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Philippe Coutinho, Lionel Messi, and Antoine Griezmann - three stars who can’t play together

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Barcelona have invested very foolishly in the transfer market

FC Barcelona v C.A. Osasuna - La Liga Santander Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images

If Barcelona’s 2-1 loss to Cádiz taught us anything, it’s that conceding two ridiculous goals against a team that has a good defense is a very stupid policy. But if it taught us two things, it’s that Philippe Coutinho, Lionel Messi, and Antoine Griezmann can’t play together.

Simply put, Barcelona has over-invested in two players who prefer to play where Messi plays, which is crazy because Messi is the club’s best ever player.

In a 4-2-3-1 system, the optimal position for Messi, Coutinho, and Griezmann - oh yes, and young talent Riqui Puig - is in middle of the band of three attackers, right behind the striker.

In that loss, Coutinho was fielded on the left, with Griezmann central, and Messi on the right. Essentially, the team had three advanced playmakers most comfortable in the center and no true wingers.

That Koeman hooked an ineffective Coutinho for Ousmane Dembélé at half-time was no surprise. Unfortunately, the Frenchman is now injured and may be out for a time, perhaps making Koeman more likely to repeat the mistake of fielding Coutinho alongside Griezmann and Messi.

Barcelona sought a buyer for Coutinho but ultimately couldn’t find one last summer. The truth is he was a spectacularly poor investment, possibly the worst in the club’s history. While Coutinho is not an awful player, he simply has not fit into Barcelona and has not provided the kind of level necessary for a record signing to show.

Griezmann is a hard working and very talented player but also seems out of sorts in Barcelona. It’s still unclear for what position he was bought (left-wing?) and he still seems unsure playing at Camp Nou.

Messi doesn’t seem happy in Catalonia either, and the system doesn’t seem to particularly suit him. Meanwhile, Puig is on the verge of being pushed out of the team entirely.

Truly this squad should only have at most, two of Messi, Griezmann, and Coutinho, and possibly only one of them.

There’s an argument that Barcelona should have accepted Messi’s will to leave last summer, and try to get the money in his sale to invest in a long-term project. Griezmann could have taken the mantle as the team’s main player in the attack, and you could build a different sort of team.

On the other hand, the team was too timid after they kept Messi to move on Coutinho and possibly Griezmann as well. They didn’t want to sell for a low price, particularly with an economic downturn after the pandemic first spread to Europe.

But with how the team has performed with them in the side, is their value really going up anyway? Will there be a buyer enticed now, when there wasn’t before?

With the injuries along the forward line, it may be harder for Koeman not to field all of them together. Perhaps Griezmann could be put as the main striker, allowing a different player to play on the left and allowing Coutinho to play in the center. This might work a bit better, although Griezmann is not a striker, and Koeman himself moaned about previous coaches not putting him in his best position. Would the Frenchman be an upgrade over Martin Braithwaite, who is in good scoring form?

Barcelona will probably be unlikely to sell Coutinho in the winter transfer window, because there is still no buyer who is going to match their valuation. But at what point is it too much, and you accept that you’re never going to get that money back? The Brazilian probably has still a chance at a bright future, but it’s most likely not at Barcelona.

Then the question becomes: can you keep both Griezmann and Messi?