Coutinho makes dream debut as Villa stun Man Utd
Philippe Coutinho came off the bench for Aston Villa to score an equaliser against Manchester United as he made a dream debut in a 2-2 draw.
Coutinho has been through a lot since he swapped Liverpool for Barcelona and there was an immense sense of satisfaction for the 29-year-old as he left Villa Park with cheers ringing in his ears.
“I missed these games and the Premier League,” he told Sky Sports. “It was a good start and we kept believing until the end.
“There have been many ups and downs but that is in the past. I’m here and focused on the objectives of the club and the manager. I want to do a good job to help my team-mates and the club.”
When Liverpool sold Coutinho, there was a certain amount of trepidation at Anfield.
Despite the enormous fee, the absence of the Brazilian’s creativity was expected to leave a massive hole in Jurgen Klopp’s squad.
In fact, Liverpool prospered and used the money to brilliant effect, bringing in goalkeeper Alisson and centre-half Virgil van Dijk as they went on to win in the Champions League and Premier League.
For Coutinho, there has been mainly frustration.
Bizarrely, he has won three league titles during that time. But if anyone is seen as symbolising the profligacy that led Barca to their present status – outside the top four of La Liga, dumped into the Europa League and unable to re-sign Lionel Messi because they had spent so much on players to operate around the brilliant Argentine – it is Coutinho.
But Gerrard has not forgotten the brilliance he showed during his time at Anfield.
A loan move to Bayern Munich and a return to Barca failed to trigger a return to form for Coutinho but Gerrard thinks he can unlock his genius.
“Even if he gets close or somewhere near to it, it will be good for us because he was one of the best players in the league,” said Gerrard.
“He will have belief and I have belief – that is all Phil needs to focus on. He doesn’t have to worry about what has happened previously.”
Although Villa did have Jack Grealish until he was sold to Manchester City for a British record £100m in the summer, it has been a long time since they were able to sign anyone of Coutinho’s pedigree.
Gerrard’s own status has made that possible – and he is relishing the prospect of working with him.
“Phil won’t compare himself to anyone, the name speaks for itself,” said Gerrard.
“Maybe he didn’t have the consistency at Barcelona but that is a tough place to settle.
“Many players have had that experience. I have no doubt we can unlock that talent he has again.”