Disappointment would be the best word to describe the feeling among Barcelona fans towards Philippe Coutinho. He signed after months of negotiations and with huge expectations.
Along with Ousmane Dembele, he was the player chosen to help the club forget Neymar. But as the Frenchman has won the fans around, the distance between them and Coutinho grows every day, to the point that there are now people who feel he could be lost to the cause. There's a world of difference between the player we see now and the 'magician' that arrived at Barça with all the excitement in the world. There are various reasons why.
Coutinho scored 10 goals and set up two in his first half season at the club. He played 22 games (1,483 minutes). He alternated between the left forward role and the right forward role, mainly. He was key in the Copa del Rey against Valencia and again in the final against Sevilla. He scored in the last three La Liga games, too.
This season, he started well with a golazo against Alaves in a move full of condifence. But his form has dipped. In 32 games, 10 more than last season, he's scored less goals (8) but has given more assists (5). The most worrying thing, though, are the feelings his performances are generating.
Philippe began the season in midfield with the mission of replacing the departed Andres Iniesta. A huge challenge, even more so considering he doesn't have the same characteristics. By the seventh week of the season, with the form of Arthur and the energy of Arturo Vidal, he was back in midfield.
Despite that, Coutinho still had everything to be a regular. He returned to the forward role, where he'd previously done well with Messi and Suarez, while Dembele was unable to hear his alarm clock. Maybe he got into a comfort zone. Maybe he became too confident, but the Brazilian lost his place when the French
In the absence of Messi, Coutinho was one of the few who didn't step forward. Valverde ended up leaving him on the bench for four straight league games. Not even an injury to Dembele has changed the situation, despite a return to the starting lineup. .
Coutinho's confidence has been disappearing and proof of that is we hardly see the ‘Coutinhazos’ that gave us so much to speak about before: those powerful shots from outside the area that could conjure a goal from nothing. We saw them last season and with Brazil at the World Cup.
The golazos from this season, against Alaves, Leganes and Sevilla, all with his right foot, have not been regular enough. His last goal from open play in the league was in the Clasico on Oct. 28, a tap in from close range after good work from Jordi Alba.
Since that day, three more goals: two penalties and a header against Sevilla. No sign of the ‘Coutinhazos’...
The image of a hopeless Coutinho because nothing's coming off has been repeated too often. The Brazilian tried the same move again, cutting in from the left in search of a shot, but the rivals know what's coming. There's no element of surprise. The Brazilian, blocked, struggles to find new ways to do things. The fans are disenchanted. No one expected this.
Coutinho has always been a reserved person, someone who struggled to show their feelings in public. He is responsible, supported by his family, but at the same time ambitious.
The image we're getting of him at the moment, however, is of someome lacking confidence. It's not to do with attitude. Don't be fooled by that. Those that know him know that he takes his profession very seriously -- maybe too seriously.
He is playing under a lot of pressure and it's telling. Not even the brace against Sevilla proved a point of inflexion. He scored, yes, but he didn't get back to his best. The remedy is patience ... but at Barça there's never much of that.