With Philippe Coutinho edging towards a Barcelona move, there has already been plenty of buzz about who they could bring in to replace him, and it will only increase in the coming days. A swoop to steal Alexis Sanchez away from Arsenal. A raid to poach Manuel Lanzini. A poaching of Dani Ceballos.
All are options that have been offered up by a press eager to rumour monger. Really, though, any realistic list of potential Coutinho replacements begins and ends with Monaco’s Thomas Lemar, who by the most reliable reports out of France in turn only wants to move to join Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool.
Liverpool moved for him late in August, as did Arsenal. At the time, Arsenal were the only ones to meet Monaco’s €90M asking price, but Lemar blocked the move. Liverpool, with Coutinho remaining at the club, were content to wait. Now they want him again, but they may struggle to sign him.
“Monaco are not in the habit of making big sales in the winter,” said manager Leonardo Jardim when asked about the possibility that a Coutinho sale this month could lead to Lemar heading to England as his replacement. “It’s our strategy and the players understand, they know that’s how it goes here.”
Last year, the club’s vice-president made similar comments, acknowledging that Liverpool had tried to sign the player along with Arsenal over the summer and noting that as they had both failed to sign him for different reasons, any move for Lemar would have to wait until the summer of 2018.
Still, it’s clear that Lemar is the man Klopp wants as Coutinho’s replacement. Three years younger and a very similar player who likes to play in the gap between wing and more central attacking midfield, a player who is capable of picking a pass, beating his man on the dribble, and scoring from distance.
He’s also got more pace than Coutinho if rather less of the Brazilian’s surprising physical tenacity, and it can’t be ignored that while he’s similar to Coutinho in many ways as a player, he isn’t at his level yet. He is, though, further along in his development than Coutinho was at the same age.
The question now is if Liverpool, soon to be flush with cash, are willing to pay enough to convince Monaco to reverse course and sell mid-season—and Liverpool will know even Arsenal’s €90M bid might be too light at this point. Lemar, though, is the top target. They will try to find a way.