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The 150-million-euro question

Coutinho was presented at the Camp Nou on Monday.
Coutinho was presented at the Camp Nou on Monday. / Reuters
  • Many see Philippe Coutinho as Andrés Iniesta's successor, but there's life in the old dog yet. So where does he fit in?

So it's all signed and sealed but the big questions is: “Would Philippe Coutinho make it into Barcelona's current best eleven?”

An outrageous question when the Liga leaders have just broken the Spanish and indeed Premier League record to bring the Liverpool midfielder to Spain. He's clearly a star for the future, potentially world-class but isn't necessarily an automatic choice upon arrival.

A few so-called experts suggested that he's here to replace Andrés Iniesta, which is probably correct in the long-term but not the immediate. One of the football intelligentsia claimed that Iniesta is no longer as influential. I suspect he doesn't watch every game.

Iniesta is still the orchestrator, the man who sets the rhythm and fine tunes the younger players around him. Ernesto Valverde seems to have a pact that Iniesta will start virtually every game but won't finish them. A quick check suggests that the 77th minute is as long as the coach will push him. He's only been asked to play for 90 minutes once, against Malaga.

So, Iniesta isn't budging and he probably has Xavi's club appearance record in his sights.

The other easy target is Ivan Rakitić who is undervalued by so many, but not the manager. The Croatian has played more minutes than any other outfielder apart from Lionel Messi.

The test will be when Barcelona have to pick their very best side. For me there is one place up for grabs alongside Messi and Luis Suárez. When it came to the Clásico, the honour was given to Paulinho. Presently, it would be between the Brazilian and Ousmane Dembélé who is finally fit again.

Coutinho will have to recover from injury before he can stake a claim. It would make sense for the 150-million-euro signing to play the Liga matches and allow Iniesta, Rakitic and Paulinho a chance to rest and rotate with the emphasis on peaking in the Champions League (where Countinho is ineligible to play).

Examination weekend will be in May when Barcelona face Real Madrid again and Valverde will select his preferred eleven from his full squad. Until then, Coutinho will be learning the ropes.

The beast unleashed

The biggest challengers appear to be Atlético Madrid who finally unleashed Diego Costa back into the wilds of La Liga last week. He didn't disappoint.

If you played Costa Bingo you would have a full house: yellow card for elbowing opponent - check; goal - check; red card - check; suspension - check.

It was cruel, and his face was a picture, when he was cautioned for running into the crowd to celebrate his comeback goal.

Welcome back Diego, we've missed you.