Summer transfer window and Twitter in meltdown, rumours and counter rumours. Liverpool on the verge of signing a player then it falls through, who do you believe? How can we not get transfers over the line? There is so many on Twitter who claim they have sources close to the club, and everyone starts believing a player is going to be paraded in front of ecstatic fans as the new messiah. Fans, take a moment, chill, I only believe when a number of known sources start reporting or indeed when Liverpool themselves announce it.
Virgil Van Dijk and Naby Keita as yet neither have happened, both seem genuine targets, been reported by many, but for whatever reason, and only those in the clubs or the agents, no exactly why this has not happened, has the fee not been met that the current club think the player is valued at? Is the current club not going to sell unless an extortionate figure is paid? Is the player not too keen on the move, as has a particular place in mind he wants to move to? All plausible reasons, but like I have said only those in the know really know, not some keyboard warrior who wants his fifteen minutes of glory on social media with a story saying “my source has told me” line.
Liverpool also has interest in their own players to tend to, and in particular Brazilian star, Philipe Coutinho. Not surprisingly, a number of top European clubs are looking to acquire this player, and the one club that seems keener than others are Catalan giants, Barcelona who according to a number of known reports have made a bid for the player reported to be at £72 million, which was turned down, but who knows they may well be back with an improved bid, especially if Neymar makes the move to Paris St Germain. So watch this space.
Coutinho is a fantastic player, scores goals, makes assists, can go past players and create or score from nothing. There is no doubt with Coutinho in the playing ranks as Liverpool they are a better team. The Brazilian international is still only 25 years of age, and when he joined Liverpool in 2013 for a fee of only £8.5 million from Internazionale, it was a bit of a risk as after he burst on the scene with Internazionale as an 18-year-old when he was rated as the future of Internazionale, he had lost his way a bit, indeed being loaned out to mid table side in La Liga, Espanyol in 2012, hence why Liverpool got the player at such a great price, as it has indeed turned out. For an attacking midfielder/forward his most prolific season from a goalscoring perspective was last season where he scored 13 League goals in 31 league appearances but his game is more about creating chances for others, which he excels at.
The challenges Liverpool have is many a players head has been turned by Barcelona showing an interest in the player. Luis Suarez will know the player well and the ability he has. At Barcelona, he would be challenging for major trophies year in and year out for the foreseeable future, an opportunity like that is hard to resist even if you are loyal to a club that allowed you an opportunity to play regularly at a high level again after losing your way at Internazionale. Also, a charismatic manager such as Jurgen Klopp, who wants to build a side capable of challenging on all fronts, is a manager many players would want to follow. Is this enough?
Liverpool are in a tricky situation, they have failed to date, to land two major targets in Van Dijk and Keita so far to date, so if they then sell Coutinho, then fans will be up in arms, and many will cease believing that Liverpool are looking to build a potentially great side when you are selling arguably your best player, a thought process which is completely understandable, however, if Barcelona want him and are willing to bid around £80 million or higher judging by some of the transfer fees we are seeing for some players, then Liverpool would have to seriously consider their options.
I read today that as Liverpool named Coutinho as captain in a pre-season friendly against Hertha Berlin, that there is no way they would do that unless the player was staying. Have to say I don’t agree with this mindset at all. It’s a friendly, it’s a game where you look to get match fitness and try new things, for me the fact he was captain means nothing in terms of if he is staying or not, remember Jon Flanagan and Jose Enrique being captain in more prominent matches and how have did their Liverpool careers go not that long after? But I guess for some fans they just look for reassurance, they want him to stay and I totally understand that.
Is Coutinho irreplaceable to Liverpool? In my view, there are few players in the world who are irreplaceable. Football clubs in the past and in the future lose players who fans love, but then use that money to bring in a replacement, or replace that player from within and use the money to strengthen the side elsewhere. Using Liverpool themselves as an example, in 1986 they sold star striker Ian Rush to Juventus for £3.2 million, the man who only the season previous, had season 30 league goals, and 40 goals in all competitions. Too many fans at the time, it was going to make the club a great deal weaker. What did Liverpool do? They used the £3.2 million bringing in John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and John Aldridge, three fantastic players for the football club, making Liverpool an even greater threat and the winning of major competitions did not stop.
Where Liverpool do have a challenge is if they do cash in on Coutinho, can they attract the real top names to the club? Is the structure in place, other clubs with huge finances such as PSG, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona can they compete for the elite players? For me, if Coutinho does go, then they could replace him with the current playing staff. Coutinho last season mainly played in a narrow left position in an attacking three, well if they copy that this season, new signing Mohammad Salah in the big key games could play that role. If they want to get Coutinho into a more central number 10 type role, to link with the main striker, then Liverpool have a number of players whose skills transfer strongly into that role such as Adam Lallana, Georginio Wijnaldum and could play Roberto Firmino in that role, especially if Daniel Sturridge catches fire this season, Klopp has been very complimentary of the English international this pre-season saying he is the fittest he has been since he has been at the club.
There is a lot of talk that Coutinho this season will play in a deeper role this season on a regular basis, potentially playing a role in a three man midfield set up. There is no doubt that Coutinho has the passing range to be very creative in this role and indeed the few times he has played in a deeper role last season against West Ham and Watford and this weekend against Hertha Berlin he has put in some outstanding performances.
My concern over this role is when we come up against the real Heavyweight teams will he struggle to gain a foothold in a deeper role? In my view when Liverpool are dominating possession and on the front foot Coutinho will excel in that role, but when under the cosh and playing alongside a combination of a duo made up from Jordan Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana, James Milner, Ovie Ejaria and Emre Can, Liverpool could get overrun and the protection for an already brittle defence could fold. In my view Liverpool really need to bring in a strong defensively capable midfielder as Henderson has had his injury concerns for a few seasons and if he misses matches this year there could be an issue. Can can step in but again in my view, his strength is on the ball, surging through the midfield not plugging holes.
In closing, would I be disappointed if Coutinho was sold? Absolutely. If Liverpool acquired £80 plus million and then used that money to bring in players in positions where Liverpool need to strengthen if, in my opinion, they want to be serious challengers for the title, and what I mean by that is by Easter be within a few points, and be in the latter stages of The Champions League, and those positions being goalkeeper, centre back (at least one top centre back), a creative attacking midfielder and another central midfielder then I could accept that. There are some outstanding talent out there without paying £70 plus million, players such as Kasper Schmeichel, Davinson Sanchez, Stefan De Vrij, Kostas Manolas, Kalidou Koulibaly, Nemanja Matic, Leon Goretzka, Kasper Dolberg and Christian Pulisic to name just a few, and Liverpool hopefully if they need to, can find and attract that kind of talent and ability.
Whatever does happen, we are all in for an interesting period now up until the end of August when the transfer window ends, what will the playing squad look like? Only time will tell.
Written by Craig Muncey
Twitter – @CraigMuncey