a year ago, Coutinho has become a problem himself. The role he is being asked to perform is very different to the one he conducted so well over the course of his time at Liverpool and there are few signs that he will adapt and tailor his game effectively to earn a place at Barcelona.
Coutinho frequently finds the space he would often occupy filled by Lionel Messi. Rather than imposing his own game on Barcelona, as he did at Liverpool, Coutinho is being asked to fit around others. Ousmane Dembele is much more effective on the left side of the attacking three and there appears to be no place for Coutinho in the midfield unit either.
So what can Barcelona do to solve their Coutinho problem? There have been rumours that the Brazilian could be sold at the end of the season, with Manchester United among those reported to be interested in signing the 26-year-old. That would require Barca to take a big financial hit, though, on a player they splurged £146 million on not so long ago.
Beyond that, Coutinho might have to wait until Messi fades and becomes the midfield pass-master he is predicted to become before he can claim a place in Barcelona’s attack. Waiting around for Messi, arguably the game’s greatest ever player, to fade doesn’t sound like the most solid of plans.
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