Comment: The time may be right for Liverpool to sell Philippe Coutinho...with a replacement there for the taking
Philippe Coutinho is unlikely to play any part in Liverpool's FA Cup third round clash against Everton at Anfield on Friday night, amid fresh claims that he has asked to leave the club and seal a move to Barcelona.
Coutinho handed in a transfer request at Liverpool last summer as he made efforts to force through a move to Barcelona, but Anfield chiefs held firm and refused to sell their No.10 despite offers in excess of £100m from the Catalan giants.
Now it appears the saga is in full swing once more, with Coutinho absent from Liverpool's 2-1 win at Burnley on New Year's Day with what manager Jurgen Klopp described as 'a thigh injury', sparking rumours that he was again pushing for a move away from Merseyside.
After a weekend that saw Barcelona and Coutinho's sponsors Nike promote his imminent arrival at the Nou Camp on their own website, it appears the drive is on for this transfer to take place now, even though that would appear to be unnecessary for a number of reasons:
* Coutinho would not be eligible to play for Barcelona in the Champions League and they are already in a dominant position in the Spanish title race.
* His place as a key man of the Liverpool team will be assured between now and the end of the season, but that may not be the case if he joins Barcelona now and takes time to settle at a new club. In a World Cup year that would be a gamble.
* His value to Liverpool and Barcelona is unlikely to change between now and next summer, so the timing does not feel right for a move to take place now.
Despite all those factors, Coutinho and his advisers seem keen to force through a move and the vibes coming out of Liverpool suggest their stance on a sale may have softened in recent months.
While Anfield's chief decision makers would not choose to sell Coutinho mid-way through the season, the sparkling form of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino means Liverpool could move on without their play maker, safe in the knowledge that Naby Keita is arriving next summer to fill the void.
In addition, Liverpool could do without another month of destabilising speculation over Coutinho's fitness and attitude, with boss Jurgen Klopp keen to maintain the momentum his side have built up in recent weeks.
It may also have been telling that Klopp spoke of his admiration for Leicester midfielder Riyad Mahrez ahead of his side's game against Leicester last Saturday, with a move to sign the Algerian midfielder possible if Coutinho leaves.
Leicester boss Claude Puel has confirmed he needs to clarify whether 2016 PFA Player of the Year Mahrez is committed to the Foxes cause after he handed in a transfer request last summer, with his loyalty likely to be tested if a move in excess of £40m was lodged by Liverpool in the next couple of weeks.
The truth may be that despite Coutinho's undoubted qualities, Liverpool may have reached a point in their development under Klopp where they could sell him for a club record fee now and still finish this season on a high following the £75m capture of defender Virgil van Dijk last week.
Coutinho out, Mahrez in and enough profit to pay for Van Dijk with the spare change? That suddenly seems like a decent deal for Liverpool in this transfer window.
So it seems Philippe Coutinho is 'injured' for the Everton game amid reports he has asked to leave again....if that's true, what should Liverpool do now? #LFC— Kevin Palmer (@RealKevinPalmer) January 2, 2018