LIVERPOOL: Jurgen Klopp appears to have accepted the possibility that Philippe Coutinho may be sold to Barcelona before the transfer deadline.
The Brazilian midfielder has submitted a formal transfer request which is expected to prompt a third bid from the Catalan club of more than £100m. Coutinho’s request has already been denied by Fenway Sports Group, the club’s owner. But the disruption to Liverpool’s preparations for the new season irritated Klopp and sporting director Michael Edwards.
Barcelona have money to spend and gaps to fill after the €222m sale of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain and Coutinho’s ambition for a move to Catalonia is not new.
Liverpool’s desire to keep him was set out, however, in a face-to-face meeting with FSG president Mike Gordon in Munich during the Audi Cup. The player signed a five-year contract extension only in January. The new contract made him the highest paid player at the club on £150,000-a-week and does not include a release clause.
The Brazilian missed the second game of the pre-season tournament and has not trained since. A back injury has ruled him out of Saturday’s visit to Watford and makes him a doubt for tomorrow’s Champions League play-off first leg against Hoffenheim in Germany.
Intriguingly Klopp distanced himself from the Coutinho issue after the 3-3 draw, insisting the owners would have the final say on players leaving or joining the club.
Klopp said: “As a manager of a football club I have bosses, and if bosses decide, for example, just in general, if we sell a player or we don’t sell him, then I have to accept it. I cannot say anything about the transfer request. I work with the players I have – that is what I’m always doing.”
Liverpool might usefully spend an inflated Coutinho fee to spend on squad strengthening. Not that they will make it easy for him. Former skipper Steven Gerrard said last week that Coutinho might have to start ‘a war’ to secure a move to Barcelona. Liverpool, with one eye on fans reaction, never make it easy for star players to leave.
At Vicarage Road Liverpool spent much of the time on the back foot. Stefano Okaka struck after only eight minutes and even when Sadio Mane equalised Watford soon reclaimed the lead through Abdoulaye Doucoure.
Klopp’s men rallied and Roberto Firmino levelled from the penalty spot after £39m newcomer Mohamed Salah was fouled. Salah then put the Reds ahead only for Miguel Britos to pounce for an equaliser at 3-3 in the third minute of stoppage time.
The manager considered two of Watford’s goals should have been ruled out for offside but conceded: “After this game we have a lot of things to do.” This is what pre-season should involve but Premier League clubs are handicapped increasingly by the directors’ use of summer to fly the players around the lucrative international tournament circuit.
Liverpool fans wasted no time complaining on national and local radio phone-in programmes about what they saw a Watford. Their main topic was Klopp’s perceived inability to improve defence significantly in his two years at Anfield. One caller said: “Best solution is to sell Coutinho to Barcelona and use the money to buy five new defenders.”
Virgil van Dijk is still out there, seeking to force a transfer away from Southampton. Events over the weekend’s first matchday however may see Liverpool, always favourites for his signature, face big-money competition from Chelsea.
Liverpool will not have problems scoring goals which is one quality, at least, to stand them in good stead against Hoffenheim. While Hoffenheim are one of the toughest opponents possible as opponents for Liverpool the Reds are favoured by playing in Germany first and will want at least one away goal – if not more – to take home for next week’s return.
Hoffenheim ‘old boy’ Roberto Firmino is the key. He has taken over the No9 shirt with Salah picking up No11. Firmino was delighted even though that meant he had to sign more than 2,000 ‘wrong’ shirts bought by fans. Using Firmino as an unconventional centre-forward is a ploy likely to wrongfoot more than a few opposing defences this season.
He is supremely confident, saying: “It can only get better from now on for me. We have everything to have a great season. We are hungry to win every match we are playing and, at the end of the season, hopefully God gives us what we deserve. We will be there. I want to win. That is what I am made for.”
He leads a squad at Hoffenheim in which Klopp included not only Coutinho but rightback Nathaniel Clyne and striker Daniel Sturridge, who all missed the Watford game through injury.