Zone Blitz: Are Barcelona doing the right thing by trying to re-sign Neymar?

By George Davis, Mariah Ramharack&Lance Whittaker July 18, 2019

It's said you should never go back to your ex but Barcelona and Neymar could be a re-marriage made in heaven.

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  • Coutinho 'a worthy successor' to Robben's No.10 shirt at Bayern Coutinho 'a worthy successor' to Robben's No.10 shirt at Bayern

    Bayern Munich asked retired Arjen Robben for permission before giving new signing Philippe Coutinho his old No.10 shirt and club CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge believes the Brazilian is a worthy successor.

    After a difficult 18-month spell with Barcelona, Coutinho completed a season-long loan move to Bayern on Monday, with the German champions able to make the switch permanent for €120million.

    Bayern have been undertaking something of a rebuild in recent months, with various older players being moved on or retiring.

    Chief among those are Franck Ribery and Robben, with the latter opting to hang up his boots after a 10-year spell at the club that saw him win 20 trophies.

    Given their respective contributions to Bayern, Rummenigge confirmed they intended to leave the No.7 and No.10 jerseys unoccupied, but Robben gave permission for Coutinho to take his.

    When asked about where Coutinho will play, Rummenigge told a news conference: "Hasan [Salihamidzic, sporting director] and Niko [Kovac, coach] have already agreed on all the tactical variants, and Hasan had a talk with Arjen Robben this morning.

    "We did not want to give his number away for the time being, as a special gesture, but we also wanted to show how important and valuable this is.

    "It was also a very important sign for Philippe that the club is also fully behind him, so Arjen has no problem at all, he wishes him all the best, and he is a more than worthy successor."

    Coutinho could make his Bayern debut on Saturday when they travel to Gelsenkirchen to face Schalke in the Bundesliga.

  • Coutinho accepts Barcelona spell 'didn't work out' as hoped Coutinho accepts Barcelona spell 'didn't work out' as hoped

    Philippe Coutinho accepts his time at Barcelona "didn't work out" the way he had hoped after he completed a loan move to Bayern Munich on Monday.

    Coutinho joined Barca from Liverpool in January 2018 in a deal potentially worth a reported €160million and things began promisingly, as he scored eight goals in his first 18 LaLiga games.

    However, he struggled for consistency and failed to hold down a spot in the starting XI last season, playing only 22 matches from the beginning.

    Coutinho became a scapegoat for fans and came in for increased criticism – as did coach Ernesto Valverde and team-mate Ivan Rakitic – after Barca's Champions League semi-final exit to Liverpool, despite them winning the first leg 3-0.

    The Brazil international had been suggested as a potential makeweight in a deal to take Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain back to Camp Nou, but Bayern secured his loan signing with a €120m purchase option.

    Coutinho acknowledges things could have gone better in LaLiga but insists he is excited to be joining the German champions.

    "Concerning Barcelona, things didn't work out the way we wanted," Coutinho told reporters at his Bayern presentation.

    "But that's the past. This is a new club, a big club, an important club. I hope I'll be here for a long time and win lots of titles."

    Despite the difficulties Coutinho had at Barca, he is adamant it was not all a negative experience – though he had no doubts about leaving for Bayern.

    "Within those years I did have great experiences," he said. "I learnt a lot, won a lot with that club and then we had the Copa America, which I won with Brazil and that was really important.

    "Now I have a chance at a new club, a big club. I didn't have any doubts when Hasan [Salihamidzic, Bayern sporting director] called me.

    "He really wanted me to come here, so they flew to Barcelona, we met, they showed me the project and that's why I really want to thank them, because from the first second [it was clear] how they see me. That was important for me to see."

    Coutinho could make his debut away to Schalke on Saturday.

  • Coutinho to Bayern Munich: How the new recruit from Barcelona compares to James Rodriguez Coutinho to Bayern Munich: How the new recruit from Barcelona compares to James Rodriguez

    Philippe Coutinho's loan move to Bayern Munich is complete and so begins the club's season-long assessment of whether to activate their option to buy him on a permanent basis.

    The former Liverpool star has suffered a loss of form since making a big-money move to Barcelona in 2018 and will now have the chance to reinvent himself in the Bundesliga.

    While Bayern have chased Leroy Sane throughout the transfer window, it appears Coutinho and Ivan Perisic - signed on loan from Inter - will be the players tasked with replacing Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery.

    Niko Kovac must also fill the creative void left by James Rodriguez's return to Real Madrid and Coutinho, who is accustomed to playing centrally, could be anointed chief playmaker.

    Here, we use Opta data to assess the merits of such a move, comparing the strengths and weaknesses of his game in comparison James.

     

    Direct and dangerous

    Shedding the more pedestrian James and deploying Coutinho in his place should give Bayern a greater degree of dynamism going forward.

    The Brazilian causes problems with his willingness and ability to beat defenders, traits not exhibited quite so regularly by James.

    Over the past two seasons, Coutinho attempted an average of 2.4 more dribbles per match and completed them with a success rate of 58.1 per cent.

    James trusts less in his ability to go beyond markers, a dribble success rate of 44.2 per cent explaining his hesitance.

    Yet, as the silky former Real Madrid man showcased at the Allianz Arena, his skills in other departments are sharper than most.

     

    Bayern to get creative with solution to missing assists

    James tallied 67 appearances across all competitions in his two seasons with Bayern.

    Coutinho, in the same period, featured in 96 matches for Liverpool and Barcelona, clocking up over 2,000 more on-field minutes.

    Despite the huge discrepancy, the pair each recorded 19 assists.

    James, with his 89.2 per cent passing accuracy, created 3.5 chances per 90 minutes, during which he averaged 95 touches.

    He outperformed Coutinho in both departments, the former Anfield favourite averaging 2.1 chances created from 82 touches per game.

    Perisic will help bridge the gap, but it seems Robert Lewandowski might have to make peace with a less consistent supply line this season.

     

    New firepower in front of goal

    Where the champions can reasonably expect clear return on their investment is in goals scored.

    Despite well-documented difficulties, Coutinho still did his part at Barca by notching 13 times in LaLiga. Those goals contributed to a solid combined two-season tally of 33, averaging out at 0.5 per 90 minutes.

    James, the Golden Boot winner at the 2014 World Cup, managed seven in each of his Bundesliga campaigns.

    He struck a total of 15 times in all for Bayern, having averaged 2.3 shots and 3.5 touches in the opposition box per match.

    Coutinho's role is still to be determined and how his team-mates receive him remains to be seen, but an average of 3.3 shots and 4.6 touches in the opposition box over the course of 90 minutes portrays a player who will actively seek out his own opportunities.

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