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Why Coutinho must resist temptation and pen permanent Aston Villa move

Posted on March 10, 2022

Southampton were unbeaten in six trips to Aston Villa coming into Saturday's round of games. Following a rocky start to the season, Saints were again on the up and headed into the weekend's match in the Midlands unbeaten in five in the league. Villa, meanwhile, had failed to win in four in front of their own fans. Everything pointed towards a Saints win.

However, if there were a script, Villa elected to read it, bin it and opt for a complete re-write. Saints conceded as many goals against the Villans as they had in their previous five league matches as Steven Gerrard's side hit the south coast outfit hard and fast in a thumping 4-0 win. Saints saw more of the ball, but were nowhere near as effective as Villa in the final third with nine of the hosts' 14 shots hitting the target.

Once again central in the Villa offensive was January arrival Philippe Coutinho. When it became clear that the Brazilian was set to swap Barcelona for Birmingham, supporters could hardly contain their excitement. Granted, Coutinho's big money return to Spain had hardly gone according to plan, but the 29-year-old is a renowned world class performer that was rather in the wrong place at wrong time with regards to his move to Camp Nou.

You only have to look at his loan spell with Bayern Munich in 2019/20 to appreciate Coutinho's quality despite his rocky time with Barcelona, and he is proving once more just how effective he can be in the right environment. And working under former Liverpool teammate Gerrard, Coutinho is shining once more. Indeed, he is Villa's best rated Premier League player this season, returning a WhoScored rating of 7.34, while only Danny Ings (9) and Ollie Watkins (8) have directly contributed to more league goals than Countinho (6) of all Villa players this season. He's made seven appearances.

In the wake of Jack Grealish's big money transfer to Manchester City, Villa lacked that creative spark that the England international brought to the side. "I always watch clips of Coutinho from Liverpool - it was always the final pass that was perfect," Grealish said last February. Who better to replace the £100m man than with the player he has watched and tried to emulate?

"Sometimes he thinks too fast for you, so I have to start from his body movements, and then sometimes I have gone the other way! He's too sharp - he thinks faster than everyone else," Ollie Watkins said of his Villa teammate after Saturday's win. And yet his new teammates are clearly getting up to speed with the quick-thinking Brazil international. Only Ings (4) has more assists to his name than Coutinho (3) of all Villa players this season, those coming from an average of 1.7 key passes per 90, that the third best for the Villans.

Evidently playing in settled surroundings under a manager who clearly has faith in him has benefitted Coutinho immeasurably, and more so Villa who, six months after the deal was completed, have found a player to fill the void left by Grealish, even if temporarily. What is particularly interesting is that all six goals Coutinho has directly contributed have come at home, that more than any other Premier League player in 2022 having never contributed to more than seven in any season with Barcelona. Has he finally found a new place to call home?

The cat is out of the bag now, however. Coutinho dropped off many a radar in Barcelona having struggled for consistency, though a move to one of the world's most recognisible sides for an initial £105m meant every mistake was scrutinised. The Blaugrana were approaching the end of a dominant period in Spain, too, and with tumultuous period right around the corner, Coutinho was so often a scapegoat.

Yet in his final 18 months with Liverpool, the Brazil star was in unstoppable form and he is showing the kind of level again with Villa, which predictably has the vultures circling. Villa do at least have an option to make the deal permanent in the summer for around £33m, a deal Gerrard wants, but if he continues to shine in the Midlands, then the Villans will face competition for his services.

That said, why would Coutinho want to leave for pastures new? His move to Barcelona was proof that the grass is not always greener on the other side and it took a seaon-long loan to Bayern to go some way to rebuilding his reputation. Even then, the German side elected against making the switch permanent as Barcelona demanded a reported €120m to do so. At the current stage of his career, Coutinho needs to be playing regular football and, when fit, he'll be one of the first names on the team sheet at Villa Park.

Yes, he could opt for a switch to a Champions League side, but then what is the point when he may not even play as regularly as he would for Villa? Resisting temptation and putting pen to paper on a permanent switch to the Villans could well be the best career decision he makes. For the remainder of the season, though, supporters can at least sit back and enjoy a sprinkle of samba sparkle at Villa Park as Coutinho rediscovers his rhythm.