Philippe Coutinho: Could 'inhibited' Brazilian thrive back in the Premier League?

Playmaker is currently on a season-long loan at Bayern

Philippe Coutinho

Philippe Coutinho has struggled since leaving Liverpool for Barcelona two years ago, so could the Brazilian 'magician' revitalise his stalled career by returning to the Premier League next season?

With Bayern Munich now unlikely to take up the option to buy Coutinho for £109m when his season-long loan deal from Barcelona expires and the Catalans themselves believed to be keen to offload the playmaker, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham all want to take him on loan next season, according to Sky Germany.

Philippe Coutinho celebrates after scoring for Bayern Munich against Werder Bremen 2:05
Philippe Coutinho's agent Kia Joorabchian says he would love to play in the Premier League again and 'everything is a possibility'

It's just over two years since Coutinho became the then-third-most expensive footballer of all time having joined Barca in a deal worth a staggering £105m - so what has happened to the player in that time for the CIES to now value him at £65-85m?

Reds Renaissance

Philippe Coutinho starred in a deeper, central midfield role in Liverpool's win over West Ham
Image: Coutinho enjoyed a brilliant five years at Liverpool

There was no real fanfare on Merseyside when Liverpool signed Coutinho from Inter Milan for £8.5m in January 2013, especially with the Nerazzurri wanting rid of the Brazil international after he failed to impress during his three years at San Siro.

However, Reds boss Brendan Rodgers managed to bring out the best in the playmaker and when Jurgen Klopp replaced him at Anfield in October 2015, Coutinho's game - and attacking numbers - kicked on again.

At the time of his departure to the Nou Camp, he had become the highest-scoring Brazilian in the Premier League with 41 goals and there was genuine despair on Merseyside.

Coutinho has been linked with a move back to the Premier League 0:55
Phil Thompson says Philippe Coutinho is not loved at Barcelona as he was at Liverpool and would bring the Brazilian back to Anfield 'in a heartbeat'

The man known as the 'Magician' in the Liverpool dressing room had racked up 54 goals in total in 201 matches, while also averaging a goal or assist every other league game.

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With Coutinho's goalscoring numbers reaching double figures in all competitions in each of his last three seasons at Liverpool, like a fine wine, the twinkle-toed Brazilian appeared to be getting better with age.

Liverpool (2013-18)

Premier League games 152
Goals 41
Assists 35
Mins per goal involvement 150.36
Chances created 301

Dream Barca move turns sour

Philippe Coutinho during the La Liga match between Sevilla and Barcelona at on February 23, 2019
Image: Coutinho found it difficult to adapt to life at the Nou Camp

Right from the outset, where best to station Coutinho in Barca's star-studded line-up became a much-talked-about, and at times thorny, issue.

When the player arrived at the Nou Camp, Andres Iniesta was still operating as the club's attacking midfielder in their trusted 4-3-3 formation, meaning Coutinho either had to compete with Ousmane Dembele to feature on the left-hand side of a front three, or simply act as the veteran Spaniard's understudy until he departed for Japan at the end of that season.

Coutinho had performed both roles with distinction at Anfield, although he was pushed back into midfield only after Mohamed Salah's arrival in the summer of 2017 had forced a tactical rethink by Klopp.

Philippe Coutinho 1:37
South American football expert Tim Vickery believes Coutinho has little chance of succeeding at Barcelona as he was bought for a role he cannot fulfill

In fact, Coutinho's final Liverpool goal, in a 5-0 win over Swansea, came from that central-midfield berth and that is where then-Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde envisaged his new recruit playing when he bought him.

After finishing the 2017-2018 campaign with an impressive 10 goals and six assists as Barca regained La Liga and won the Copa del Rey, the following season - one without the imposing shadow of Iniesta for the new man to deal with - was expected to be the one in which Coutinho laid down a marker.

But the quiet, and at times shy Brazilian failed to impose himself in a dressing room full of big egos, scoring just five league goals all season.

Luis Suarez scored twice in Barcelona's 3-0 win against Eibar
Image: Coutinho is unassuming compared to Barca team-mates Suarez (right) and Messi

"He never felt comfortable in Barcelona," says Spanish football journalist Alvaro Montero. "He had no confidence and with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, you must be a superstar, mentally strong and show in every game your quality and skills.

"With Messi and Suarez, Coutinho did not play in his best position and living inside the box was almost impossible with those two amazing players."

And come the following campaign, Coutinho had been loaned out to Bayern Munich as the player tried to reboot his career in Bavaria.

Barcelona (2018-19)

La Liga games 52
Goals 13
Assists 7
Mins per goal involvement 166.25
Chances created 61

Too 'inhibited' for Bayern

Philippe Coutinho waves during his unveiling as a Bayern Munich player
Image: Coutinho thought a move to Bayern would revitalise his career, but it has not worked out that way

Bayern wasted little time bringing the Brazil international to the Allianz last August, with the Bundesliga champions happy to cover his £11m-a-year wage, as well as an initial £8m loan fee, before deciding whether to make his move permanent at the end of this season.

The German club's illustrious history is littered with brilliant Brazilians, but on this campaign's evidence, it does not look like Coutinho will be joining that list.

The 27-year-old arrived in Munich having spearheaded his country's triumph in last summer's Copa America on home soil, only for a change of manager and a failure to again identify his best role to stymie his progress.

Coutinho was benched under Hansi Flick, who replaced Niko Kovac last November, with the new boss instead preferring Ivan Perisic and Leon Goretzka as he set the up team differently to his predecessor.

The playmaker has been deployed on both the left and right of a three-man forward line, as well as an attacking midfielder in what Flick believes is his "best position", although one that has also brought him into conflict for the No 10 role with Bayern stalwart - and a player revitalised this season - Thomas Muller.

I hope the dam breaks and he shows the quality he's got
Bayern manager Hansi Flick

"Philippe is a gifted footballer," said Flick at the turn of the year. "I don't think we've integrated him enough yet [to see his best], though.

"It's not been easy for him coming to a new country, but he's getting better all the time. Hopefully, he'll progress further again and show what class he has. I hope the dam breaks and he shows the quality he's got."

The stats, though, seem to suggest Coutinho is most effective when used on the left-hand side of Bayern's front three, allowing him to cut in from that flank on to his more favoured right foot, as he was with great success towards the end of 2019.

In his last eight games before the winter break, Coutinho contributed five goals and three assists in his best run of the season, including the type of virtuoso display in a 6-1 win over Werder Bremen that got him his big-money move to Barca in the first place.

Philippe Coutinho celebrates after scoring for Bayern Munich against Werder Bremen
Image: Coutinho celebrates his hat-trick against Werder Bremen in December

But that hat-trick and brace of assists last December do not seem to have convinced the Bavarians to spend the £109m needed to keep the player at the Allianz beyond this season, as Karl-Heinz Rummenigge hinted to Bild in February.

"Why is [the transfer] not decisive? This is a difficult question," said the Bayern chief. "I think he played well in some games, while in others he gave the impression of being a little inhibited."

And inhibition tends not to go down too well at FC Hollywood.

Rummenigge's assessment is supported by Brazilian journalist Natalie Gedra, who says: "Coutinho's main problem is his mentality. He had some good moments in Bayern, but didn't show the consistency.

"And again, as at Barca, the pressure of having to work in a different club was too much for him to handle."

Bayern (2019-20)

Bundesliga games 22
Goals 8
Assists 7
Mins per goal involvement 98.86
Chances created 30

Role reversal

Coutinho
Image: Coutinho shone for Brazil at the 2019 Copa America and 2018 World Cup operating on the left of a front three

Finding the right role, and surroundings, both appear key then to getting the best out of Coutinho.

"During his best spell with Brazil, in the qualifiers for Russia 2018, he played more on the left of a front three, but having the freedom to go back and act as a No 10," says Gedra. "It was kind of a mix, and he did really well.

"But that period also shows how he can shine when the team is doing really well, but how he is not the kind of player who shines and sort things out by himself when they're not going really well."

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Where next for Coutinho?

Philippe Coutinho appears in good mood during a press conference after joining Bayern Munich on a season-long loan
Image: What chance Coutinho returning to England next season?

With his parent club reportedly keen to offload the playmaker next season, Arsenal, Chelsea, United and Spurs are all weighing up loan moves for Coutinho and Gedra believes a return to the Premier League would best suit the player.

"He has the experience of playing in English football for a long time and he has a very unique style that could bring something different to each one of these teams," she says.

"Coutinho is creative, versatile and skilful and none of the teams reportedly interested in him have a player with his characteristics - maybe Mesut Ozil {Arsenal] on a good day, or Mason Mount [Chelsea] can become a player like that.

"But United and Spurs definitely don't and I think they could all benefit from his creativity and from the way he reads the game when he's at his best."

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