The close of the summer transfer window was fairly anti-climactic in England. While there were some big moves earlier in the window, it appeared to taper off despite all the speculation. Talk of moves for Diego Costa, Alexis Sanchez, Riyadh Mahrez and Virgil van Dijk amounted to nothing. Even without all the late drama, there is no doubt that summer purchases across the Big Six have already changed how the season may play out for each club and their prospects.
One of the best moves of the summer, however, was a pointed refusal to sell one of their star names. Liverpool managed to retain the services of Philippe Coutinho, even if the latter had pined for Barcelona. With a long-term contract until 2022, there was no pressing need to sell. On the other hand, Arsenal chairman Ivan Gazidis’ statement that retaining Sanchez was a sign of the Gunners’ ambitions was met by howls of derision, not entirely unexpected given that: (a) Sanchez’s contract will run out next summer; and (b) the accompanying problems at the Emirates.
Coutinho’s case, on the other hand, feels entirely different. While Coutinho may not have gotten his dream move, he appears much too professional to down tools or to play truant in the same way that Diego Costa may very well do at Chelsea. Compare his situation to Riyadh Mahrez, who sought permission to leave Algeria’s training camp to base himself in Europe for deadline day, in the event that Leicester accepted a bid for him.
After all, no man is bigger than the club – even if this generally applies to selling players, rather than keeping them. Retaining Coutinho is in the club’s best interests. Liverpool fan Roger Guzman pointed out that even if Fenway Sports Group received a bid of £200 million, Liverpool would have been unable to find a top quality replacement. On the other hand, a rehabilitated Coutinho could transform Liverpool’s prospects for the season.
With Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane looking to pick up their good form prior to the international break, Coutinho may finally play in his preferred role at No. 10. The prospect of Coutinho playing in a middle of an attacking triumvirate, feeding slide-rule passes that can be exploited by the pace of Mane and Salah, is highly exciting.
On the other hand, Coutinho’s departure would have left the creative burden to the still injured Adam Lallana, who may boast a decent touch and good movement, but lacks the same ability to strike the ball as well. Liverpool fans will recall how the majority of Coutinho’s goals come from outside the box.
The same criticism could be levelled about new signing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who is most comfortable carrying the ball forward, but leaves much to be desired with his passing or shooting. Coutinho’s striking technique lends itself well to dead ball situations, where he would be the first choice anywhere between 18-25 yards. Critics will point out that Coutinho boasts unfavourable stats vis-a-vis United attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Coutinho’s performances could still improve, even if he does offer more than the numbers for Liverpool.
In the last few years, Liverpool have often struggled with an ever-changing midfield. To fill the dearth of creativity in midfield, Coutinho has often dropped deeper to receive the ball, in an attempt to utilise his vision and passing abilities to help Liverpool move the ball into space quickly. This version of Coutinho is more similar to Luka Modric, a Real Madrid player who has become renowned for making the pass before the final pass.
Coutinho’s impact on the pitch is multi-dimensional – teams will always consider doubling up against him, which leaves space for other players to exploit. With Salah and Mane stretching teams across the park, one would surely bank on Coutinho being able to influence proceedings even more this season.
Liverpool can beat anyone – on their day. The problems now lie with their defence and goalkeepers, which have become the Achilles heel of a team that cannot be expected to outscore every team at home, or away. A relatively thin squad means that Liverpool will also need some luck with form and injuries. Despite all this, the sight of Coutinho in their ranks will mean that Jürgen Klopp, and the Kop, will believe that silverware is in their sights this term.