Barcelona believe record signing Philippe Coutinho has a long-term future at the club despite recent criticism although there are doubts over where he fits into the side, sources have told ESPN FC.
Coutinho has been taken off in each of Barca’s last three matches and his position in the starting lineup is under threat following the return of Ousmane Dembele.
Dembele replaced Coutinho for the final 15 minutes of Sunday’s goalless draw at Athletic Bilbao. Prior to the Frenchman’s injury, the former Liverpool man had started four consecutive league games on the bench.
Sources have told ESPN FC that there are doubts about where exactly Coutinho fits into Ernesto Valverde’s side but called for patience to be shown with the €160 million signing. Coutinho, 26, arrived in January 2018 with the long-term idea of taking Andres Iniesta‘s place in midfield.
Valverde abandoned that plan just a few games into this season, though, in search of a more balanced midfield and attack. The coach restored Coutinho to the left of the front three initially but his place was soon taken by Dembele.
An ankle sprain picked up by the France international in January gave Coutinho another run in the team but, aside from scoring twice in the 6-1 win over Sevilla, he has failed to deliver in the final third.
Coutinho has made a total of 33 appearances in all competitions this season, with 24 of those coming from the start. He has scored eight goals and set up five more but has found the net just once from open play in his last 19 outings.
Speculation in the Catalan press suggests he must deliver between now and the end of the season to save his Barca career. The editor of newspaper Diario Sport, Ernest Folch, wrote that it was “now or never” for him.
However, according to ESPN FC sources, Barca are happy with Coutinho and will give him time to become a success at Camp Nou. President Josep Maria Bartomeu told Spanish radio last week that he is “not for sale” and director Guillermo Amor praised his quality after the weekend’s blank at San Mames.
“We are happy with his performances,” Amor told reporters. “He has to give us a lot, and he will.
“Every time he plays he shows his quality. He takes risks, he tries to make things happen. He is being watched through a magnifying glass at the moment but we believe he’s going to keep moving forward.”