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To End Barcelona’s Coutinho Pursuit Liverpool Must Defeat Hoffenheim

Barcelona continue to tarnish their reputation this summer, but Liverpool must keep their focus on Hoffenheim.

Stanley Chou/Getty Images

Barcelona's Sunday deadline always seemed an odd sort of thing, a derisory public statement that could, if it were to be granted a generous reading, only be aimed at further unsettling the player. A statement not to force Liverpool's hand but Philippe Coutinho's; an attempt to push him to lash out as Ousmane Dembele has.

Clearly, given Liverpool had rejected their insulting third offer—around £80M paid over five years plus a slew of unlikely add-ons—it wasn't a deadline that was going to push the club to reconsider. In the end, though, the deadline passed without it amounting to anything but a chance to chuckle at Barcelona's latest embarrassment.

In a summer of lows for the formerly aspirational Catalan club, recent weeks have seen them trying to unsettle multiple players while offering insulting below-market values trumped up by flashy top-line fees that wouldn't ever be paid out. It's seen them sue and then be countersued by ex-player Neymar, now of Paris Saint-Germain.

It's seen club legend Andres Iniesta grumble about the direction of the club. It's seen Lionel Messi refuse to sign a new deal with a year to run on his current contract and rumours he's been meeting with former Barca boss Pep Guardiola. Any club whose fans think their side has had a bad summer need only look towards Barcelona.

They're still big enough, powerful enough, and with enough of a lingering reputation from the efforts of past boards and managers to do real damage as they flail in panic, current president Josep Bartomeu willing to do almost anything to hold on as his disastrous tenure at the club inches towards what seems an inevitably bad end.

Their attempts to force Coutinho to push even harder—to go past transfer requests and using his agent to attack Klopp in the press and to perhaps leave town in a huff as Dortmund's Dembele did—failed, but they have not stayed true to their word and given up. Coutinho's camp has hinted at reconciliation, but they haven't given up.

Instead, on the eve of the second leg of Liverpool's potentially season defining Champions League qualifier, they're talking of a €150M (£138M) fourth bid, one with €110M (£101M) guaranteed and the remaining €40M (£37M) made up of add-ons the player might actually achieve—no winning the Ballon d'Or in a treble season here.

It's the monster bid Barcelona promised everyone last time out. And that they then failed to deliver. Which means there's really no reason to think that they will actually deliver on it this time around. They've also decided to leak to the Catalan press that they're doing it for Coutinho; that they're only moving ahead at the player's request.

This would seem to go against the rumblings from Coutinho's camp that he is now open to a Liverpool reconciliation, but no matter its accuracy, there is a deeper truth at play. Coordinated with Coutinho and his representatives or not, the one and only goal of talk of a fourth bid is to attempt to detabilise Liverpool ahead of Hoffenheim.

If Liverpool lose, if they're knocked out of the Champions League and down into the Europa League, the offer—or at least an offer of some sort—will then arrive. The player may even walk back talk of reconciliation and fly Liverpool in an attempt to push through the move. If Liverpool win, though, it just might properly end the saga.

Barcelona are currently buying time. They're buying time with Coutinho, and they're buying time with midfield fallback plan Jean Seri—with who, after they had reportedly done a deal, they have now left to twist in the wind for a while, uncertain about his own future while Barcelona wait to find out if Hoffenheim can defeat Liverpool.

In a summer of lows for Barcelona, it's still a shocking display of hubris and disregard when one steps back and looks at it all. But Liverpool can't worry about that. All they can worry about is beating Hoffenheim so that they can more easily stand firm and just maybe end Barcelona's Coutinho chase for good.

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