Chelsea are reportedly closing in on a deal to bring Philippe Coutinho back to the Premier League from Barcelona.
The 27-year-old Brazilian, formerly of Liverpool, has struggled to make much of an impression in Spain and has spent this season out on loan at Bayern Munich.
The German club aren’t interested in triggering a clause to make the move permanent for £70million and Barcelona are keen to offload Coutinho as well.
Philippe Coutinho, currently on loan at Bayern Munich from Barcelona, is reportedly ‘very close’ to agreeing a summer transfer to Chelsea for £79million
The addition of the Brazilian will boost Frank Lampard’s attacking options for next season
So it looks like he will get another crack at English football this summer. Chelsea and Barcelona had originally discussed a loan move for next season with a view to a permanent move.
But Diario Sport suggest that an outright deal could be done for £79m in the coming weeks, meaning Barcelona take a £66m hit on the fee they paid Liverpool in 2018.
However, with Coutinho excited at the prospect of playing in England again, Frank Lampard and Chelsea stand to gain as they look to challenge Liverpool and Manchester City for the title.
But how would Coutinho best fit in to Chelsea’s system next season? We take a look at a few tactical possibilities.
Left-side of forward three in 4-2-3-1
Lampard certainly hasn’t placed his Chelsea side in a tactical straitjacket during his first season in charge.
Though a relative managerial novice, he hasn’t been afraid to adapt formations to the opposition or the circumstances and we’ve seen a few variations.
But the 4-2-3-1 set-up has just about been the most frequently used, a go-to system that offers Chelsea a good balance of attacking thrust and security at the back.
Barcelona paid £145million to sign Coutinho from Liverpool but it didn’t work out for him
The Brazilian forward has spent this season on loan at Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga
Coutinho’s stats at Bayern 2019-20
Attacking midfield/No 10
20 games, 3 goals, 6 assists
10 games, 6 goals, 3 assists
2 games, 0 goals, 0 assists
Coutinho will certainly be familiar with this way of playing as it’s typically how Bayern Munich have lined up this season, with the Brazilian stationed on the left side of the three or in the central No 10 role.
Some of Coutinho’s stand-out performances in Bayern colours have come from the left side, where he can cut in from the flank and perhaps cross or look to curl in a shot.
It was where he played in his best display of the season, when he scored a hat-trick and also set up goals for Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller in a 6-1 thrashing of Werder Bremen back in December.
And also more recently in scoring twice in a 6-0 away thrashing of Hoffenheim that cemented Bayern’s position at the top of the table.
Coutinho’s finest display in Bayern colours came in December’s thrashing of Werder Bremen
Coutinho scores in Bayern Munich’s 6-0 thrashing of Hoffenheim back in late February
New arrival from Ajax Hakim Ziyech is likely to play on the right side, so Coutinho can compete with the likes of Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi for the berth on the left.
Lampard won’t be short of options, perhaps utilising Coutinho’s greater experience of Champions League occasions should Chelsea make it next season.
In this position, we can expect to see Coutinho taking on opposition right-backs but also cutting inside often to either shoot for goal or try and pick out Tammy Abraham in the box or Ziyech ghosting to the back post.
How Chelsea could line-up next season with Coutinho on the left-side in a 4-2-3-1 formation
No 10 role in a 4-2-3-1
There’s an argument to be made that Coutinho is equally comfortable playing the No 10 role behind the striker.
He has featured there often for Bayern, especially in the opening weeks of the season and it plays to the creative elements of his game.
His role would be to support Abraham as the sole striker and pick the passes into the opposition box. Coutinho would also be willing to take aim from the edge of the area.
But there would be stiff competition for this position. Chelsea fans would probably prefer to see Lampard pick homegrown rising star Mason Mount there, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley would also expect a fair chance.
Chelsea have already completed the signing of right-sided forward Hakim Ziyech from Ajax
Chelsea will hope that Coutinho can find the excellent form that deserted him at Barcelona
With Coutinho in the centre, Ziyech on the right and either Pulisic or Hudson-Odoi on the left, however, Chelsea would certainly pack a punch.
The Brazilian’s skill and craft would come into play to complement the speed and directness out wide.
It’s also the position where Coutinho spent a lot of his time at Liverpool before being shunted out to the left side at Barcelona, so we know he can perform there in the Premier League.
It’s also worth noting that Coutinho has very occasionally played on the right-flank but you have to imagine that with Ziyech and also Hudson-Odoi and Pulisic more adept on this side, he’ll only be deployed there in extremis.
Both Callum Hudson-Odoi (left) and Christian Pulisic would provide competition on the left
Left midfield in a 4-3-3
Lampard has opted for the 4-3-3 system in quite a few matches this season and it’s possible Coutinho would fit in well on the left side of this formation.
With his attacking instincts, you’d expect Coutinho to be well advanced on the left side supporting the forward, which could leave the left-back exposed.
It would fall on the two midfielders with him, say N’Golo Kante and Jorginho, to take the greater burden of defensive work.
Chelsea will want to deploy Coutinho in a role that makes use of his pace and trickery
But Kante, as we know, is a workhorse and Jorginho can play a deep-lying passer role anyway, so that could work. If Mount or Barkley were also in midfield, there could be problems with defensive cover.
But going forward, Chelsea would pose a real threat down the left. If Coutinho was acting in support of Pulisic or Hudson-Odoi, opposition defences would have to put two or three men on them, opening up gaps elsewhere.
Coutinho would still be able to drive infield and it would play more to his ball control and passing abilities but he would certainly have to track back more, which wouldn’t come naturally.
How Chelsea could line up next season with Coutinho in midfield in a 4-3-3 formation
Off the striker in a 3-4-2-1
Lampard has set his team up in a 3-4-2-1 on various occasions this season, with mixed results.
Those who played for Chelsea under Antonio Conte know exactly how this works with three central defenders and flying wing-backs on each side.
Their supply of width is vital because you effectively have two players in the No 10 role behind the striker. You’d imagine Coutinho would play as one of the two, with Marcos Alonso on the left.
Coutinho will relish another crack at the Premier League after his former spell at Liverpool
It certainly has merits as Coutinho is capable of playing in support of a striker and his workload in this regard would be halved.
But would the temptation to drift out to the left side be too strong?
Also there would be plenty of competition for places, meaning Coutinho would have to hit the ground running when he arrived.