With news the player is today at Melwood undergoing his medical, we find ourselves inching ever closer to what seems the inevitable signing of Philippe Coutinho, the (soon to be) ex-Inter Milan midfield flair man who’s found himself somewhat out of favor since former Liverpool heart-throb Rafa Benitez was ousted from the San Siro. The fee’s been agreed, reports of a contract are flying around, and even Inter’s president has been quoted as saying that the 20 year old Brazilian is all but wearing red.
Now, not a ton of people around here watch Serie A. And frankly, who can blame them? The matches can frequently be quite dry and hard to watch, such is the current state of the game in Italy. That brings a common question to the minds of many Reds fans: What exactly are Liverpool getting for their rumored £8.5 million? In short: A player who’s still somewhat raw, but who is also absolutely loaded with potential.
Current Club: FC Internazionale Milano | Position: Attacking Mid / Left Winger
Age: 20 (born 6/12/1992) | Height: 5’8" (172cm) | Preferred Foot: Right
Season to Date: Serie A 10 appearances (3 starts), 1 goal; Europa 9 appearances (7 starts), 2 goals, 1 assist
Strengths: It doesn’t take long watching Coutinho to see he has special on-ball skills. While he’s stronger striking the ball with his right foot, Coutinho is for all intents and purposes a two-footed player, equally as silky passing or dribbling or just making people look outright silly with either foot. When he signs, he immediately becomes the squad’s best dribbler. Yes, even over Luis Suarez.
While he’s not often going to pull a Neymar and flip the ball over his shoulder for giggles (though he can), Coutinho has wonderful control with the ball at his feet, and of his lower body at the same time. He’s very good at using body fakes to misdirect a defender, and if that doesn’t work he can flip his hips and change direction in the blink of an eye, leaving his man wrong-footed and in the wrong place.
Coutinho also sees the field and what’s happening on it remarkably well for a player his age. He keeps his head up at almost all times, and is adept at placing short and intermediate passes just so, leaving the ball in a good spot for his man to get to and take advantage of. Coutinho is also a very versatile player, capable of playing at the tip of a midfield triangle, on the left as a wide forward, and has even been used up front as a false nine at times with Inter and Espanyol, where he spent five very productive months on loan last year.
And he’s not half-bad at corners and free kicks, either. Not great, but given what Liverpool has seen from those the last few years, most would probably take "not half-bad" right now.
Weaknesses: While Coutinho is perfectly willing to track back and help in defense, he’s just not very good at it. He’s too small and not strong enough to muscle bigger players off the ball, and he has struggled with larger players marking him at times when he can’t use his pace and trickery to blow by them. He also gets caught trying to do too much and running himself in to trouble a bit too often, though in theory that will smooth out with age.
The other big concern with Coutinho is that he can be wildly inconsistent. Some matches, he’s all over the place, threading through balls, dazzling with his footwork, and becoming a giant menace in front of goal. Others, not so much. He can completely disappear from matches at times, and doesn’t necessarily have to be marked out for it to happen. That’s the biggest red flag with him, and while it’s something one would hope gets better with age, there’s also the chance it doesn’t.
What He Brings To Liverpool: If he doesn’t walk in to the lineup on the left wing, Coutinho would give Liverpool the attacking spark off the bench that they’ve lacked all season. With his pace, trickery, and creativity, he could definitely provide that kick-start later on in a match when a goal is needed. He also provides needed attacking depth, though unfortunately for Liverpool he's cup tied in the Europa League.
Overall Thoughts: While there are definitely risks to this deal, there’s a lot more to love about it. Signing a player of Coutinho’s age, upside, and current ability isn’t a common thing to have happen, and to do it at the reported price is something you jump on right away and worry about it panning out later. £8.5 million isn’t chump change by any means, but it’s also a fraction of what Coutinho could be worth on the market in just a few years’ time if all goes well. While getting playing time in Liverpool’s suddenly crowded attacking third could be an issue, his versatility should mitigate that somewhat. Coutinho could wind up a bust, but he also stands every chance of becoming one of the squad’s headliners. His talent is at least that good.