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There is no doubting the exceptional talent Barcelona’s newest recruit Philippe Coutinho possesses, but the ability to produce the superior level he is capable of on a consistent basis will remain a worry.
Plaudits must be given to the Brazilian for refusing to sulk his way through the last four months. It would have been depressingly predictable had he done so: another modern footballer so intoxicated by allure of something different, something better, that he relinquishes his concentration at focus at his current club.
The creative spark continued to sparkle and dazzle, played with the same enthusiasm and purpose that had come to define his game and will leave Anfield with very few sour complaints from the Liverpool faithful.
The task he will be charged with at Barcelona, it seems, is to replace the ageing Andres Iniesta and usher in a new era at the Nou Camp. Coutinho is not the same type of player as the controlled and intelligent midfielder, but the noise coming out of Catalan is that he will be expected to take on the mantle of assuming the creative flair Iniesta so devilishly wrought.
Behind Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, Coutinho should thrive. Add in the blistering speed of Ousmane Dembele and the playmaker has bountiful weapons at his disposal.
Despite the regard to which Coutinho is held in England, and across the world, doubts still linger over the regularity in which he can perform at his best.
One mitigating factor may be the team he was in at Liverpool – one which would often fold, and one which lacked a ball-winner to provide Coutinho the platform from which he could do damage. The Reds have often undermined the attacking prowess of their front line with deplorable defending, with Coutinho’s impact on the game – via goal or assist – resultantly decreased.
And while the defence is a lot sturdier under Ernesto Valverde at Barcelona, the Spanish giants midfield is not exactly robust.
Granted, La Liga does not subscribe to the physically brutal conventions of the English game, with Coutinho likely to have more time and more space on the ball – but in the Champions League, where the likes of Bayern Munich, Juventus and PSG boast stronger and more combative midfields, Coutinho’s effect might be nulled.
Of course, such presumptions are rooted in speculation and Coutinho may very succeed on multiple fronts, with Barca’s ideology of ball retention meaning retrieving possession will not be a top priority.
Another question mark hovers when one contemplates whether Coutinho has the psychological steel to replace Barca legend Iniesta. It will be a burden, and may be a hindrance rather than something Coutinho will relish.
Coutinho’s technical flair will mean he flourishes in La Liga – but it is reasonable to retain an ounce of caution before predicting messiah-like performances on a regular basis, especially in Europe’s premier competition.
Written by Michael Jones
Follow Michael on Twitter @jonesmichael_97
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