Pundits across Britain’s football world were gushing in their praise of Aston Villa playmaker Philippe Coutinho after his demolition job against Southampton – with one going as far as to say Villa are barely missing Jack Grealish any longer.
Since former Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard brought the Brazilian to Villa Park in January, he has scored three goals and made three assists in eight games, averaging a goal involvement every 86 minutes.
The Brazilian helped set up two goals and scored another in the 4-0 win against the Saints which sets Villa up nicely for Thursday’s visit to struggling Leeds United where a third Premier League win in succession could lift them into ninth place.
The BBC’s former Stoke, Spurs, West Brom and Charlton forward Garth Crooks selected Coutinho in his Premier League team of the week alongside Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez in midfield and his words were music to Villa fans’ ears.
Crooks said: “Villa Park is buzzing again and it’s all down to Philippe Coutinho. When Steven Gerrard landed the services of the Brazilian, he did say that once the player was fully fit he would play a major part in Villa’s progression and that seems to be the case.
“Coutinho is making players play all over the pitch. Why his move to Barcelona didn’t work out is hard to fathom, but I haven’t seen a player have such an impact on a Villa team since Jack Grealish.
“It looks like Coutinho has well and truly replaced Grealish and at a fraction of the cost. Coutinho for Grealish looks like good business done by Villa.”
Who else has been lavishing praise on the Barcelona loanee?
Former Villa, Manchester City and England defender Micah Richards told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Monday Night Club that Coutinho is a player transformed since his struggles with the Spanish giants.
Richards said: “Sometimes you’ve got that manager who just gives you that love and care.
"We knew the talent was there. For whatever reason it didn’t work at Barcelona, but as soon as he came to Aston Villa, I knew it was going to work.
"He’s playing with a freedom that he wasn’t playing with at Barcelona and it’s great to see. Sometimes when you go through that stage when things haven’t gone well, everyone thinks you’re over the hill now and you can never come back.
"But he’s come back and he’s come back with a bang. I’m so happy. It’s like a match made in heaven, it really is."
Legendary Arsenal striker Ian Wright added: “Coutinho got himself into places were Southampton couldn’t pick him up.
“Once he’s got that much time on the ball, he’s going to be a problem.
“He should have scored a hat-trick. He’s brilliant in this kind of form and it’s exactly what they got him in for.”
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