By Anthony Onifade

8th Sep, 2023 | 8:40pm

Aston Villa fans wait in anticipation as Philippe Coutinho exit now confirmed, Nicolo Zaniolo the ideal replacement

Philippe Coutinho’s Aston Villa loan exit has now been confirmed and the club fans will be waiting in anticipation as he calls time on a difficult career at Villa Park.

Italian transfer guru Fabrizio Romano took to his personal Twitter account on 6 September to report that Qatar side Al Duhail were closing in on the Brazilian’s signature with an agreement now sealed on a loan move with his full salary covered.

CBS journalist Ben Jacobs, also took to his personal Twitter account (4 September) to share Coutinho being spotted in Doha ahead of his move which has now been officially confirmed by the club in a Tweet shared on Friday 8 September.

The former Liverpool and Barcelona man rejected offers from Besiktas and Real Betis to join Al-Duhail and will now become Aston Villa’s seventh departure of the summer joining the likes of Cameron Archer, Jaden Philogene-Bidace and Marvelous Nakamba to seek pastures new.

Coutinho signed for Villa for a big-money £17million fee last summer from Barcelona after a successful loan spell with the club the season before where he hit eight goal involvements (five goals and three assists) from 16 Premier League starts (19 appearances in total).

However, since then, the former Liverpool player’s form and confidence have taken an incredible hit, with injuries proving the decisive factor, only making just three starts since the turn of 2023.

In fact, Coutinho’s star has sadly been on the wane over the past few seasons and the 2022-23 campaign did indicate a player who struggles to influence a game like he used to.

The Premier League intensity always seems to overwhelm him when he takes to the pitch as evidenced by the injury he picked up in his latest Villa appearance during the 4-0 win over Everton where he was only on the field for 21 minutes [SofaScore], which suggests he may already be past his best at the age of 31.

While the Brazilian’s exit is on temporary this time around, the Aston Villa faithful will certainly be waiting in anticipation for his permanent Villa Park end and they are confident they already have a quality replacement lined up in Nicolo Zaniolo.

In just his second appearance for the club following his loan move from Galatasaray, the 24-year-old did more than his attacking teammates impressed in a brief cameo against Liverpool at Anfield (3 September), despite being handed just 25 minutes from the bench.

During that time, the Italian demonstrated his potential at both ends of the pitch, which would have delighted his manager on an otherwise miserable day at the office.

As per SofaScore, Zaniolo completed six out of his eight passes, won three out of his five duels, was successful with his one dribble attempt, and made one key pass.

Moreover, the attacker made two tackles, one interception and one clearance, faring much better than his fellow Aston Villa substitutes Youri Tielemans and Jhon Duran in this regard.

The 24-year-old has endured a difficult past couple of seasons with severe knee injuries but actually enjoyed a brief renaissance last term in Turkey, registering five goals from 10 Super Lig games.

Zaniolo, during his time with Roma, was named the Serie A Young Player of the Year for the 2018-19 campaign and earned his first call-up to the national team in 2018 and was earmarked as one of Europe’s most exciting attacking prospects.

The Italian international is an innovative and imaginative attacking outlet when on form. Over the past 365 days, Zaniolo ranks well amongst attacking midfielders and wingers in Europe’s top five leagues for some of his goals and shot-creating action metrics, ranking in the 95th percentile for successful take-ons that lead to a goal, 99th percentile for fouls drawn leading to a goal and in the 73rd percentile for goal-creating actions [FBRef].

Whether he can reach those exciting levels at Aston Villa again remains to be seen but if Emery is good at anything, it’s reviving the careers of players who have somewhat stalled in their career which suggests Zaniolo is making the right move at this stage in his career.

Aston Villa desperately needed more attacking reinforcements and they arguably couldn’t get a better alternative in through the door in Zaniolo. Coutinho can certainly now become a distant memory at Villa Park.

In other Aston Villa news, one player Unai Emery loves faces arguably the biggest test of his career at Villa Park following a dreadful new development.