The Brazil attacker flopped in Catalunya but is averaging a goal involvement every 96 minutes during his loan spell in Bavaria
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On Wednesday evening, Barcelona and Real Madrid played out one of the worst Clasicos in years, recording only their second goalless encounter in La Liga in the last 30 years.
Neither team created much of note, with hosts Barca lacking the spark required to bring the team to life. Every time they had possession, they looked to find Lionel Messi to get him to work his magic. Their lack of a Plan B was painfully obvious.
There was no creativity from Ernesto Valverde’s side, while joint-record signing Antoine Griezmann was replaced by a teenager with time running out, having had no shots on target during the game.
The French forward cost the club €120 million (£107m/$134m), the same fee that they paid for Philippe Coutinho in January 2018.
However, while Barcelona were struggling to create chances at Camp Nou, their Brazilian joint-record signing was in action 1,000 kilometres away, starting for Bayern Munich at Freiburg in the Bundesliga.
Coutinho also was taken off with time running out, but had been busy with five shots in total and two on target as Bayern recorded a late win to stay four points behind league leaders RB Leipzig.
Despite being the club’s most expensive purchase, Coutinho’s time at Barcelona looks to be over, having moved to Munich on a one-season loan with a purchase option included as part of the deal.
Having decided not to take up their purchase option for James Rodriguez from Real Madrid last summer, Bayern could do the same with Coutinho in the summer of 2020, but he has quickly become a favourite at the Allianz Arena and his team-mates are urging the club to sign him permanently.
The 27-year-old attacker has bounced back after a disappointing season in 2018-19 with Barcelona and had a career-best five goal involvements in a single game on Saturday when he hit a hat-trick and racked up two assists in a 6-1 demolition of Werder Bremen.
In total, Coutinho has scored seven goals and created five others in 21 games for Bayern, averaging a goal involvement every 96 minutes.
One of those seven goals came in the Champions League, where he rounded off the scoring in Bayern’s 3-1 win over Tottenham to become the competition’s best group stage performers ever.
“He’s in very good shape and is on the right track,” Bayern head coach Hansi Flick said afterwards.
“It’s not easy to come to Germany and get a foothold straight away. He will show his quality again.”
Three days later, Coutinho bagged his treble against Bremen. The performance earned rave reviews from Robert Lewandowski and David Alaba, who would like to see the Brazilian continue to wear Bayern red for the foreseeable future.
“If you watched the game today, we have to buy him, right?” Alaba enthused, while Lewandowski was similarly effusive in his praise.
“That was his game today, with the ball, with the movement,” the Poland striker told the club’s official website.
“How he did it was outstanding. We need such a player. I am very pleased that he showed how good he is and what great potential he has.”
Even with their lack of creativity in El Clasico, Barcelona still see a future without Coutinho and would be willing to sell him for less than the €120m agreed as part of the deal with Bayern.
They have already got his wages off the books for 2019-20, received a loan fee of €8.5m (£7.5m/$9.3m) and would be looking to recoup more of their investment in the summer.
With 30-year-old Thomas Muller admitting he could leave Munich after 20 years at the club, Coutinho has proven he can be the perfect replacement as a creator in behind Lewandowski.
“It’s planned that I stay a year here. I’m focusing on that time,” Coutinho said at the start of December. “I feel good here. If everything goes well, I really would like to stay.”
Since then, things have definitely gone well for him, with four goals, two assists and three wins in three games, helping him pass his Bayern audition with flying colours and making it very difficult for the club’s bosses not to make his transfer permanent.