Skip to content

Philippe Coutinho can fulfil various roles for Barcelona, says Guillem Balague

Philippe Coutinho celebrates after his free-kick put Liverpool 2-0 ahead
Image: Philippe Coutinho has agreed a £146m transfer to Barcelona

As Philippe Coutinho agrees a £146m transfer from Liverpool to Barcelona, Guillem Balague explains where he will fit into Ernesto Valverde's team.

The Brazil international is expected to sign a five-and-a-half year contract at the Camp Nou with a buyout clause of £355m, becoming the second-most expensive player in history.

He is likely to feature in a number of different roles for his new side, with Barcelona describing him as a "versatile attacking force" in their statement confirming the transfer. So what are the options?

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

With Philippe Coutinho heading for Barcelona, we take a look back at some of his best Premier League goals in a Liverpool shirt

Iniesta's heir

Coutinho is seen as a long-term successor to the 33-year-old Andres Iniesta in midfield. "Obviously he is seen as Iniesta's replacement," said Balague. "You can't compare them right now because Iniesta has been one of the best players in the world, but Barcelona are only using him sparingly now, allowing him to focus on the Champions League games."

With Coutinho ineligible to play in Europe for Barcelona this season, Balague says Valverde will use the rest of the domestic campaign to get him to speed in central midfield. Alongside Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Paulinho, Coutinho will hone the defensive side of his game.

Philippe Coutinho could take Andres Iniesta's position in a midfield three
Image: Coutinho could take Andres Iniesta's position in a midfield three

"Barcelona have some doubts about him as a midfielder," said Balague. "He's got the quality, the vision and a lot more, but the positional game of Barcelona is very important and you have to understand it. There's a lot of work without the ball. It's not as chaotic as Jurgen Klopp likes his team to be. So he's going to have to adapt to that in the months ahead."

After that, Balague says, there is even a possibility that Iniesta could depart. "I've got the impression, and this is only a guess, that this could be the last season in which Iniesta is able to keep his level up," he said.

Also See:

Live La Liga Football

"Sadly for people like me who admire him, he is already struggling to play three games in a row. With the offers he's getting from everywhere - particularly China - he may be thinking about moving on. Or maybe he will decide to stay and help Coutinho adapt to Barcelona's style next year."

Messi's provider

With Valverde frequently using Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez as a front two, Coutinho could also be deployed as the player between the lines behind the strikers. It is not exactly the No 10 as Barcelona do not generally use that role, Balague says, but it would enable him to provide regular service to Messi and allow the Argentine to play closer to the opposition's goal.

Philippe Coutinho is capable of playing the No 10 role
Image: Coutinho is capable of playing behind the strikers

"The one who will benefit most from Coutinho arriving is Messi," he said. "Messi needs somebody to pass him the ball, because at the moment he does everything, he does the passing and the scoring. Having someone like Coutinho will allow Messi to make runs and to be more dangerous without the ball. It's another quality player to make deliveries to the front men."

A new front three?

Of course, Coutinho could also be used out on the left flank, where he played most of his football for Liverpool. With Ousmane Dembele still recovering from a long-term injury and generally being used on the right, that option could be appealing to Valverde.

Coutinho could line up on the left of Barcelona's front three
Image: Could Coutinho line up on the left of Barcelona's front three?

"He is able to play in four positions in the line-up and I am sure he will be tested in all of them," said Balague. "While Dembele recovers his form, you can see him in the front three. He's not someone to beat players for pace in one-v-ones, he prefers to cut inside from wide areas. But if he is on the left-hand side, he will have Jordi Alba to link up with. And right now, Jordi Alba is at his best level in years."


Wherever Coutinho plays, he will provide a major injection of quality, according to Balague. "Both Suarez and Messi have been pushing hard to get him to Barcelona," he added. "Since December, the players have been telling Barcelona that they need a superstar if they really want to challenge for the Champions League in the future.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Barcelona are hoping to develop Philippe Coutinho into Andres Iniesta's long-term successor, according to Guillem Balague

"Everybody sees the weaknesses which have been hidden by Messi's extraordinary form this season. In the big games against teams like Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Juventus, they have not dominated and they have struggled to win. Coutinho can go straight into the line-up and make a big difference."

Coutinho could make his La Liga debut for Barcelona against Real Sociedad, live on Sky Sports Football from 7.40pm on January 14

Around Sky