NOTHING cures the January Blues like transfer speculation.
The rumour mill is cranking up nicely this week and top of the billing is the supposed return of Philippe Coutinho to the Premier League.
As of earlier today, the Brazilian is now odds-on to reunite with Steven Gerrard at Aston Villa.
The Villains’ boss played it coy in his press conference when asked about his former team-mate but didn’t squash the rumour as one might if there wasn’t at least an element of truth attached.
Putting our Dream Team hat on, what would Coutinho bring to Villa if he were to return to these shores?
The first thing to note is that the 29-year-old was brilliant for Liverpool, particularly in his last three and half years with the Merseyside club.
2014/15 was season he flipped a switch, winning both the Reds’ Fans’ Player of the Year award and the equivalent player-voted gong.
He won both awards again the following season, by which time he had established himself as one of the best shooters from distance in Europe.
Acting as an almost inverse Arjen Robben, Coutinho found lots of success cutting in from the left flank onto his right foot and was confident enough to try his luck from as far out as 30 yards.
That’s not to say he was wasteful in possession.
The Anfield No10 was a fine playmaker who registered 35 assists on top of his 41 goals during his first stint in the Premier League.
As all good Dream Team gaffers know, the very best midfielders are the ones who deal primarily in goal involvements – just look at Bruno Fernandes last season or Raheem Sterling in 2019/20.
Coutinho averaged a goal or assist every 150.3 minutes in the Premier League for Liverpool – a very healthy rate.
It’s clear why Villa fans are excited about the potential of this transfer being finalised.
However, is it reasonable to expect the Brazil international to return to England and pick up where he left off?
The truth is that his career peaked during his latter seasons at Anfield.
Despite what some would have you think, he actually started very positively during his first half-season with Barcelona after moving to Catalonia for an eye-watering fee of roughly £142million (depending on clauses).
He scored ten goals in the second half of the campaign to help Barca win La Liga and the Copa del Rey.
The following season, he appeared increasingly lost as the months went on as he struggled to pin down a role in a side dominated by Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
Coutinho’s signature move of shooting from distance didn’t always go down well with the Nou Camp faithful and, like many others during Barcelona’s gradual decline, he often deferred to the simple strategy of giving it to the No10 and hoping for magic.
He then spent a season on loan at Bayern Munich in a spell that had his moments – he scored 11 goals in all competitions including an awkward brace against his parent club in the infamous 8-2 Champions League hiding.
Ultimately, the Bavarian giants decided that he was a luxury, rather than a key cog.
Since then he has largely been a peripheral/ineffective figure at the Nou Camp, scoring five goals since the start of last season in approximately 1,400 minutes.
Would Villa Park provide a platform for Coutinho’s rejuvenation or is his decline irreversible?
His star power and historical record in the Premier League should be enough to interest Dream Team bosses at the very least but few would be so bold as to back him from the get-go without getting a good look at him first.
In the meantime, we’ll think about a starting price…
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