The 2018 transfer of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona perfectly encapsulates Liverpool’s current success. The Brazilian stole some headlines on Friday night.
Barcelona suffered possibly the biggest embarrassment in their history on Friday. Bayern Munich tore them to shreds from start to finish, winning 8-2 and surely ending the current Barcelona side as a top force.
The last two goals were notable, too. Coutinho got both, having come off the bench in the second half. The Brazilian is on loan from Barcelona, of course, and his goals further highlighted just how badly things have gone for the Catalonians.
More than that, Coutinho shows off the difference between Liverpool and the rest. Barcelona, still one of the best teams in the world, look remarkably poorly run in comparison.
Nothing encapsulates that better than the Coutinho transfer.
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Barcelona flexed their muscle and signed Coutinho in January 2018. The Brazilian was Liverpool’s star player at the time and was in the form of his life.
Coutinho played 19 games for Liverpool in the 17/18 season, scoring 12 and assisting another eight. He was a truly elite player and the star of the Anfield show.
Barcelona agreed a transfer that could rise to £142m for Coutinho. It was the second-highest fee in history at the time and it will still sit third if add-ons are met.
But as it turned out, Barcelona didn’t need Coutinho. They spent lavishly on a huge talent but one that simply didn’t fit in. After one-and-a-half disappointing seasons, they loaned him out to Bayern.
Even Bayern haven’t really found a way to use him but things have been far better for them. They still have a wonderfully functional team, after all, while Barcelona desperately need that money back. They now need effectively a new team but clearly didn’t see that coming.
If they had, they’d have invested the Coutinho money into a new backbone for their side. Instead, they signed a superstar they didn’t have room for.
Liverpool, as it turned out, also didn’t have room for Coutinho. Jurgen Klopp has his side playing best in a 4-3-3 and that didn’t actually suit the player – even if he was arguably their best.
Playing him from the left meant Sadio Mane couldn’t and Liverpool lost a lot of pace and drive. Putting him in midfield hurt the pressing and shape. Liverpool have a fantastically functional midfield built on workrate and physicality. Not Coutinho’s style.
So the Reds sold their best asset and did exactly what Barcelona should have done. Liverpool used the windfall to bring in Virgil van Dijk, fixing their defence. They signed Fabinho the following summer, locking up their midfield. They also added arguably the world’s best goalkeeper in Alisson Becker.
By the end of the season, Liverpool knock Barcelona out of the Champions League and go on to win the whole thing. Liverpool built a team at the expense of a superstar.
Each team’s reaction to the Champions League result sums things up, too. Liverpool looked at what they had and decided to stick without any first-team signings. They saw a great team and wanted to ride the continuity to the title – and that’s exactly what they did.
Barcelona, in comparison, sent Coutinho to Bayern and signed Antoine Griezmann. A player, much like Coutinho, who fixed none of their problems and that they didn’t have room for. Another superstar arrived and the team got worse.
It’s decisions like this that separate Liverpool from nearly every other elite club. They plan, they act only when they should do, and they build teams.
Barcelona showed the other way of doing things. The difference between the two sides right now shows off the incredible work Liverpool do and how no one should take it for granted.
It can go wrong, after all, even at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Liverpool, however, know what they’re doing. And that’s why we can expect to see them at the top for a long time to come.