The run up to the first of a two-legged EFL Cup tie with Southampton on Wednesday marks both the likely return of Philippe Coutinho to the matchday squad after a lengthy injury layoff as well as resurfaced talk of a big money move for the magical Brazilian. Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp, however has come out once again to remind wannabe suitors that his star player’s absence from the transfer news cycle has not weakened the club’s resolve to play hardball:
"We never had any ideas or plans or any talks about him leaving, because he is our player. There are no other ideas, nothing has changed.”
The 24-year-old attacker has been sidelined since the 2-0 league win over Sunderland back in November after sustaining ligament damage to his ankle. Prior to that untimely injury, the diminutive no. 10 had been on a tear, wowing for club and country to the tune of nine goals and six assists and threatening to run away with the PFA Player of the Year award.
The awe-inspiring form of the first half of the season did of course bring scrutiny from the biggest clubs in Europe, including predictably, Barcelona, with their fondness for the technical and twinkle-toed types that tend to pop up at Anfield, with Coutinho in particular said to be valued at £60m. Klopp, however will be looking to combine a strong league campaign with his own significant star power to try to break the selling cycle that has seen Liverpool lose some of their biggest stars to more glamorous clubs at the peak of their powers.
“It would be nice if big clubs thought like this and forgot about a player completely because he's been injured for five or six weeks," Klopp quipped. "Big clubs don't think this way, unfortunately. It was not a big injury so there was no question of him not being the same player afterwards."
With his project at Liverpool on the up and arguably ahead of its developmental schedule, the German will potentially be looking to contrast the stability at Anfield with the state of affairs at the Catalan club, who are currently in the midst of a period of uncertainty in several facets of the organization. Coach Luis Enrique has struck a jaded figure of late and is rumoured to be set on leaving the Camp Nou once his contract runs out at the end of the season, casting the managerial direction of the team into doubt. Furthermore, the club’s inability to adequately replace the inimitable Xavi in midfield coupled with the slow decline of Andres Iniesta has contributed to the Blaugrana’s relatively uninspired form in recent months, winning only 10 of their last 17 games in all competitions and looking slightly less imposing than normal in many areas of the pitch.
Even were Coutinho to be tempted by the siren call of sunny Spanish weather and the prospect of interchanging with Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, let’s hope he at least gives pause to the sage advice from Xavi and votes instead for bottomless Klopp hugs.