Sunday 30 April 2017

Coutinho signs on for Klopp’s ‘long-term project’

Jurgen Klopp hugs Philippe Coutinho, who is set to extend his Liverpool contract. Photo: Ian Walton/Getty Images
Jurgen Klopp hugs Philippe Coutinho, who is set to extend his Liverpool contract. Photo: Ian Walton/Getty Images

Chris Bascombe and Samuel Lovett

Philippe Coutinho is on the verge of signing a new deal keeping him at Liverpool for another five years.

The Brazilian will commit his future until 2022, representing a two-year extension to his current terms. The 24-year-old has become one of the most influential players in Jurgen Klopp's squad and his contract will reflect that.

He is likely to become the highest paid player at the club, earning well over £100,000 a week. Liverpool have acted to reward their playmaker for his outstanding form, while also seeking to fend off interest from abroad.

Barcelona are expected to eventually move for Coutinho, but Liverpool believe the player is committed for the foreseeable future and they will not be inserting a release clause in his deal. His market value is around £60 million.

Coutinho has proven one of the most astute purchases of recent years, costing just £8.5 million from Inter Milan in 2013. He has made 122 Liverpool appearances.

Liverpool are expected to reward other members of Klopp's squad with deals this year. Adam Lallana is due for renewed terms, as is centre-back Dejan Lovren.

Trickier

Negotiations with Emre Can have been trickier, however. No agreement has been reached with the German who has 18 months remaining at the club and at the moment discussions are at an impasse.

That isn't a word which can be applied to Liverpool's current run of fixtures with tonight's game against Southampton the start of a 10-day run which could define their season.

A spirited Klopp, however, has dismissed the idea Liverpool's season must be judged on whether they win the Premier League.

"Who thought that this season we had to be champions otherwise we cannot enjoy the season? How can I help this person? How? What can I do?" he said. "We're still close enough to fight for nearly everything. OK, if Chelsea wins then we can't fight but for the rest we can. Let's judge it when it's done.

"We have the next opportunity against Southampton. Let's fight for this, the next and then Chelsea's coming. This is a long-term project."

The flip side to this persuasive positivity is a fan base too accustomed to close calls. Tonight Liverpool play a sixth semi-final since their last silverware - the League Cup under Kenny Dalglish in 2012. They have gone on to lose three finals in that period. Add the torturous finale when Liverpool were Premier League runners-up in 2014 and a nearly-men tag must be shed.

Klopp knows the prize for winning tonight will not just be another trip to Wembley, but also a reminder of the recent finals he and Liverpool have lost.

"You can see we have the quality to fight for the Champions League, we are good enough to do this, and then if we are close enough to the top at the end of the season maybe we can fight for even more.

"We reach for the heights but we don't know in this moment. But it's not because of motivation or readiness. We will be ready on Wednesday," he said.

"We want to be in the final, which will be really difficult against Man United - probably - but it's still possible. I don't even have to say it.

"We wanted to win the competition last year when we reached the final. Our brain functions well enough to remember this. Of course we want to be part of the final but don't just want that, we want to go and win it. The first step is to beat Southampton."

Klopp has frequently been criticised for his team selections in both the EFL and FA Cups, but he has always argued that he picks a team to win, based on fitness and freshness. It has served him well in cup competitions, with a third final in just 16 months at the club within reaching distance - something that all involved are striving for, he says.

"If you saw us celebrating after the quarter-final, we were really happy to go to the semi-final. For us, we don't judge this tournament. It's the earliest possibility in a season but we don't care," the German added.

"It looks like they pressed the EFL Cup in between parts of the season, nobody seems to care about it - the Premier League does not care about it, because we play Wednesday night and then have to play Saturday lunch time.

"But we know how important it all is, and we want to go to the final too. So there is nothing else we can do now, we have to win."

Klopp could spring a surprise tonight by throwing Joel Matip straight back into action after being cleared by FIFA to play, following a dispute with his international side.

Jordan Henderson is also available despite carrying a heel injury, and Klopp will name his strongest line up in a bid to set up a showpiece final with Jose Mourinho's United.

For Liverpool to maintain an impressive record in the League Cup, a competition they have won on a record eight occasions, they must score against Southampton for the first time this season.

The fitness of the in-demand Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk could be decisive, Dutch team-mate Georginio Wijnaldum well aware of his qualities.

"A lot of big clubs in Holland did not want to take the risk on him, so he went to Celtic. Now he is one of the best defenders in the Premier League. I am sure he will make another big move when the time is right," said the midfielder. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Liverpool v Southampton, live, Sky Sports 1, 8.0

Telegraph.co.uk

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