While they usually peter out without players or money ever changing hands, sometimes, a drawn-out transfer saga will suddenly explode in a burst of activity that changes everything. That has reportedly been the case in the protracted three-way drama between Liverpool, Philippe Coutinho and Barcelona in the past 24 hours, and a deal that looked dead in the water until summer is suddenly expected to progress in a matter of days.
Naturally, when a top tier player moves on, his team must do what they can to fill the hole left behind. Luckily, while Coutinho has undoubtedly grown into one of the world’s very best at what he does, the Brazilian plays in a position that produces a huge number of gifted players, and the pool of potential replacements is deep. Here are three.
The Former Target: Thomas Lemar
As Liverpool failed to close a deal for Virgil van Dijk this summer, deadline day became a flurry of activity as the club attempted to spend their £100m transfer warchest. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain arrived in a £35m deal, but Monaco man Thomas Lemar remained at his club, despite the Reds having a medical team on standby, ready to make a house call in Paris if the deal went through.
Liverpool’s interest in Lemar was genuine, and the 22-year old ticks a lot of boxes as a replacement for Coutinho; he occupies a lot of the same areas on the pitch, offers a lethal set piece threat, and can progress the ball effectively both in established play and transition. As a left-footer preferring to play in the left half-space, Lemar can also be deployed in or move the ball to the wide areas, where his quickness and left peg allow him to produce dangerous crosses regularly.
As Monaco were picked clean of their top talent, Lemar was always going to struggle to replicate his production from last year, and indeed, he has only been able to produce a goal or assist every 170 minutes this season, compared to one every 137 minutes in the 2016/17 season.
It seems entirely unlikely that the price will creep as high as it reportedly did in the summer, but with the Reds having just spent £75m on Virgil van Dijk, and every club in the world being fully aware that they Merseysiders are receiving a massive windfall from the Coutinho sale, it wouldn’t be surprising if Monaco held the Reds to ransom over their playmaker.
The Available One: Julian Draxler
When making his €40m move from Wolfsburg a year ago, Julian Draxler reportedly turned down a chance to ply his trade under Jürgen Klopp at Merseyside. A €100k a week wage packet and the chance to play in important games for a modern superclub tipped the scales, and the former Schalke man ended up at the Parc des Princes.
Eight starts and sixteen substitution appearances — including getting knocked out of the Champions League in the most dramatic and unlikely fashion — might not have been exactly what Draxler wanted, and this season’s 13 starts and 10 sub apps isn’t that much more substantial for a player used to start every game. With Neymar and Kylian Mbappé flanking Edinson Cavani, chances have been limited for the 24-year old in his preferred position, and it’s not unreasonable to speculate that he’d be more amenable to working under Klopp following his experiences in France.
Furthermore, PSG appear to be willing sellers, quoting Arsenal a €40m price tag a week ago. A wonderful technician, Draxler marries glorious close control with long, effortless strides to carry the ball past his opponents and across the pitch. He is a player that always looks incredible, but has struggled to consistently deliver end product, and his career average of a goal or assist every 230 minutes is one that will give interested parties pause. Indeed, it may be one of the reasons PSG are willing to let their man go if they can recoup their outlay.
The Left-Field Option: Nabil Fekir
After suffering a season-ending cruciate ligament tear in 2015 — one that eventually ruled him out of the Euros the following summer — Nabil Fekir worked his way back to health. He was also moved back into midfield by Lyon manager Bruno Génésio, where his vision, passing range and ability to progress play with the ball at his feet was allowed to blossom.
At 5’8”, Fekir is not a giant by any means, but his low center of gravity, sturdy frame and otherworldly balance allows him to swivel or prance or barge his way past opponents with regularity. Unlike most left-footers, the 24-year old has no qualms about using his weaker foot, whether for an outside the boot dink or a 60-yard stunner. A career tally of a goal or assist every 133 minutes is better than Coutinho’s production, and with experience from every position across the attack, Fekir understands both how his strikers prefer to receive the ball, as well as how to position himself to finish off attacks.
Having worked his whole life to establish himself at his hometown club, one could be forgiven for assuming Fekir would never want to leave, but the French international revealed as recently as December that the Premier League is a tempting prospect. At Merseyside, he’d be earmarked to fill the most advanced midfield role, but would also be capable of cutting inside from either flank, and even do a job in Roberto Firmino’s false nine spot.
No price has been suggested for the Lyon native, but with the money appearing to come Liverpool’s way with the sale of Coutinho, the Reds can afford to splurge on a player that would be able to step into the team and immediately begin repairing the hole left behind by the Barcelona-bound playmaker.