“I hope he can improve by the end of the season – that’s the challenge I gave him, because if he plays for Braga all the time, next season he will be ready to to play for a team like Braga or better.”
Those were the words of Carlos Carvalhal in January as he challenged Braga’s raging right-back Yan Couto to take his game to the next level.
And the 19-year-old responded in kind.
The Manchester City loanee’s superb strike in the 2-1 win over Portimonese was the latest indication he was heading in the right direction.
Couto – who excels at right-back – is primed and ready to excel against Rangers in their tantalizing Europa League quarter-final.
But it won’t be the Brazilian’s first jet-heeled trip to Glasgow.
He was invited to attend Celtic’s 3-0 game against Jablonec in August as Ange Postecoglou’s side showed early signs that they would be a team to be reckoned with this season.
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That visit to Parkhead came amid Celtic’s ‘find a right-back’ operation – a search that has linked Sacha Boey, Aurelio Buta, George Baldock and Brandon Soppy to the Postecoglou squad.
The Premiership title challengers have kept their cool and there wouldn’t be a single fan who would swap Josip Juranovic for any of the other linked names.
Mailsport revealed in August that Couto was keen to join on a long-term loan from Manchester City, but ultimately opted for Braga.
And it works for Couto as well as he sees his star rising with Braga, making 30 appearances has helped take his game to the next level.
His budding form should lead to a key role against Rangers. It will be a fascinating tactical battle with Rangers boss Gio van Bronckhorst proving himself capable of going head-to-head in a 3-5-2 to give his opponents pause.
Couto’s move to Braga proves beneficial for both.
Carvalhal is able to get the most out of a player who looks set for a career at the top, while the Brazilian can refine his game to prove a viable option for Pep Guardiola in the long run.
And the former Swansea and Sheffield Wednesday boss thinks it’s a realistic goal for a player he’s challenged to marry defensive sensibilities with a natural attacking swagger.
Addressing the Manchester Evening NewsCarvalhal said: “He’s better offensively than defensively, and we’re trying to improve the defensive part of his game, and in transitions too.
” He’s getting better. When he arrived we changed him regularly as he adapted to the team but recently he was playing all the time. We are happy with him, but we think he can do better.
“Offensively, he’s a very good player. He can make a difference in our attacking dynamics, but he needs to improve to be a player at Manchester City’s level.
“Pep Guardiola likes good players and Yan has a good relationship with the ball.
“I told him that to play for City he has to be very good in attacking organization, and he is good. But he also has to be good in defensive organization, and he has to improve that.
“He is good in offensive transition, but also needs to improve defensive transition to play at this level. It’s the challenge, the defensive organization and the defensive transition – he has to be stronger to play at the best level.
“If you ask me if he can do it in the future, I think so, but he needs more time in my opinion – or if, at the end of the season, he has improved from these 30%, we have a complete player.
“At the moment he is a good player who has things to improve to play at a high level.”
Couto’s last trip to Glasgow proved fleeting, however, Rangers and their coaching staff will be acutely aware that the Braga star will make a big impact when he returns.
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