Wednesday 19 September 2018

Change of tone around playmaker a concern for Reds fans

Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho. Photo: Getty
Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho. Photo: Getty

Chris Bascombe

Philippe Coutinho is willing to sacrifice Champions League ambitions with Liverpool if Barcelona make a fresh move next month.

Despite captaining his side to a 7-0 win over Spartak Moscow on Wednesday night, and scoring his first hat-trick for the club, the Brazilian offered no guarantee he would still be at Anfield for the knockout stage of European club football's biggest prize.

Liverpool are aware Coutinho's desire to move to the Nou Camp is as fervent as last summer when three bids - the last being £115m (€130m) - were rejected and the 25-year-old handed in a transfer request.

More worrying for the Anfield hierarchy, Barcelona will be encouraged by the player to renew their efforts.

Future

"I do not know how the future is going to be," Coutinho told Brazilian media.

"What will happen in January, we will know it in January. I do not know if there will be an offer.

"I am at Liverpool and always do my best when I have the opportunity to play, respecting the jersey and the supporters.

"Last summer, there was a job offer in the same way that happens with any employee and I was interested in it.

"Since I stayed, I have played with will and desire.

"It was a special night due to the result and because I had the armband in such an important game playing for a club like Liverpool."

Liverpool stood firm in the summer. Now, as then, the ultimate decision will rest with manager Jurgen Klopp.

Klopp said he was "neither sure nor unsure" when asked this week to guarantee Coutinho would still be at Anfield in February.

Although the German clarified that he had no cause to consider the January window until it opened, that represented a significant shift in tone, ambiguous enough for those from all sides to fill in the gaps.

It differed starkly from Klopp's remarks in July when he shut down any chance of Coutinho's sale.

Before the season started, Liverpool went so far as to release a club statement and write to Barcelona urging them not to unsettle their player.

However, there is recognition the player wants to move to the Nou Camp eventually, and, alongside his value, the big issue is one of timing.

If Barcelona increase their bid, it would give Klopp a major dilemma as he assesses whether this season's ambitions can still be achieved without the playmaker.

In the meantime, Liverpool's summer signing Mohamed Salah has started better than anyone could have imagined, forming a lethal partnership with Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.

Liverpool have plundered 62 goals in 24 games. Only once in their history have they scored more at this stage of a campaign - and that was during the 1895-'96 season.

Klopp will feel the team can thrive and progress with or without Coutinho, although as the chief architect of so many chances the Brazilian remains an essential component.

Should any bid materialise, the dilemma is not just Liverpool's, however.

Coutinho is cup-tied so cannot play in the Champions League this season for any club except Liverpool.

To leave would be a massive sacrifice in the second half of the campaign, especially since he could wait until the summer to invite negotiations.

A strong second half to this season and excellent World Cup could only enhance his reputation and value.

Liverpool's progress into the last 16 offers a genuine opportunity to add to the club's illustrious reputation in a competition they have won five times.

Although they are not favourites, whoever they draw in the next round will face a second leg at Anfield.

Telegraph.co.uk

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