The loan signing of Philippe Coutinho by Bayern in the summer felt like a slightly odd move from the German champions.
They were trying to replace Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, and their main target seemed to be Manchester City’s Leroy Sane, while they also required a little more help in central midfield and possibly another striker too.
Coutinho fit none of those roles, but despite all of this things seem to be working out pretty well for both the Brazilian and Bayern, if the early evidence is anything to go by.
Coutinho scored one and made another in Bayern’s 3-2 win over Paderborn at the weekend, a victory that took them back to the top of the Bundesliga, overtaking RB Leipzig.
“It was interesting to listen to Niko Kovac after the game,” said Rafa Honigstein on this week’s European edition of the Totally Football Show, “where he was profusely complimentary about Coutinho’s performance, and rightly so. Kovac said he ‘dances’ with the ball, and does stuff nobody else can do. Certainly the assist for Serge Gnabry’s goal was absolutely sublime.
“Bayern believe that Coutinho is a player who has been underperforming, and if they can coax that version out of him, then they will have a lot of joy.
“The good news in many ways is that for either side there’s not much to lose, because it is a loan deal with an option to buy. So if it works out both are happy, if it doesn’t then there is not much loss. Bayern would be losers in a sense because they will have spent the money on the loan and his wages and don’t get the improvement they need up front, but the up side is considerable.
“I compare it to a no-strings-attached romance: you don’t really know where it’s going, but you just enjoy that for now it’s a good fit for both parties.”
Coutinho is likely to start for Bayern against Tottenham in the Champions League on Tuesday night, and they will be familiar with the best of him from the same competition last season.
“He scored against Spurs for Barcelona, but that was probably the last good thing he did until he scored against Manchester United in the quarter-finals,” said Alvaro Romeo on the podcast.
“In the Copa America, it was quite clear that Coutinho is a different player outside Barcelona than at Barcelona, and we’re seeing the same thing happening at Bayern, where we’re seeing the best possible version of Coutinho.”
The game will provide a good test for Bayern in general, as they try to work out where they are in the rebuilding stage that is the post-Ribery/Robben era.
“They’re eager to find out just how good they are,” said Rafa, “because for Bayern the benchmark is always the Champions League. They know they can beat Paderborn, playing at 85%, but it won’t be like that against Tottenham. This will give them a better indication than against Red Star Belgrade, and they’ll see if their new recruits like Coutinho can make the difference this season.”
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