It’s been a difficult season for Philippe Coutinho thus far, but Aston Villa boss Unai Emery could be getting a response out of him after his latest outing.
The 30-year-old is without a goal or assist in 21 appearances so far this campaign, and having been working his way back from a hamstring injury after Emery’s appointment last October, he was unable to try and make an immediate impression on the Villa boss.
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Admittedly, it has still taken him time to show us something, as he now featured in seven consecutive Premier League games – albeit none as a starter – as well as our FA Cup defeat to Stevenage in which he played 66 minutes, and so it hasn’t been a case of making an immediate jump in quality and form since working under the Spanish tactician.
However, after showing some positive signs in 45 minutes against Leicester City, his 14-minute cameo appearance at Man City on Sunday finally gave reason to believe that Coutinho is moving in the right direction in terms of working towards being an influential option for us again.
It was his best short spell on the pitch for some time, and as we see in the video below, not only was he a direct goal threat, but his desire to get on the ball, find pockets of space and showcase his vision and technical quality ensured that he was a stand-out player in the closing stages at the Etihad.
In those 14 minutes, Coutinho registered 19 touches, he won five of six ground duels, was a perfect 3/3 in dribbles completed, won his only attempted tackle, was fouled once and also had time to chip in with one clearance and an interception in the opposition half.
Now, that comes with a caveat in that City were sitting back and holding out for a win, and there’s no denying that he still has a long way to go. Coutinho must start offering a decisive presence in the final third, and he needs to do it consistently before we crown his return and praise Emery for restoring him back to his top form.
However, this is a crucial blueprint moving forward on where he will best operate and be most effective, and what pieces he will flourish with around him.
Whether it’s Alex Moreno providing energy and intent down the left flank to benefit from Coutinho’s vision and passing range, or Ollie Watkins and Jhon Duran making runs off the ball to give him options or even if he plays alongside Emiliano Buendia and we get our two playmakers creating together.
There are different ways to use Coutinho and maximise his strengths and qualities, and it will be down to Emery unlocking that week in and week out between now and the end of the season. It’s certainly hoped that the Brazilian international can build on his brief appearance on Sunday to become an influential figure for us again.
We know Coutinho isn’t the same player he was in previous years. While he was excellent when he initially arrived on loan, there was a sense that although he was also producing disappointing displays, we weren’t playing him in the best-suited role or position on the pitch to utilise what he can add to our team.
With some clearer and positive signs last weekend that may well provide some solutions, time will tell if Coutinho has played his way into a starting role against Arsenal on Saturday, with Leon Bailey in particular coming under increasing pressure to keep his place in the side.
Philippe Coutinho cameo vs Man City pic.twitter.com/Ok3biiDzXv
— EB10 (@buendiazboyz) February 12, 2023