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Does Coutinho's future lie in the midfield at FC Barcelona?

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Philippe Coutinho in action against Tottenham
Philippe Coutinho in action against Tottenham

Andres Iniesta's departure from the club last summer left Barcelona fans crestfallen. Regarded as one of the best midfielders ever, it was always going to be difficult for any player to replicate the impact of the 2010 World Cup winner.

Brought from Liverpool in a £142 million deal after a long transfer saga, Philippe Coutinho was earmarked as the Spaniard's replacement. Many fans believed that Coutinho could be the right man to lead the midfield for Barcelona in the future.

Dilemma of contrasting playing styles

However, the Brazilian’s style of play is completely different from Iniesta. While the legendary La Masia graduate was more of a creator who liked to dictate the attacking tempo of the team, Coutinho is more of an attacking midfielder who likes to dribble through defences and has an eye for goal, rather than a pass.

However, that does not mean that Coutinho does not have the ability and talent to play as a central midfielder. While Coutinho’s intelligence and composure are nowhere near Iniesta’s, he has an impressive first touch, dribbling skills to operate in tight spaces and the vision and technique to execute breathtaking through balls. These attributes of the Brazilian show that he could become one of the best midfielders at Barcelona in the future, provided he receives the right guidance from the manager. 

Beneficial for the team

While Coutinho excelled as a left winger during his time at Liverpool, he has been unable to do so at Barcelona. However, it is important to note that Coutinho never played as a traditional left winger at Anfield. He operated as a wing 10, where he picked up the ball in the attacking left half space and cut onto his right foot to score or create goals.

However, at Barcelona, Leo Messi does the same on the right attacking half space. Thus, playing both of them in the forward line crowds the central space in attack and reduces the space for both Messi and Coutinho to operate in. This is the reason, why Coutinho played impressively on the left wing when Messi was injured.

Heatmap depicting how Messi and Coutinho crowded the attacking half space in their 2-1 loss against Leganes ( Source: )
Heatmap depicting how Messi and Coutinho crowded the attacking half space in their 2-1 loss against Leganes ( Source: )

Moreover, playing Coutinho as an attacker means that Valverde has to chose between him and Ousmane Dembele for a spot in the starting eleven. Both of them are exceptionally skilled and talented and either of them is too good to be benched. At the moment, playing Coutinho in midfield seems to be the only way in which the ex-Espanyol man can play with the young Frenchman.

Besides that, counting Philippe Coutinho as a midfielder would free up some space in the attack, which means that Malcom could be getting more minutes.


The Downside

While the conversion of Coutinho to a creative central midfielder might sound exciting, it does possess a large amount of risk. As mentioned above, Coutinho does not have the intelligence to play in the centre. This means that he could leave huge gaps in the middle of the park, a weakness that could be exploited by big teams easily and Barcelona could be outnumbered in midfield in big games.

Playing Coutinho in midfield also means that Valverde would have to relegate either Rakitic or Arthur to the bench, which could create another dilemma in the team management.

In addition to that, at the age of 25, it might be a little too late for Coutinho to make such a big tactical tweak in his style of play. 

Final Take

Keeping the pros and cons in mind, it seems that if Coutinho wants to succeed at Barcelona, he needs to shift his position to the midfield from the forward line. Furthermore, if this tactical tweak does pay off, Barcelona could be a force to be reckoned with, having players like Messi, Suarez, Coutinho and Dembele terrorizing opposition defences week in week out.