Philippe Couptinho? – Bayern sign Barça star on loan

Justin Separator August 19, 2019

A salary of €13 million and a loan fee of €8.5 million with an option to buy at €120 million in a year’s time – these are the basic financials of the deal (according to BILD). This would mean less than 50% of the loan fee initially rumoured.

With the player having completed his medical, Bayern have given a significant boost to their offence. Because not least the game against Hertha showed that Germany’s record champions presently lack attacking options from the bench.

But can Coutinho be Bayern‘s much hoped for improvement? What are his strengths and what can we expect from him? And what should we not hope for?

His strength is playing in the half spaces

Coutinho is a technically outstanding player. His ball control is superb and he his able to keep a ball under pressure. He is also good at creating moments of surprise in the final third. A quality that could prove invaluable in light of Bayern’s current predicaments.

The 27 year old is also a fairly proficient goal scorer. He likes to take on his opponents directly and often gets past them thanks to his technical skills and agility, but less so his pace. That is why he is better used in the half spaces than on the outright wings.

It is there where he can use his passing skills and agility best. Coutinho’s technical skills can add an element to the game that Tolisso, Müller and Goretzka cannot provide. He has the ability to win challenges in the tightly contested spaces between the lines and to score the occasional goal from distance. He thus adds colour and variety to the Bayern game.

Breathing new life into an uninspired approach game

A lack of inspiration in attack has been one of the bigger problems that Bayern has been struggling with so far. Against Hertha for example, there were quite a few promising passes into central offensive midfield only for the approach to end there for lack of a follow-up passing option. Coutinho might prove a remedy for such situations as the player who sees the critical passing option in behind where others do not or has the creativity to conjure up something out of nothing. However, to do so he will have to show that his weak spells at Barcelona were the exception and not the rule.

Coutinho ist also a player who can turn a game around with a belter from distance. He relishes shooting from 18 to 20 meters out, something he is quite capable of doing.

What not to expect from Coutinho? For one, he lacks the superior strategic quality one would expect from a top-class playmaker. One of the major counts against him at Barcelona was his sometimes wild and unpredictable decision making.

The weaknesses: caught between genius and madness

Coutinho is a player always on the edge. At one moment, he plays agenius pass, the next he decides to drive the ball out of the stadium from 20 meters out even though half of all his teammates were waiting unmarked in the penalty area.

Coutinho is also not one of the quickest of players. Although he has already been used on the wings at times in his career, one should not expext him to be an explosive dribbler quite like Coman, Sané or Gnabry are. On the wing, he rather resembles a technically gifted Müller. At any rate, he is someone who needs additional players by his side to support him. Such considerations notwithstanding, his offensive skills should still be sufficient for all common Bundesliga demands. More concerning are his deficits in (gegen-)pressing. Against the ball, he lacks physical stature, resoluteness, and the willingness to take on an opponent – something Niko Kovač does not like at all. At least he was cautious to rely on James for very similar reasons, and James was a much more disciplined player than Coutinho.

Coutinho is someone who needs players around him to interact with. As a number eight in left offensive midfield, he could form triangles with Coman, Alaba, and Lewandowski. Coman in particular would most probably profit from a second presence on the left opening up spaces for him. Another option is for Couthino to form a pair of creative playmakers with Thiago playing behind him. He needs such link-ups for his game to flourish. So on paper, this reads like an addition to Bayern‘s left side capable of helping with a lot of their momentary problems in attack.

An alternative in all areas

Unfortunately, Coutinho is not just no proper winger, he is also not the kind of midfielder that Kovač actually wanted to have and needed most. Kovač originally wanted a physically robust and creative deep lying playmaker kind of player, somebody to adopt Thiago’s position while the Spaniard plays higher up the pitch providing defensive balance. Cuisance would fit these requirements in theory. But could he be expected to live up to such a tall order right in his very first year the same as Kimmich once could?

A double eight pairing of Coutinho and Thiago appears a rather enticing prospect in Bayern’s 4-3-3 they favour at present. This however would require an additional holding midfielder for the six. Martinez appears to have finally outlived his welcome and Kimmich will probably remain the first choice right full-back.

All this taken together cannot ultimately dispel the lingering impression that Coutinho is a last resort transfer, even if one with a broad skillset and certainly the quality to constitute an improvement in midfield. If Couthino becomes a ‘Coupthino’ remains to be seen. But with him Bayern already have an alternative signing option to Kai Havertz next year. There are worse negotiating positions to be in. And from a sporting perspective too one can easily imagine alternative last resort signings who are are lot less exciting and useful.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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