Barcelona are expected to step up their efforts to sign Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho before the end of the summer transfer window.
The Catalan giants have identified the Brazilian as one of their top targets to replace Neymar, with Sky sources saying they are willing to pay as much as £109 million for his signature.
As Liverpool prepare for a fight to keep hold of their prized asset, we examine some of the reasons why Barcelona are so keen to sign him.
Hitting his peak?
Coutinho has been a key figure for Liverpool ever since his arrival from Inter Milan in January 2013, but he hit new levels last season.
The Brazilian registered 13 goals and seven assists in league games alone. They were the highest totals of his career so far, and having only turned 25 in June, Barcelona will be confident his best is yet to come.
Neymar’s £198 million move to Paris Saint-Germain has left a gaping hole on the left-hand side of Barcelona’s attack, and Coutinho is well-placed to fill it, having regularly played in the position during his time at Liverpool. The 25-year-old loves to drift into central positions, but his dribbling stats (2.8 completed per 90 minutes last season) show he is more than capable of beating an opposition full-back.
Coutinho would give Barcelona other options, too. Jurgen Klopp has used him in central midfield since the final weeks of last season, and Ernesto Valverde could do the same at the Nou Camp – especially if Barcelona also secure the signing of Borussia Dortmund winger Ousmane Dembele.
Coutinho has already been mooted as a long-term successor to Andres Iniesta.
The Spain international has spoken about his desire to finish his career at Barcelona, but he struggled with injuries last season and at 33, the club will be aware of the need to plan for the future. With his passing ability and intelligence on the ball, Coutinho could be the man for the job.
Coutinho the creator
Barcelona have lost a big source of creativity with Neymar’s departure. In fact, the Brazilian created more openings (91) than any other player in La Liga in 2016 /17.
His average of 3.1 chances created per 90 minutes was the highest of any player to play more than 2,000 minutes.
The numbers are impressive, but so are Coutinho’s. His total of 65 chances created falls short of Neymar’s, but it equates to an average of 2.6 per 90 minutes, placing him among the Premier League’s most creative players. “Philippe can distribute the ball in a brilliant way,” said team-mate Simon Mignolet last season.
Coutinho’s chance creation has steadily increased during his time at Liverpool. Barcelona would hope to see that trend continue in Catalonia, and with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in front of him, his numbers for assists would surely follow.
The Suarez connection
Barcelona will be eager to resurrect Coutinho’s special connection with his former team-mate Luis Suarez. The duo combined to devastating effect during their season-and-a-half together at Liverpool, with Coutinho helping Suarez score 31 Premier League goals in 2013 /14 as Brendan Rodgers’ side fell agonisingly short of Manchester City in the title race.
They were close friends off the pitch, too. Coutinho described playing with Suarez as an “honour” in January 2014, and the Uruguayan was similarly positive.
“When Coutinho is right, he is the difference that makes Liverpool,” he said. “He is a very great player and he is showing that he has the quality to play for both Liverpool and in the national team. I’m proud to be playing with him.”
As well as having the technical skills to fit in at Barcelona, Coutinho is already well-acquainted with the city itself. The former Inter Milan man spent the second half of the 2011 /12 season on loan at Espanyol, scoring five goals in 16 games for Barcelona’s local rivals and even suggesting he would be happy to extend his stay in Catalonia.
Coutinho’s previous experience suggests he could easily settle back into life in Barcelona, and Brazilian football expert Tim Vickery believes the club will also be encouraged by his professionalism off the pitch.
“In one respect he’s a little less problematic than Neymar,” Vickery told Sky Sports recently.
“There had been fears at Barcelona over Neymar’s extra-curricular activities. Remember they got their fingers burnt with Brazilians before. Romario wanted to run home after a year, while Ronaldinho was basically a spent force by the age of 26, largely because of his lifestyle. Coutinho is much more low-profile. He is a model professional.” – SKYSPORTS.