For all his enthusiasm and exuberance on the touchline during matches and beyond a smiling reluctance to confirm or deny a potential departure in press conferences, Jurgen Klopp must be left scratching his head in frustration at the very real prospect of losing Philippe Coutinho.
When fellow Brazilian superstar Neymar packed his bags for Paris and departed the Camp Nou this summer, although Barcelona were left reeling initially, they quickly composed themselves and set about looking for a quality replacement; which ultimately started a summer transfer saga at Anfield as the La Liga giants sought to lure Liverpool’s star man away from Merseyside.
Liverpool were rigid with their responses and stood firm to reject ever increasing offers, but amidst strong suspicions that agents and representatives from Barcelona had successfully turned his head, Coutinho reportedly handed in a transfer request. The response from the club was just as resolute, but even after the summer transfer window slammed shut, the doubts still remain.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) August 11, 2017
What isn’t in any doubt whatsoever is that if Liverpool are to achieve any genuine level of success this season, their supremely talented attacking midfielder will be a central figure. Klopp’s team have shown exciting glimpses of what they are genuinely capable of, but have also been hugely frustrating at times too.
After a stuttering start to the campaign, the 4-0 thrashing handed to Arsenal has been the domestic highlight so far in the Premier League, but that was quickly followed by an implosion and 5-0 away defeat against Manchester City, as Sadio Mané saw red and Liverpool’s reduced numbers just couldn’t contain Guardiola’s side.
Since then, Liverpool have struggled to rebuild their confidence, but an inspired performance from Coutinho and a superb overall team display in Slovenia could prove to be the much needed turning point, and one that could change things for the positive in more ways than one.
Ahead of the game against Maribor, on the back of draws against Sevilla and Spartak Moscow, Champions League betting tipsters would have been forgiven for expecting a more interesting encounter between Liverpool’s rivals, in what has proven to be a very unpredictable group.
However, Klopp’s side served up an absolute master-class of attacking football and simply tore their hosts apart, banging in four goals in the first half, another early into the second half and two more in the final minutes. For his part, ‘Little Magician’ Coutinho left pundits running out of superlatives with a perfect ten performance individually, as Liverpool achieved their record win in European competition.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) October 18, 2017
Back into Premier League action and there was every reason to be positive the team could build on their European exploits. The exact opposite happened at Wembley against Tottenham, as Liverpool were crushed 4-1 and particularly in the second half, Coutinho cut a forlorn and frustrated figure. Gone were the beaming smiles of midweek, replaced by scowls of concern.
Hardly the sort of continuity Klopp would have been hoping for, if there's any chance of him trying to convince the Brazilian the team is going anywhere this season. Pundits including former Red Mark Lawrenson suggested the club should have sold the Coutinho in the summer and shouldn't miss any opportunity to offload the player in January.
His reasoning is that the cash could be used to bring in two or three quality additions for the good of the whole team, rather than continuing to rely on Coutinho as the star figure in the team. Much as nobody likes to see such a talented player leave, Lawrenson makes a good point in terms of one being sacrificed for the good of the many.
Come the January transfer window it seems to be a foregone conclusion that Liverpool will have to brace themselves once again, if they’re to retain the services of Coutinho. Rather than turn their attention elsewhere, senior figures at Barca have already insisted that the 25-year-old remains one of their key transfer targets.