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The Path Not Taken: One Year Without Coutinho

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Things have turned out quite differently for Liverpool and for Philippe Coutinho since then.

New Barcelona Signing Philippe Coutinho Unveiled Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

In the end, it had to be done.

In this era, most would recognize that few transfers of significance are “forever,” but losing Philippe Coutinho was still widely regarded as a significant shock to Liverpool’s system - even setting aside the sordid details around the Coutinho’s maneuvering - and there were questions about whether or not Jürgen Klopp’s side would deal with it adequately. They ultimately did so in style, and it’s no secret that Liverpool are a different proposition these days.

As for Coutinho, it’s likewise no secret that things could have gone slightly better since he joined Barcelona. Which is not to say that he hasn’t enjoyed success - despite the disappointment of a quarter-finals Champions League exit, Barcelona, after all, comfortably wrapped up another Liga title and a fourth consecutive Copa del Rey with Coutinho’s assistance.

Given the sums of money that Barcelona paid for Coutinho’s services, there were some expectations that the Brazilian would rise to same sort of status he attained at Liverpool, where, despite spells of inconsistency, he could be counted upon as a potential game-changer in key situations. In retrospect, those expectations - that he would form a fearsome triumvirate alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez - might have been built on shaky foundations.

During the one year since leaving Liverpool, Coutinho has featured in 44 matches for the blaugrana, notching 15 goals and 10 assists along the way. A good portion of his impact was made in the first few months following his arrival, and as Marca has noted, Coutinho’s influence has waned in recent periods, while the sense that he needs to do more has correspondingly been growing,

There have been questions about whether or not Coutinho can really perform in the role that Ernesto Valverde needs him to. While Liverpool were marching towards the Champions League final, El Pais suggested that Klopp was ultimately incredulous when he learned that Barcelona intended on deploying Coutinho in the interior of a 4-3-3:

“Explosive and decisive in short spaces, Coutinho lacked the heart and lungs to perform consistently in the great spaces of the midfield. In the physical tests that simulated situations of the game, after two sprints of 60 meters Coutinho could not recover without remaining half a minute completely stopped. Too much, given the tactical demands. With the emphasis on permanent dynamism, Klopp discarded Coutinho to integrate the midfield in 4-3-3.

According to an employee of the English club, Klopp was blunt: ‘Coutinho is a fabulous forward but he will never feel comfortable in 4-3-3 as an inside; and much less if he has to play in the post of Iniesta in the 4-4-2 that Valverde practices in the defensive phase, where the longer runs should be done by the wings. Iniesta is a long distance runner. Coutinho no.’”

In more recent spells, Ousmane Dembélé has indeed been preferred alongside Messi and Suarez, while Coutinho hasn’t been a lock to get into the starting lineup ahead of Arturo Vidal, Sergio Busquets or Ivan Rakitić.

And what about Liverpool?

The Reds are flying high in the league, even after the setback of a defeat at the Etihad, and it would be difficult to make an argument that the side misses Coutinho. Transfer activity has been more focused on outbound moves for players seeking minutes, such has been the solidity of the usual suspects.

There have been murmurs of acquisitions in midfield and attacking roles. Nabil Fekir, who was so close to becoming a Liverpool player, was regarded as potentially filling a Coutinho-type role, while more recently, the club may be looking at similar skill sets in Trabzonspor’s Abdülkadir Ömür. Taken at face value, that all might suggest that Klopp is indeed looking at filling in some blanks left by Coutinho’s departure.

As with many things, there are plenty of gray areas when looking in retrospect, and it hasn’t been all good for Liverpool just as it hasn’t been all terrible for Coutinho. Let us know in the comments how you see things, now that we’ve had one year’s distance with which to look back.