There is no doubt that Steven Gerrard has really revitalised Aston Villa since his appointment as manager, with the club soaring back up to 11th, level on points with two games in hand over Crystal Palace in 10th.
The loan signing of Barcelona attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho was a masterstroke from the Liverpool legend, who contacted his former teammate and persuaded him to join the Midlands club in a bid to revive his career.
Villa have now won three of their last six, and are putting on some very impressive performances, including the weekend’s 4-0 win at home to Southampton – who themselves have had a very good season too under Ralph Hasenhuttl.
However, Coutinho’s footballing intelligence and quality proved to be too much for the Saints defenders to handle, as he created one goal and scored another himself, taking his tally for the season so far in the Premier League to three goals and three assists in just seven appearances.
He should have had two more goals to his name though, after missing a couple of big chances – as well as creating two big chances – with compatriot Douglas Luiz burying one of them.
Despite some critics like Chris Sutton, who labelled him as a “flat-track bully” in a recent interview on Radio 5 Live, Coutinho has won over the fans of Villa and pundits, particularly former defender Micah Richards who replied to Sutton’s comments, saying: “That is one of the worst things you’ve ever done.”
Meanwhile, journalist Fabrizio Romano has claimed that Gerrard wants to make the deal permanent, saying: “Steven Gerrard would love to keep Philippe Coutinho at Aston Villa.
“Buy option clause available for €40m – [the Villa] board wants to wait until May and then make final decision, while they’re happy with Coutinho.”
Coutinho ranks in the top 3% among attacking midfielders across Europe’s top five leagues and continental competitions for carries into the final third per 90 (3.26), as well as top 10% for percentage of dribbles completed per 90 (63.3%) and top 11% for expected goals per 90 (0.42).
The quality he has brought to the team as been invaluable, and fans will be desperate for Gerrard and the board to trigger the buy option in the summer ahead of a potential push for European football qualification next campaign.
They simply have to make him a permanent part of the furniture if they want to move to the next level.