First things first; Liverpool were terrible on Saturday against Watford… At one end of the pitch that is. While the Reds were as creative as ever in attack, Jurgen Klopp’s men faced their same old woes at the other end. Roberto Firmino’s hard work up front was let down by his poor effort in marking down the other end of the pitch. Mo Salah and Sadio Mane were creative up front while Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip provided little resistance. If not for the commentary noting his absence every 10 minutes, you almost forgot Philippe Coutinho wasn’t there.
While Liverpool could (and should) have netted more times than they did, an honest man could hardly say the reason they dropped two points was a lack of offensive power. There is a certain level of redundancy in the collection of offensive minded players that Liverpool has hoarded. What they are missing is an equally classy set of defenders.
Coutinho needs to move
There are few opportunities for any player to move to the world’s big clubs. When clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid come calling, the window doesn’t stay open long; blink and you’ll miss it. Philippe Coutinho knows this and is doing everything he can to force through a move for him. But is his club doing what’s best for them?
Coutinho would be missed by whatever club he leaves, Liverpool included. But had Coutinho played, would Liverpool have beat Watford? With that shambolic defending? There will come matches where Coutinho’s class is what takes them over the top. But as we see every year, there’s far more matches where other factors keep them out, namely defence.
While the cost to Coutinho of missing his Barcelona window may be disastrous, it may hurt Liverpool too. Various figures have been reported as to what Barcelona may be willing to pay for Coutinho, but if it really is €130 million, then it’s an extraordinary amount of money for what is an almost-extraordinary player.
Liverpool must sell
Coutinho is good, but is he €130 million good? Ever since Paul Pogba’s record transfer last year, transfer fees have gotten somewhat ridiculous. There will be a point where the whole transfer market cools, there will be a point where the market for Coutinho cools. Liverpool need to ask themselves how far away that point is, or risk missing an enormous payday.
Selling Coutinho would signal that Liverpool is officially a selling club. While Liverpool may believe they are a tier one club in the Premier League, not everybody else agrees; many see them as somewhat of a tier one-B club. Realistically, are they fighting for the title, or the Champions League spots?
Selling Coutinho would undoubtedly signal that Liverpool too see themselves as on a different level to the very, very top of the Premier League; It would be a white flag, telegraphed high above Anfield for all the footballing world to see. The official announcement of Liverpool as a selling club; a stepping stone on the way to bigger things. That to other clubs, they are what Southampton is to them; a farm for players, to be bullied into submission when said players are readied to be picked. Not to mention their credibility would be shot, after an emphatic statement released by the club on Friday. They declared that Coutinho was not for sale under any circumstances, nor would any transfer bids for the player even be looked at.
But what’s the opportunity cost of turning down the offer for the club? Their pursuit of Virgil van Dijk has been well publicised and so far, fruitless. The clubs that have performed best in the current transfer window have been the ones who have accepted the market’s frenzied state and been willing to pay the excess. Maybe full backs like Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy aren’t worth the £50+ million that they cost Manchester City, but Pep Guardiola and his team understood that was the cost, and they duly paid it. Chelsea have haggled over £10 million extra in Leicester’s price for Danny Drinkwater; I’m not willing to concede that escaping from their current predicament of having only one available CM in a key match against a title rival wouldn’t be worth £10 million.
The finances of football require you to overpay for talent; the sooner that clubs like Liverpool (who have the money) understand this, the better off they’ll be.
Van Dijk is the answer
Van Dijk is worth whatever Southampton are asking. Liverpool likely wouldn’t have conceded from set pieces as easily as they did against Watford had he been there. If Liverpool are smart, they’ll bring him in this week. If they’re not, they’ll concede in exactly the same manner against Crystal Palace this weekend, and Hoffenheim next Tuesday, and against Arsenal and Manchester City in the following weeks.
Sell Coutinho, take the ridiculous amount of money that Barcelona are offering in their post-Neymar haste; It’s enough to lessen the blow from overpaying for Van Dijk. There will even be some left over for a nice complementary piece (not that Liverpool need more options up front).
While that might feel like a blow, it’s hardly going to affect their goal tally, even football is governed by the law of diminishing returns. But you can bet it will help the number they concede. Klopp’s endless pursuit of attacking football won’t enable a full-throttled title charge; that style has never won the Premier League, and it’s hard to see a time where it will, but if they could get close to a serviceable defence, who knows?
Liverpool being 2017/18 Premier League champions seems somewhat farfetched, especially if they lose Coutinho. However, if the club and fans can view his loss as simply as the cost of dependability at the back, it’s far less bitter pill to swallow. Not only that, but it might actually help them win the title in the long run.
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