For Barca and Brazil, Coutinho finds himself falling down the pecking order

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Ousmane Dembele is an injury doubt for Barcelona against Lyon in the return leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie on Wednesday. Neymar and Vinicius Junior are definitely out of Brazil’s friendlies later this month against Panama and the Czech Republic. It all means that, for both club and country, opportunity is knocking for Philippe Coutinho, but it knocks on both side of the door — the way in and the way out. Coutinho stands as the crossroads, and these next few days will surely shed some light on which way he is heading.

There are two problem areas for Coutinho: position and personality.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

There is nothing barnstorming or ostentatious about the 26-year-old. He comes across as an introverted figure; not the type, perhaps, to walk into a new environment, impose himself and bend it to his will. In truth, his is a career in which the step up has seldom been easy. With Brazil, for example, he was a flop at Under-17 level, and one of the supporting cast in the team that won the Under-20 World Cup. It took him years to become an important part of the senior side, not making his presence felt until the second half of the 2018 qualifiers.9

And in club football, there is a reason that Liverpool were able to make such a huge profit on him. They picked him up for a song from Inter Milan. The Italian giants had a long-term relationship with Coutinho, but appear to have given up on him, and let him leave for a token fee. Liverpool, though, made him feel important — as had Mauricio Pochettino in a previous loan spell at Espanyol.

Barcelona, however, is an altogether more challenging environment. From a psychological point of view, the club were not going to come to him. He had to go to them, fit into a structure built around Lionel Messi and still justify his massive transfer fee. So far, he has not been able to do that. The fans are losing patience — he was booed when he left the field towards the end of Saturday’s game against Rayo Vallecano. There is the danger of this treatment giving force to a spiral of lost self-esteem, in which a player low on confidence produces worse displays, thus leading to more criticism from the terraces.

The process could, of course, be reversed by an outstanding performance against Lyon, but this opens up the second problem area: Where should Coutinho play?cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale Is he the most attacking member of the midfield three, or a member of the attacking trio?

Barcelona appeared to acquire him in the belief that he could be the former, the replacement for their little maestro Andres Iniesta. But after a lengthy trial, coach Ernesto Valverde seems to have come to the conclusion that this is not Coutinho’s best role, that he is not a genuine midfielder and that using him there leaves the team too exposed from a defensive point of view. Valverde now sees Coutinho as a contender in his original position, as a wide member of the front three.