Throughout the Philippe Coutinho transfer saga, one which would eventually see him leave Liverpool for Barcelona in a £142 million deal, some of us (myself included) pointed to evidence that Liverpool seemed to be better off without him. As Liverpool’s form improved, sans Coutinho, culminating in a run to the Champions League final, the question of whether Liverpool were better without Phil seemed to have a clear answer.
Now, ahead of the Tottenham-Barcelona clash in the Champions League, Spanish journalist extraordinaire Guillem Balague is pointing out some of the same defensive problems from the talented midfielder that we saw on Merseyside in his first full season with the Catalan giants.
“And there is a deeper problem,” Balague writes in his column for the BBC, “Too often this season their attacks have been more individual than collective and sometimes too direct. When Barcelona attack as a unit they defend as one as well - but right now, when they lose the ball, there are often big gaps between defence and midfield. Opponents have been exploiting this space.
“There is also a lack of strength in depth, with a second string not of the required standard and not making a sufficient impact. OK, trying to fill the boots of the likes of Lionel Messi and Busquets is probably the toughest gig in world football, but, even so, Barca have certainly spent big to bolster their squad.
“Philippe Coutinho, bought from Liverpool for £142m in January, works wells enough in an attacking role, but the club’s midfielders require a more patient ball distribution and the Brazilian’s defensive work needs to improve.”
Balague is a fantastic football journalist, one who regularly cut through the unending bullshit emanating from Spanish tabloids throughout the transfer saga, routinely painting an accurate picture of what was really going on behind the scenes. So his observations carry significant weight.
This is yet more evidence that Jurgen Klopp letting Coutinho go midseason was the correct decision. In pressing systems (especially Klopp’s), there cannot be a clear delineation between attack and defense, and it takes buy-in from all the players across the board to control the game in and out of possession.
Coutinho is, without a doubt, a world-class attacking talent. But his occasionally unwillingness to track back, as well as his regular low-percentage attempts from outside the box, combined to undermine Klopp’s vision of a perfect gegenpressing machine. And with more than a half-season at the Nou Camp under his belt, there seems to be evidence that Coutinho’s same shortcomings are hurting his new team as well.