Can Philippe Coutinho replace Andres Iniesta at Barcelona?
The £142m man has big shoes to fill
It took longer than they’d have liked, but Barcelona have finally got their man and Philippe Coutinho has got the move he wanted more than any other.
He becomes the most expensive signing in Barcelona’s history after arriving from Liverpool for £142m.
The huge transfer fee won’t be the only pressure on his shoulders though. The La Liga leaders also see him as the long-term successor to club legend Andres Iniesta. They’re very big shoes to fill.
Iniesta’s arguably one of the best midfielders of all time. He has a sublime understanding of the game and the ability to glide past opponents.
Along with Xavi and Sergio Busquets, his displays in central areas created the platform for Barcelona and Spain to dominate around the turn of the last decade.
But even legends fade eventually. Iniesta is now 33-years-old. He’s still capable of greatness but those moments are less frequent than they once were.
That’s where Coutinho comes in. He’s established himself as one of the best players in the Premier League in the last few years.
The Brazil star has an eye for the spectacular. He’s capable of scoring sensational goals from distance. And like Iniesta, he’s able to thread defence-splitting passes and open up room for himself.
His silky technique should be well suited to Barcelona’s passing game too.
But he’s likely to need some time to settle before he produces his best form in Spain.
Patience is Required
Iniesta has been schooled in the Barca style of playing for his entire career. He has an instinctive understanding with the likes of Busquets and Lionel Messi at this point, honed from years of playing alongside each other.
Coutinho does have the advantage of having played alongside Luis Suarez at Liverpool. But that was in a very different system. It was based around speed and intensity more than possession.
It would be very hard for any player to be a direct replacement for Iniesta. But at least for the time being, Coutinho doesn’t necessarily have to be.
Iniesta will remain at Camp Nou until the end of the season at least. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Ernesto Valverde mainly held him back for the Champions League knockout stages, which Coutinho can’t play in this season.
That would allow the 25-year-old to gradually get used to playing with his new team in league action.
With Barcelona nine points clear at the top of the table, the fans won’t be demanding Coutinho make an immediate impact. The second-half of this season will be about adapting so he’s ready to make a real difference next term.
There’s a chance Iniesta won’t be at the club then. That’s when Coutinho will really need to show what he’s made of.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing