As it stands, Barcelona are top of La Liga by seven points and in the second legs of their ties in the Champions League and Copa Del Rey competitions. However, all is not well in the squad. One decisive issue in Barcelona’s season so far is how they can accommodate both Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembélé with more success. These are two highly talented players playing similar positions but the general consensus is that they have struggled to integrate both of them in the same team successfully.
Is There Space at Barcelona For Both Ousmane Dembélé and Philippe Coutinho?
Looking at the individual seasons they have both had so far is a good starting point for moving forward with this debate. With Dembélé, his first year in Spain was underwhelming to say the least. However, fans grew restless with his performances as it seemed he didn’t suit the Barcelona style of play, resulting in a low return of three goals and six assists across 17 games.
This season has been a complete turnaround. He has held down a permanent spot in this Barcelona team, producing 13 goals and five assists in 30 appearances, showing how he has settled into this team after a tough transition. In August, he scored the winner in the Supercopa final against Sevilla. Since then, he has been terrifying defences with his skill and pace, adding another dimension to Barcelona’s play.
Moving onto the little Brazilian, Coutinho. He joined six months prior to Dembélé for a slightly higher fee of £142 million in the January window. However, he never really held down a permanent place in the team, which has continued into this season. He has only completed the full 90 minutes in eight out of the last 17 games he has featured in all competitions.
When he has played, he has been used in more advanced areas, playing on the left as part of the front three which also includes Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi. His return of eight goals and five assists in 35 appearances isn’t a bad return but, considering his position, plus the players he plays with, should he be producing more consistently? Furthermore, does the fact that he has completed a full 90 minutes less than half the times he has featured in his last 17 appearances show that it may be a factor as to why he has struggled to make consistent impacts? Surely being brought in and out the team may be making it hard to produce on a consistent basis.
Whilst Coutinho is a very important player for this team, it is been seen that Dembélé has performed much better this season as part of the front three, which leaves the Brazilian in between positions. Throughout his career, he has been utilised to good effect as a number ten. However, at Barcelona where a 4-3-3 formation is predominately used, he has been playing out of his usual position.
When he was brought to the club, there was a consensus that he could be the replacement for the departing Spanish legend Andreas Iniesta. However, Barcelona’s midfield this year usually always starts Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets, leaving only one spot left to be fought over by the likes of Arthur, Arturo Vidal and Rafinha. Coutinho has rarely featured in that midfield three but when he has played, he has struggled to really stake a claim.
It’s no secret that Dembele’s emergence has meant Coutinho regularly starts on the bench. Having spent over £142 million on the former Liverpool man, you would expect him to start on a more regular basis but that just hasn’t been the case. He hasn’t been able to take advantage when he does start due to a lack of confidence. We just aren’t seeing the same player that we know is in there. A position change to midfield is unlikely to occur as he doesn’t suit playing in a midfield three and the manager trusts the other midfielders more.
Where Does That Leave Coutinho?
Many sources are linking him with a move away from the Nou Camp. Returns to the Premier League seem to be an option with Liverpool and Chelsea linked. It seems the risk hasn’t paid off after spending such a high amount. Many believe they will cut their losses and try and sell him in the summer.
Is there any chance of him breaking into this first team? As of right now, Dembélé, Suarez and Messi are the first-choice front three. Also, the manager clearly doesn’t like Coutinho in the midfield three. That leaves him on the bench where he has made most of his appearances over recent months.
Barcelona are still fighting on three fronts and Coutinho is an important member going forward having already featured 35 times. Therefore, he will get starts here and there as the fixtures pile up. As far as the big games go, it will be Dembélé starting whilst Coutinho watches from the bench.