Why Liverpool cannot afford to wait until the summer to reinvest the Coutinho money

It’s become a cliché line now that the January transfer window isn’t the right time to make signings, as the best players generally aren’t available and clubs will demand an extortionate premium to even consider selling their prized-assets half way through the season.

It’s a theory which, when you look at the actual evidence, doesn’t quite add up. Some of Liverpool’s best signings in recent years have come in January. Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho just to name a few of them. Virgil van Dijk has, of course, also finally completed his much-protracted transfer from Southampton to Liverpool for £75 million this month. Alexis Sanchez has joined Man United from Arsenal, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan going the other way in exchange. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looks likely to be heading to the North London club too. Chelsea are reportedly close to agreeing a deal for Edin Dzeko.

It’s simply a myth that important signings cannot be made in January. Ultimately, if clubs offer enough money for a player they really want, there’s nearly always a price at which a deal can be done- as ultimately proven by Barcelona’s successful £142 million move for Coutinho, which was enough to persuade Liverpool to part with the Brazilian at such a crucial juncture in the season.

For Liverpool, it is absolutely imperative now that at least a significant proportion of that money is reinvested into the squad in order to maximise their prospects of success in the remainder of the season. With the top four race still in the balance and upcoming ties in the FA Cup and Champions League, there is a huge amount at stake for Liverpool and while recent reports suggest Jürgen Klopp might be content to wait until the summer to bolster his squad again, Coutinho’s departure significantly weakens Liverpool’s chances of winning a trophy and qualifying for the Champions League.

Waiting until the summer while sitting back and watching rivals strengthen, risks Liverpool perpetually building for the future without quite doing enough to achieve their goals in the present.

In selling Coutinho, Liverpool effectively lost two players in one, given the Brazilian’s propensity to play either in the front three or as the most advanced midfielder. Liverpool now find themselves in a situation where they are almost entirely reliant on all three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Mo Salah to remain fit and available for the rest of the season, which is highly unlikely. Even if they do, issues of form and fatigue inevitably come into the equation.

The drop-off in quality for attacking options beyond the first choice trio is stark, with Dominic Solanke and Danny Ings hardly of the required quality, with the former never having scored a senior goal in English football and the latter having missed nearly two years through injury. Daniel Sturridge, meanwhile, appears well out of the picture and has been strongly linked with a move away to either Inter Milan or Sevilla this month, which would only further deplete Klopp’s attacking resources. Even when fit, Sturridge is miles off the player he used to be before the injuries took away his explosive pace and razor-sharp finishing.

Liverpool cannot, therefore, leave themselves so vulnerable that one injury to any one of the front three would be disastrous. The argument that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Adam Lallana could fill that gap doesn’t hold much strength, given that both players do not supply enough goals or assists and are best utilised in the midfield positions.

With an initial £102 million banked from Coutinho’s sale, it would be negligent to jeopardise a season which holds so much promise, but is now so finely in the balance given the paucity of attacking resources at Klopp’s disposal beyond his first choice players. While January might not be the easiest time to find the best deals, it would be worth slightly paying over the odds for another premium forward option in order to ensure that Klopp retains the ability to rotate his forward options without losing too much quality- which has underpinned so much of Liverpool’s relative success so far this season.

With that in mind, here are a number of potential options Liverpool might look at- not all of the same style, and not all necessarily easy to acquire at this stage in the season- but players which, if Liverpool offered enough money for, could contribute significantly in the remaining months of the campaign.

1. The obvious choice- Thomas Lemar

It’s something of a mystery quite why Liverpool haven’t made their move for Lemar this month (unless they have done so in private without it being picked up by the English press). The Frenchman was strongly linked at the end of the summer transfer window and Monaco have continually made noises this month to suggest they would be willing to sell if the right offer came in, which recent reports suggest would be below the original £90 million figure quoted to Arsenal in the summer.

Lemar is not a direct replacement for Coutinho style-wise, but he could similarly operate as one of the wide options in the front three as well as an attacking midfielder. He’s more of a creator than a prolific goal scorer at this stage in his career, but at only 22 he has vast potential to develop further. His form for Monaco has been well below par this season, although injuries and persistent transfer links may well have a major part to play in that.

The idea that Liverpool might be prepared to wait until the summer for Lemar, if true, is a risky one, given that his price tag would surely sky-rocket if he has an impressive World Cup campaign with France. Even worse, were Liverpool to slip outside the top four spots this season, they would have absolutely no chance of landing a player like Lemar in the summer, regardless.

There have been rumours that Lemar would rather stay at Monaco this month to ensure regular playing time ahead of the World Cup- although he would almost certainly get plenty of game time at Liverpool were a move to materialise, given the volume of games that remain and the need for rotation.

If Liverpool could get a deal done this month, it would be a major boost ahead of the second-half of the season, allowing him half a season to settle in while immediately improving Liverpool’s attacking depth and giving Klopp the opportunity to potentially rest the likes of Mané or Salah in league games ahead of the Champions League, for which Lemar would be cup-tied.

2. The “Premier League proven” option- Riyad Mahrez

Liverpool have categorically denied their supposed interest in Mahrez this month, although this often been the case in the past before they have gone on to sign players. The Leicester winger has been consistently linked with a move ever since the Foxes’ title triumph in 2015-16, but it has never quite materialised. It’s clear that Mahrez would like to make the next step in his career and would surely have no qualms about swapping Leicester for Liverpool.

In terms of versatility, Mahrez doesn’t quite offer as much as Coutinho or Lemar in that he wouldn’t provide a realistic option in midfield, but he would certainly supplement the forward line with regular goals and assists from the right wing, significantly lessening the burden on Salah. At 26, he’s approaching the prime of his career and could still kick on a level alongside better players and Klopp’s proven track record of unlocking potential.

After an indifferent season last time out, Mahrez has been showing the kind of form which saw him named PFA Player of the Season in 2015-16 and has a wealth of experience in this league already. Mahrez also has the added bonus of being available for the Champions League if he were to join, although he would be cup-tied for the FA Cup.

It’s more of a gamble, but one surely worth taking and most likely Mahrez would not cost quite as much as the astronomical fee quoted for Lemar.

3. The previous target- Julian Brandt

Rewind to before last summer and Julian Brandt was widely reported as Klopp’s number one priority transfer target, only for the German winger to opt to remain at Bayer Leverkusen in order to keep up his guarantee of regular playing time, which would be more of a challenge at Liverpool.

It seems incredible now, but Salah appeared to be an alternative option rather than the very first choice and the Egyptian has quickly secured superstar status since his £36.5 million move from Roma with 24 goals already in his debut season.

Brandt, however, is surely still a player on Klopp’s radar and significantly he will be available for a free transfer in the summer of 2019 when his contract expires with Leverkusen. Were Liverpool to put an attractive sum on the table now, that could potentially tempt Leverkusen to take the money rather than lose one of their star assets for just the meagre reported £11 million release clause which comes into play in the summer, when they would also be at the mercy of Bayern Munich further asserting their hegemony in the Bundesliga by handpicking another excellent young talent.

The major sticking point would be the fact that Leverkusen are currently second in the table and chasing Champions League qualification- although as Liverpool showed with Coutinho and Barcelona, if the offer is big enough, more often than not there is scope for deals to be done.

4. The American dream- Christian Pulisic

Back in August 2016, Liverpool made a measly £11 million bid for Pulisic, widely regarded as one of the rising stars of the Bundesliga and the poster boy of American football. The diminuative winger has continued to build his reputation and is a player clearly admired by Klopp- and, apparently, by FSG who would be keen to have potentially America’s finest footballer of modern times from a commercial perspect.

Still only 19, Pulisic has already featured in the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund, also racking up 55 Bundesliga appearances and 20 international caps for the USA. He is still raw in many aspects- notably in terms of goal-scoring- but his sheer speed, supreme dribbling technique and versatility makes him a hugely promising prospect and one which would potentially be a key part of Klopp’s Liverpool side for years to come, while also being able to contribute in the short-term.

Dortmund are currently 6th in the Bundesliga, although only a point behind second place, but the propsect of not finishing in the Champions League places is more than possible and would be a factor in terms of convincing the player to make his move.

5. The wildcard option- Nabil Fekir

Fekir is enjoying a remarkable season with Olympique Lyon with 16 goals and 5 assists to his name in 19 Ligue 1 so far, who currently sit 2nd in the table behind PSG- against whom he recently scored in a stunning last-minute victory over the French champions.

Liverpool have not been strongly linked with Fekir before, but in terms of what he could offer he would bring a huge amount to the team. Able to operate across the forward line and as a number ten, Fekir brings prolific numbers from multiple positions and, crucially, could potentially operate in the central role in the forward line, able to drop deep and link between the midfield and the attack while also providing a goalscoring threat and creativity.

Liverpool don’t currently have an established, quality alternative to Firmino in that role and a player like Fekir would certainly bolster Klopp’s forward line significantly for the remainder of the campaign. At 24, again, he has considerable potential to continue to build on his current upward trajectory having recovered so impressively from a Cruciate Ligament injury which curtailed his 2015-16 season.

 

 

 

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