Philippe Coutinho cut a forlorn figure as his former teammates celebrated a 4-0 victory over Barcelona at Anfield in May. The Brazilian playmaker left Merseyside in order to win big trophies, but he was powerless to stop his new team crashing out of the Champions League at the hands of his former employers.
In fairness, Coutinho now has two La Liga title triumphs under his belt and he has enjoyed the privilege of playing with Lionel Messi for 18 months. But his dream move to the Catalan giants is proving to be a bit of a nightmare, as the demanding fan base has not warmed to his talents and the club is already looking to offload him in order to make way for new recruits.
Liverpool are now faced with the tantalising prospect of bringing him back into the fold at Anfield. Coutinho was Liverpool’s best player before he abandoned ship, a wonderful playmaker with supreme ball control, a razor-sharp eye for a pass and the ability to bang in screamers from long range. But the Reds seem to be faring just fine and dandy without him.
They went to the Champions League final in 2018 and only lost to Real Madrid due to a pair of goalkeeping howlers from Loris Karius. They then snapped up Alisson from Roma for a world record fee and went one better last season, beating Tottenham in the Champions League final after dumping out Coutinho’s Barcelona in the semis. They also secured their highest ever Premier League tally.
Jurgen Klopp’s men may have fallen just short in their bid to wrestle the title away from Man City, but they can hold their heads high after a superb campaign. Their haul of 97 points was the third highest in Premier League history, better than Arsenal, Chelsea or Man Utd have ever achieved. Only Man City in 2018 and 2019 have earned more Premier League points than Liverpool’s tally last season, when Pep Guardiola’s men pipped them to the post by just a single point.
It was heart-breaking for the players, but they are now European champions and they can approach the new campaign full of optimism. If you check out Premier League betting markets you will see that Guardiola’s brilliant Man City side are favourites to secure the title for a third straight season. But Liverpool look set to run them close once more, and they are likely to be formidable in the Champions League again.
The big question is: do Liverpool need Coutinho? Mohamed Salah is now the main man at Anfield, and he has formed a devastating attacking triumvirate with Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané since Coutinho’s departure. It blends pace, strength, intelligence, brilliant movement and excellent finishing ability, and it has put some of the world’s finest defences to the sword. Liverpool have looked supremely balanced over the past year, with a trio of hardworking midfielders playing behind that stellar strike force, and Klopp will be wary of toying too much with a winning formula.
Coutinho would certainly bring a different dimension to Liverpool’s play in 2019/20. He is not a tigerish tackler and he may not be perfectly suited to Klopp’s Gegenpressing style. But his quality on the ball is beyond doubt and ability to unlock a defence is peerless. Liverpool only lost once in the Premier League last season, but they drew seven games and that ultimately derailed their title bid. Man City lost four games, but they only drew twice and they finished narrowly ahead of the Reds.
Coutinho could be the man that turns draws into wins. Liverpool dominated several teams last season, enjoying the lion’s share of the possession, but they just could not find a breakthrough. The Brazilian’s ability to shoot from long range would give them another dimension in attack, while he is also capable of producing a moment of magic from out of nowhere that unlocks stubborn defences.
He made 14 Premier League appearances for the Reds in 2017/187 before joining Barcelona, and in that time, he scored seven goals and provided six assists. Salah was a major beneficiary of Coutinho’s creativity, as he scored 10 goals in that 14-game spell. The prospect of Salah and Mané running onto through balls from Coutinho once more is mouth-watering.
Coutinho would certainly represent a major upgrade on Xherdan Shaqiri in the Liverpool squad. He is a versatile player and he has frequently been used as a left winger during his career, so he could fill in for Salah or Mané if either man was injured or needed a rest. He could play at the point of a three-man midfield in games where his creativity is needed, and drop to the bench if it requires a more defensive approach. It is hard to think of a better option to bring on in the second half if the team needs a bit of individual brilliance to turn a bad result on its head.
Some Liverpool fans might be reluctant to welcome him back with open arms after he ditched the club in January 2018. But was not exactly an acrimonious departure, as he conducted himself professionally throughout the saga. It is difficult for player to resist the lure of the Nou Camp, and the money Liverpool received allowed them to splash out on Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson and to go on and win the Champions League.
Coutinho is 27 years old, so he is now approaching the peak of his powers as a footballer. He is a mainstay in the Brazil team that just won Copa America, and he has the proven ability to flourish in the Premier League. He has not been firing on all cylinders for Barcelona, but he has still managed 19 goals in less than two seasons and teed up plenty of chances for Messi and Luis Suarez. He also reminded everyone of his brilliance with a superb strike against Man Utd in the Champions League.
Liverpool sold him for £142 million and they could probably buy him back for around £85 million now, or even secure a loan move. You could argue that Liverpool do not really need Coutinho, but he would provide Klopp with another intriguing option in attack.
The Reds have a brilliant first team and considerable depth within their squad, while their key players are all on the right side of 30, so they do not need to invest heavily in the playing staff this summer. It is only really worth them going for world class players that could really help them win more points, and Coutinho fits the bill.