Steven Gerrard has not taken long to settle into his role as head coach of Premier League club Aston Villa. Since his November arrival from SPL side Rangers, The Villains have won four, drew one and lost four in the league, but managed to look convincing even in defeat. Three of those losses were narrowly won by European Champions Chelsea, reigning Premier League champions Man City and last season’s PL runners up Liverpool. PL odds currently have Man City at 1/25 favourites to win the league for the second time in as many years, making Villa’s slim 1-0 loss look all the more respectable.
Part of this turnaround in fortunes on the pitch has been down to some incredible early business in the January transfer market. The signing of Everton captain Lucas Digne has bolstered their backline, with the left back widely recognised as one of the best in his position in the league.
Getting straight down to business
Perhaps their most high-profile piece of business however has been their acquisition of Brazilian playmaker Phillipe Coutinho on loan from Barcelona. Gerrard, a legend on Merseyside, is a former teammate of Coutinho’s, playing alongside him at Liverpool from 2013 up until he left the club in 2015. He made an immediate impact at Villa Park, coming off the bench and scoring a dramatic late equaliser in their 2-2 draw with Manchester United, after going 2-0 down.https://www.youtube.com/embed/S4FdtrrHJq0?feature=oembed
(Coutinho’s best goals)
Life for Coutinho since he left The Kop in 2018 has been a bit of a rollercoaster. To begin with, his departure from Anfield was somewhat controversial. After the club initially rejected a £72m bid from Barca in the summer of 2017, he submitted a transfer request in a bid to force the move he so desired. He eventually played his final match for the club on 30th December that same year.
His move to Barcelona was infamously leaked when Nike—Coutinho and Barcelona’s sponsor—advertised Coutinho’s image on the back of a Barcelona shirt, despite Coutinho still being a Liverpool player at the time. Under a week later Liverpool announced that they had reached an agreement with the La Liga club for a fee reported to be around £142m. Liverpool Chairman Tom Werner said of his exit “(Coutinho) lost a lot of support for the manner in which he forced through a move to Barcelona”.
Whilst enjoying a relatively bright start to his career in Catalonia, it was not long before relations turned sour. With a price tag and contract as astronomical as his came great expectations, expectations that Barca fans did not see him live up to. A series of sub-par performances during his first year saw him relentlessly booed on and off the pitch. After just 18 months in Spain, Coutinho was loaned to German side Bayern Munich as Barca looked to trim their wage bill and find a permanent home for the player away from the Catalan giants.
He enjoyed some success in Munich, securing the treble with Hansi Flick’s side and even making a cameo appearance in their 1-0 Champions League final victory over PSG. However, he had not impressed enough to encourage Bayern to take up the optional £120m future fee in the loan contract.
He returned to a club that were in even more financial ruin than they were before, once again hoping to offload the Brazilian international. After once again failing to find a move away, new manager Ronald Koeman attempted to reassimilate Coutinho into the first-team squad, but an injury in December saw his season cut short. Fast forward to January 2022 and after another failed attempt at integrating him into the squad, Gerrard pounced at the chance to reunite with his former teammate.
‘He is a player I enjoyed playing with previously and I know the rest of the squad here at Aston Villa will benefit from his quality and experience.’ Gerrard said. ‘His presence will be invaluable given injuries and the AFCON tournament have reduced our attacking options.’
As well as that added squad depth, Coutinho brings with him a bag of skill. He is forward thinking when in possession and has a devastating first touch, allowing him to escape defenders quickly. His presence in the box as a number 10 and his long-range shooting ability also means that he is adept at scoring from anywhere on the pitch. This coupled with Gerrard’s attacking, possession-based style-of-play makes the Brazilian a great fit at Villa Park. He has always favoured technically gifted players in the wider areas of the pitch in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 formation and this is presumably where Coutinho will play during his time on the Claret side of Birmingham.
Above all however, Gerrard just wants Coutinho to remain happy. Having first played alongside him as a wide-eyed 20-year-old wonderkid, the Villa boss has never doubted his ability. A miserable few year in Spain seemingly ruined what was meant to be an glistening career, but Gerrard will do all he can to revitalise the player and help Villa continue their surge up the premier league table.