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“A club like Liverpool needs to be in the Champions League.”
As he spoke after his side secured fourth place in the Premier League on the final day of last season, it was pretty obvious what manager Jurgen Klopp was getting at.
Playing in Europe’s premier club competition attracts a higher calibre of player, and is therefore likely to bring about more on-field success.
It should also ensure you keep your best talent.
Yet Liverpool are reportedly facing a fight to keep their star man at Anfield this summer.
Spanish giants Barcelona are sniffing around Philippe Coutinho and are, apparently, willing to pay £80m for the Brazil attacking midfielder.
But former Reds defender Mark Lawrenson does not think the club can afford to lose him.
BBC Sport analyses what Coutinho brings to Liverpool, how they would replace him if he did leave and looks at the Reds’ other summer transfer business.
Liverpool ‘a different team’ with Coutinho
Since arriving from Inter Milan for £8.5m in January 2013, Coutinho has developed into Liverpool’s most potent attacking threat.
That was particularly true last season, when the Reds finished inside the top four for the first time since they were pipped to the title in 2013-14. Coutinho, 25, enjoyed his most productive season since arriving at Anfield.
|Coutinho in the Premier League|
|Season||Games played||Minutes played||Goals||Assists||Chances created (inc. assists)|
“They would miss his goals and assists, and they are a completely different team with him,” said Lawrenson, who helped the Reds win 12 major trophies between 1981 and 1988.
“He’s a massive influence on the other players. Roberto Firmino, particularly, thrives off him and you can see the reaction of Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum too.
“When your best player is playing, and playing well, you are a different side. He has that spark, a bit of magic that lifts the other players.
“All those players also get more room when Coutinho is playing because he is identified as the player to stop.”
|Who made Liverpool tick in front of goal last season?|
Could Sturridge fill the void?
If Coutinho did leave for La Liga, how would Liverpool – who insist he is not for sale – attempt to replace him?
“I think Liverpool would try to adapt by buying a similar player – attacking midfielder, a number 10. Or Klopp might go and splash out on a striker,” said Lawrenson.
“But everyone is looking for those sort of players who provide that bit of magic. Who do you get?”
That’s a question only Klopp and the Liverpool hierarchy can answer.
Liverpool’s main transfer targets appear to be RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita and Southampton captain Virgil van Dijk. The Reds are not being linked with many attacking players.
That will change if Coutinho does leave for the Nou Camp.
Klopp might have one solution already at his disposal: Daniel Sturridge.
The injury-hit striker, 27, has been restricted to just 46 league appearances in the past three seasons, but Klopp says the England international is in the “best condition” he has been in during the German’s time at Anfield.
“There have been a lot of false dawns with Daniel because of all the injuries,” said Lawrenson, who won 39 caps for the Republic of Ireland. “There is no issue whatsoever with his ability. The issue is keeping him – or getting him – on the pitch.
“I think Klopp wants to keep him. It is a big season for Daniel because he has to persuade everybody, including the supporters, that he is capable of playing and scoring on a regular basis.
“He has the ability to score and make goals for himself. He sees things at times even Coutinho doesn’t see. But it is no good if he is sat in the stands every week.”
|Who has provided Liverpool’s goals since Coutinho’s debut?|
Have Liverpool invested enough this summer?
Liverpool, who finished 17 points adrift of champions Chelsea last season, have been relatively frugal in the transfer market compared to their top-four rivals.
The Reds have spent about £44m so far this summer on Roma right-winger Mohamed Salah and Hull City left-back Andrew Robertson, also signing teenage Chelsea striker Dominic Solanke for a fee to be decided by a tribunal.
“Liverpool have not invested enough to make the step up from scraping into the top four to challenging for the title,” Lawrenson said.
“The problem is Liverpool haven’t got that kind of money and the other big guns are strengthening by the day and spending so much money.
“They still need a couple more players, and if Coutinho goes then that couple might go to four.”
Where do Liverpool need to strengthen?
The Reds are willing to pay a club record fee for Keita – who has a £70m price tag – while they are still being linked with Dutch defender Van Dijk, despite insisting last month their interest had ended.
Lawrenson agrees these two areas – a “top-class” centre-back and a midfielder with “guile” – should be Klopp’s priorities.
“I think they will end up getting Van Dijk,” Lawrenson, a former centre-back, said. “I have no inside knowledge but it would appear he wants to come to Liverpool.
“He brings quality, can play from the back, which is great, and with four centre-backs – Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan – it brings competition for places.
“Bringing in a quality player improves the games of the players around them. It keeps everyone on their toes.
“If you know you are going to play in week in, week out it is never quite the same.
“If you turn up on Friday and think ‘I didn’t play very well last week, am I going to play?’ it is completely different.”
Keita, a 22-year-old Guinea international, could also be the solution to the other area of weakness Lawrenson has identified.
He made 31 appearances in the 2016-17 Bundesliga campaign, scoring eight goals and assisting seven following his summer move from sister club RB Salzburg last year.
“I think Liverpool lack a bit of guile in midfield,” said Lawrenson. “And that’s even with Coutinho in the side.
“Jordan Henderson back and fit is a massive bonus, while Emre Can is up and down, up and down, and never stops.
“But I want what I would label a ‘clever’ midfielder. Someone in there who sees the bigger picture.
“If you look at their results against so-called lesser teams, they were nowhere near as good as the results against the other top five or six teams.
“The top teams come and play and back themselves to beat you. All the others come and stop you playing.
“You can’t have enough people who can unlock the door. And that includes Coutinho.”
Liverpool perform better with Coutinho (just)
- Liverpool have won 54.1% of league matches with Coutinho playing, compared to 51.9% without him.
- The Reds also have a higher percentage of shots at goal with him (17.3%) than without him (14.1%).
- No player has scored more goals from outside of the box than Coutinho (15) since he made his Premier League debut in February 2013.
- Only four players have created more scoring chances than Coutinho in this time – Mesut Ozil, Christian Eriksen, Eden Hazard and David Silva.
- Coutinho (34) is the highest-scoring Brazilian in the Premier League of all-time, ahead of Juninho (29) and Roberto Firmino (29).
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