Bayern Munich have strengthened their attacking options with the loan signing of Barcelona’s Brazilian star Philippe Coutinho, but where will the former Liverpool man fit in at the Allianz Arena?
bundesliga.com trains its tactical lens on the mercurial midfielder who could prove to be a game-changing acquisition for the record champions…
Barcelona fans may have grown accustomed to seeing Coutinho operate on the left of the club’s fabled front three since his January 2018 arrival from Anfield – the Brazilian forming a potent attacking trio with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez – but the form that earned him the move to Catalonia in the first place, making him the game’s third-most expensive player in the process, was displayed from a deeper position at Liverpool.
Coutinho has scored 21 goals and laid on a further 11 in his 75 outings for Barcelona to date – coming in at a rate of a scorer point every 150 minutes – yet there is a nagging feeling that Barca’s system didn’t bring the best out of the 27-year-old.
In his final three seasons at Anfield, Coutinho scored 38 goals and provided 24 in 99 games at a rate of one every 102 minutes. Liverpool may have beaten Barcelona on the way to winning the UEFA Champions League under Jürgen Klopp last season, but throughout the time in question, Barcelona have boasted a higher club coefficient.
In a weaker team, but with a deeper role, Coutinho has been more effective. It’s no accident that Brazil used him at No.10 in winning the Copa America in July, and Bayern following suit could free up Müller to play further forward, where he has thrived alongside Lewandowski in the past. Müller and Coutinho could even swap roles mid-game to further bamboozle opponents.
Option 2: As a left-winger, cutting inside to make and take chances
Coutinho may find himself on the left-hand side in Bavaria just as he did in Barcelona, however, especially if Kingsley Coman’s fitness betrays him. The Frenchman is one of Bayern’s most talented players, and the outright fastest in the squad, but even when injury-free, Coutinho could provide an interesting change of pace from the Frenchman in the wide areas.
Coutinho is no slouch, but Coman is so fast that even though he is right-footed playing on the left, he is just as likely to speed past his marker on the outside and square a simple ball into the danger zone as he is to cut inside and work the ball onto his stronger foot for a shot at goal himself.
Coutinho’s propensity to move into central areas drags opposition defenders out of position, but it’s his ability to shoot from range that is second to none in world football. Everton in the Merseyside derby, Real Madrid in the Clasico, and Argentina in South America’s biggest international clash have all witnessed a Coutinho thunderbolt into the top corner, and it is this skill that makes him the perfect antidote should defences be sitting deep against wingers who prefer to dribble.
Even if not all of his efforts find the target, there is no better penalty box predator in the world than Lewandowski, ready to feed off the scraps in the rather likely event that the opposition goalkeeper spills the ball.
Option 3: As a central midfielder playing passing triangles with – or for – Thiago Alcantara
This may be the least likely choice for Bayern and Coutinho, but dropping the Brazilian deeper could give Niko Kovac the option of playing each of Coman, Müller and Serge Gnabry behind Lewandowski whilst STILL leaning on Coutinho’s talents.
Thiago boasted a pass completion of better than 90 percent last season – a league high among deep-lying playmakers – but Coutinho’s numbers in this regard were strikingly similar for Barcelona, the Rio de Janeiro-born player completing 89 percent of his in La Liga.
Watch: How Thiago pulls the strings at Bayern
Alongside battler Javi Martinez, Coutinho could stand in for Thiago should his fellow former Barcelona midfielder need a rest. Playing beside Thiago rather than instead of him, opponents could find themselves chasing shadows for 90 minutes.
Robbery – Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery – may have departed, freeing up space on the wings, but midfielders Corentin Tolisso, Leon Goretzka and Renato Sanches will need to be on their toes to ensure Coutinho doesn’t end up stealing the show from them instead.
“With this player we can offer our fans something spectacular,” enthused Bayern’s sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic. With Coutinho’s talent and versatility, he’s unlikely to be wrong on this one.