Liverpool and Barcelona have confirmed a deal that will send Philippe Coutinho to the Camp Nou after the Brazil international completes a medical and agrees personal terms. What impact will this have on Jurgen Klopp & Co.? ESPN FC’s Liverpool correspondent Glenn Price answers the key questions.
1. What will Liverpool do with the money?
Of course, replacing one of the best players in the world isn’t an easy task. Liverpool have been in this position before when they also sold Luis Suarez to Barcelona in 2014, while Tottenham Hotspur had varying levels of success reinvesting the money they received from Real Madrid for Gareth Bale.
After Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, took a firm not-for-sale stance in the summer, there’s a clear indication that the decision to let Coutinho now head for La Liga has come from Jurgen Klopp’s word. It is also a huge risk letting a stellar player depart midway through a promising season. The decision will rightly be questioned by Liverpool supporters, particularly if a significant amount of the Coutinho money is not spent on new signings who can arrive at Anfield and make meaningful contributions to the second half of the 2017-18 campaign.
This season sees Liverpool handily placed in the Premier League table and in the last 16 of the Champions League; therefore, quality over quantity is needed at Liverpool now.
Monaco’s Thomas Lemar was a target in the summer regardless of Coutinho’s future, but would the 22-year-old be on a hiding to nothing if christened as Coutinho’s replacement? Young forwards Christian Pulisic and Julian Brandt have also been on Liverpool’s radar in the past. Leicester City playmaker Riyad Mahrez has also been muted as a possible target this month, but a source has told ESPN FC that there is no interest from Liverpool at this stage.
It leaves Liverpool in a difficult position. If they intend to spend the Coutinho money this month, they will have to convince other clubs to let go of their best players halfway through the season, something Liverpool have reluctantly done with Coutinho.
They can of course wait until the summer to spend, but that is another risk. By May, Klopp’s side could be out of the top four and a lack of Champions League football could turn off any potential targets. Selling your best players isn’t the most enticing look, either.
2. How do Liverpool get by without Coutinho in the short-term future?
Signings aside, Liverpool will undoubtedly miss the match-winning ability Coutinho possesses. His talent had improved season by season at Anfield and he was on easily course for the best scoring tally of his career this season despite missing the entire month of August.
Coutinho has been a long-standing target of Barcelona — viewed as a player with a “Barca profile,” as one source close to the La Liga side explained — but it has been his consistency over the past two seasons that justifies his move to Spain.
His departure leaves Klopp with a headache. Coutinho has spent a lot of the season playing in a midfield role to accommodate Mohamed Salah. Salah’s start at Liverpool has ensured that Coutinho isn’t exactly sorely missed from the front-line but the latter’s brilliance has also been a massive contributor to the continued proficiency of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
Indeed, Adam Lallana’s recent return from injury is encouraging. His performance at Burnley on New Year’s Day was a timely reminder of the flair and energy he brings. The 29-year-old could have an important part to play in 2018 should he manage to avoid injury. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also looks promising, having now settled in at Liverpool following his Arsenal move.
Both players should allow Liverpool’s forward trio to continue firing on all cylinders but they may not be able to entirely plug the gap of quality Coutinho’s departure now leaves.
3. What does Coutinho’s sale mean for Liverpool’s other stars?
Coutinho leaves Liverpool less than a year after signing a five-year contract that included no release clause and made him the club’s highest-paid player. But it’s not as simple to suggest that Liverpool should stop selling their best players.
Players have their own dreams, aspirations and egos, which in most cases tends to lead to transfers. Indeed, one of the reasons Neymar left Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain was because he wanted to get out of his comfort zone, according to his father.
Meanwhile, Coutinho didn’t win a single trophy during his time at Liverpool. The club’s current top scorer, Salah, one day aims to become the “best player in the history of Egyptian football.” He may feel he can further his career at another club at some point in the future. The same could be said for Mane and Firmino, too.
Klopp says the club did everything possible in an attempt to convince Coutinho to stay but in the end, the player’s desire to move to Spain meant that wasn’t possible.
Liverpool need to put themselves in a position where players shouldn’t want to leave Anfield. Being realistic, however, as players come and go, the Merseyside club need to have the foresight and structure in place to ensure that a season doesn’t crumble when one player leaves.