Although Philippe Coutinho’s club career for Barcelona is being blocked by Andres Iniesta, that could pay dividends with a well-rested player in Russia
Philippe Coutinho took a very controversial decision to leave Liverpool in the middle of the season, on the eve of the FIFA World Cup. But despite being viewed as a gamble, this transfer could be a blessing in disguise for the injury-prone Brazilian, who will be preserved in order to reach Russia in his best possible physical shape. In addition to that, the 25-year-old is gaining momentum as his Barcelona performances continue to improve.
Coutinho did not make an instant impact following his transfer to the Camp Nou club, as he was often used on the right-hand side, as a consequence of Andrès Iniesta occupying his preferred left flank. It seemed for a moment that Philippe was being wasted, even before his Barça career had even started. But despite the controversy, the forward was able to score a decisive goal in a Copa del Rey tie against Valencia, which helped the Catalans advance to the final.
The connection between Coutinho and Luis Suarez is already reminiscent of their Liverpool days, while the chemistry with Lionel Messi keeps on improving. In the Liga game against Girona, the Brazilian scored a marvelous goal and was able to provide an assist to the Uruguayan. In the following fixture away to Las Palmas, he entered the game as a second-half substitute, and caught everyone’s eye with his passing, in a match where Barcelona struggled for creativity.
However, the last game against Atlético Madrid was arguably Philippe Coutinho’s best at his new club to date, as he created several goal-scoring opportunities, looked comfortable on the ball and was an essential part of a precious victory at the Camp Nou.
As the days pass, it gets more and more obvious that Coutinho’s ideal position will eventually be Iniesta’s current spot on the left flank. He is more comfortable and more at ease when the Spanish maestro is not sharing duties with him. And this is probably the club’s long-term plan for the duo, and that is why they paid a fortune for the Brazilian’s services.
Ernesto Valverde cannot be blamed for refusing to make a fundamental change in his already-working system. One could argue that the league race is already over, and that the Champions League is the main objective that Barcelona has been craving. In this case, it would not make sense to drop Iniesta to the bench, and disrupt the functioning midfield in order to help Coutinho adapt.
He will not be part of their European campaign, so the manager is looking to keep Andrès on a high, so that he is in full fitness and does not lack game-rhythm, when the big fixtures fixtures arrive. It is worth noting that the 33-year-old has picked up a hamstring injury and is set to miss the next league game away to Malaga on Saturday, although the Spanish press predicts his comeback in-time for the Champions League Chelsea clash on Wednesday.
The fact that Coutinho isn’t an automatic starter in Valverde’s eleven has its obvious negatives, but most importantly, its hidden positives. The Brazilian has struggled with fitness all season-long, and the more often he plays, in a more physical league like England, it is likelier that he will pick up another severe injury which would see him out of the FIFA World Cup.
There is always a positive part, for the optimists. With Gabriel Jesus and Neymar having had their own injury-nightmares in recent weeks, the last thing Brazil needs is Coutinho to be sidelined again. Of course, that does not mean that he is guaranteed to avoid injury in Spain, but theoretically Coutinho is less prone to it now. And that’s great news for Brazil.