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Thursday, July 7, 2022

Aston Villa is the perfect place for Philippe Coutinho to get his career back on track

Only two players – Neymar and Kylian Mbappe – have ever cost more than Philippe Coutinho. When Barcelona paid Liverpool a club-record €145m for the Brazilian playmaker, they did so in the belief that he would be someone they could count on as a match winner for years to come. A lot has changed since then, for all parties concerned.

Coutinho’s troubles at the Camp Nou have been well-documented. Whether or not the Brazilian was a victim of Barcelona’s tactical framework, whether or not he was failed by a series of managers who didn’t know how to harness his natural qualities, it’s all irrelevant at this point, certainly since Coutinho signed for Aston Villa on loan.

On the basis of the clubs Coutinho has played for in his career, Villa Park might not appear to be a stage befitting of the 29-year-old. However, there’s good reason to believe a loan spell at Aston Villa is exactly what Coutinho needs at this stage of his career, especially with Steven Gerrard in charge of the Premier League outfit.

Gerrard knows what Coutinho can do in the right system, having played alongside him at Liverpool. The Reds saw the best of the Brazilian with Coutinho a genuine difference-maker during his time at Anfield and Gerrard, as the player who frequently offered him protection in a deeper role, is aware of what is needed to harness him.

“He is an outstanding footballer who boasts a highly impressive CV laced with plenty of elite honours,” Gerrard said after the announcement of Coutinho’s loan signing.

“I am really pleased that we have been able to bring him on board and I am looking forward to working with him. He is a player I enjoyed playing with previously and I know the rest of the squad here at Aston Villa will benefit from his quality and experience. His presence will be invaluable given injuries and the AFCON tournament have reduced our attacking options.”

The nature of Coutinho’s loan signing means Aston Villa won’t have the chance to build around him, but Gerrard has already put in place a system that should get the best out of the 29-year-old. Not many alterations will have to be made to slot Coutinho into the Villa side, which should come as a relief to the Brazilian who has played for so many teams of late that don’t suit his strengths.

Since being hired in November, Gerrard has focused on making Aston Villa a narrower team. They still play with width, but that width comes from their full-backs. Gerrard likes to play with two attacking midfielders in behind a central striker and Coutinho will surely be used in one of those two positions, most likely with the freedom to drift out to the left.

Emi Buendia might be wondering how much game time he will receive between now and the end of the season given that this is where he plays his best soccer, but Gerrard’s desire to land Coutinho was clear in the swiftness with which the deal was completed. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the two attacking midfielders could play in the same team together.

On top of all this, the fast and furious nature of the Premier League should suit Coutinho. It certainly did before when the Brazilian had the freedom to use the high number of transitions to his benefit. The ponderous nature of La Liga didn’t do much for Coutinho, but English soccer might well be his comfort zone.

Gerrard’s belief in Coutinho will also surely boost the Brazilian’s confidence which has taking a beating since leaving Liverpool in 2018. Far too often recently, Coutinho has had to prove himself to managers who didn’t really want him in the first place. He won’t have to do this for his former Liverpool teammate.

If Coutinho doesn’t succeed at Aston Villa, where so many factors are in his favour, it might well be time to call time on his elite level career. Until then, though, the Brazilian has given himself a chance of redemption. Villa Park might not be the Camp Nou, Aston Villa might not be Barcelona, but it could be exactly where Coutinho needs to be at this moment in time.

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