Philippe Coutinho made his first appearance of the season for Liverpool on Wednesday after his attempts to force a move to Barcelona in the summer were unsuccessful.
The Brazilian came on as a second half substitute in the 2-2 draw with Sevilla in the Champions League.
ESPN FC assesses where Coutinho and Liverpool go from here in the short term and long term future following his return.
He needs to repay the support from the fans
There were no signs of ill-feeling from Liverpool supporters toward Coutinho at Anfield on Wednesday night. His name was given a loud cheer when the teams were read out prior to kickoff, and he then received a warm reception from the crowd as he came on with around 15 minutes left. In truth, it probably helped that Liverpool were seeking a winner when Coutinho did come on, with fans hopeful his magic touch would make a timely return.
The majority of Liverpool fans understood the player’s desire to move to the Camp Nou, but they were more frustrated with the way he went about it. After initially showing no signs of disharmony regarding Liverpool’s not-for-sale stance, Coutinho handed in a transfer request on the eve of Liverpool’s season and then didn’t appear in the first six matches of campaign.
The saga was an unwanted distraction for Jurgen Klopp in August. However, if Coutinho returns to his form of last season, Klopp and the fans will quickly forget his actions this summer.
With Mane out, Coutinho has the chance to step up
With Coutinho absent from the Liverpool setup, Sadio Mane has picked up the torch to lead Klopp’s exciting forward line. The Senegalese winger has been Liverpool’s best player of the season so far, and it is easy to forget he’s coming off a serious knee injury that cut short his debut season at Anfield.
However, after his sending off at Manchester City and Liverpool’s failed attempts to reduce the length of the suspension, Sadio Mane will sit out the next three games. It’s a huge blow for Klopp, but Coutinho’s return could not have come at a better time.
With summer signing Mohamed Salah playing on the right wing, Mane has been operating on the left side this season — the position where Coutinho mostly played last term, scoring a career-best 14 goals. It’s time for Coutinho to to get back to doing what he does best — winning games for Liverpool.
He needs to get sharp quickly
Coutinho only had a quarter of an hour to impress against Sevilla and he looked like a player who has been massively short of game time. If Klopp is to be believed, Coutinho is returning from a back injury and needs to work his way back up to full fitness.
The 25-year-old has been participating in full training at Melwood for the past week but is being carefully managed by Klopp. Prior to his absence, Coutinho was extremely impressive in preseason and looked as if he would thrive in a deeper central-midfield role. His season has been interrupted, but Liverpool’s busy schedule means the playmaker needs to get back to full speed as soon as possible.
Whereas he might have once sat out a trip to Leicester City in the League Cup, Tuesday night’s tie looks to be a good opportunity for a much-needed workout.
Barcelona may wait until the summer to go back in for him
A consequence of Coutinho appearing on Wednesday is that he will not be able to play for another club in the Champions League — although not that it matters to Liverpool, who simply don’t want to sell their No. 10.
For Barcelona, however, it might put them off thinking about making a return for Coutinho in the January transfer window. They may have sniffed around in the winter if there were still signs of discontent from Coutinho.
Throw into the mix the uncertainty at boardroom level inside the Catalan outfit, with a vote of no confidence being launched against club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, and Coutinho might have to wait until the summer for the chance to make his dream move to Spain.
One Barcelona former executive has told ESPN FC that Coutinho, a former Inter Milan prodigy, has been admired at the Camp Nou for a long time and is considered a player with a “Barca profile.” It appears unlikely their interest will move on in 12 months’ time, having been willing to spend an eye-watering fee this summer.