Goretzka and Eriksen lead possible Liverpool candidates to replace Barcelona target Coutinho

Alex Rea 13/08/2017
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Jurgen Klopp believes Liverpool’s owners will stand firm and refuse to sell Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona but admits any decision is not his to make.

The Reds are battling to keep Coutinho after rejecting a transfer request from the winger on Friday.

It is understood Coutinho, who missed the 3-3 Premier League draw with Watford on Saturday because of a back problem, told the club of his desire to leave via email. The request was turned down.

If Liverpool are forced to sell, though, we’ve put together a list of five players they should sign.

LEON GORETZKA

CLUB

Schalke

POSITION

Attacking midfielder

AGE

22

VALUE

£25million

SUITABILITY

Formerly a winger, Goretzka has adapted his playing style over the last season to become the archetypal box-to-box midfielder.

While he’s previously highlighted Germany team-mate Toni Kroos is a role model, the 22-year-old is a fundamentally different style of player, one with positional awareness in the box and an ability to finish opportunities.

He scored eight goals in all competitions last term and made a big impression for the national side during the Confederations Cup.

As a replacement for Coutinho, he’s younger with the added dimension of being tough in the tackle but he’s more of a complete package with plenty of potential to grow into a premier playmaker.

ATTAINABILITY

Rumours surfaced earlier this summer that Bayern Munich had agreed a deal with his Schalke contract expiring in 12 months.

That’s since been refuted, though, and given his importance to the team the Royal Blues are prepared to let him leave on a free next summer.

However, if Liverpool are in the market for an attacking midfielder then the Bundesliga side would be naive to reject a big-money offer given he’s unlikely to sign a new deal.

Leon Goretzka

Leon Goretzka

CHRISTIAN PULISIC

CLUB

Borussia Dortmund

POSITION

No10

AGE

18

VALUE

£70-80million

SUITABILITY

An emerging star rather than the finished product, the 18-year-old embodies the next generation talent and within that would fit FSG’s blueprint perfectly, while his nationality would also be extremely enticing for Liverpool’s Boston-based owners keen to sell the club as a product to an American audience.

Firstly, he’s versatile having adapted to play anywhere across the front three and as a No10 with the US national side.

Off the ball, his intelligent movement would fit seamlessly into Liverpool’s fluid four and he marries that with a determination to break up the play in the final third from a defensive standpoint, too.

On the ball, his dribbling speed is frenetic as he regularly slalomed through Bundesliga backlines last season, contributing to nine goals (three scored, six assisted) in his 29 appearances (14 from the bench).

Confident in his creative ability, Pulisic earned a consistent starting spot with Dortmund towards the back-end of last season although the initial drawback for Liverpool is that he’s yet to prove he can consistently hit top form, which is obviously to be expected from a player of his age.

ATTAINABILITY

Jurgen Klopp is a known admirer and Pulisic has already reportedly rejected the chance to move Anfield in favour of signing a new deal at Westfalenstadion in January.

The contract keeps him at the club until 2020 so and given they value fellow teenage prodigy Ousmane Dembele at £100million+ the American would be in a similar bracket.

The possibility of selling Coutinho would add extra zeroes on any deal as well considering clubs will know they are short of time but deep in pocket.

 Christian Pulisic

Christian Pulisic

CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN

CLUB

Tottenham

POSITION

Attacking midfielder

AGE

25

VALUE

£100million

SUITABILITY

A dictator of tempo and an ingenious creator, Eriksen’s importance to Tottenham is undeniable but it’s those same qualities which would make him one of the best options to replace Coutinho.

An underrated talent in the wider context, there’s an argument Eriksen is among the top three Premier League playmakers having racked up 31 goals and 41 assists in his 134 league games since joining Spurs for £11.5million in 2013.

The Denmark international is another flexible option given he’s played in wide positions, in behind the striker or even as a deep-lying midfielder.

We’ve seen the best of him when he’s operated in a central berth meaning he would combine well with Liverpool’s interchangeable front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.

He’s a different style of player to Coutinho in that the Brazilian is a dribble-first operator while Eriksen is much more considered in his approach but his vision and technical abilities make him more than a suitable replacement.

ATTAINABILITY

Now, out of the five options we’ve examined, he’s arguably the most difficult to attain.

The Dane is said to be on weekly wage packet of £70,000 and he conceivably double, even triple that elsewhere – Coutinho, for example, is on more than double that at Anfield earning a £150,000 per week.

However, he’s contracted with Spurs until 2020 and it’s highly unlikely they’ll sell a key asset to a direct rival with so little time to replace him in the window.

Christian Eriksen

Christian Eriksen

THOMAS LEMAR

CLUB

Monaco

POSITION

Left-winger/No10

AGE

21

VALUE

£80million

SUITABILITY

The France international has predominantly been used on the left-wing of Leonardo Jardim’s potent Monaco attack but he has the freedom to drift in and link up with Kylian Mbappe and Radamel Falcao.

He’s a hybrid winger in that he smoothly switches between an inverted forward and an out-and-out wideman but Coutinho often roams in similar territory, drifting in from the left to rifle strikes home on his right.

For his age, Lemar is one of the most complete attacking midfielders in Europe, and at 21 he is another to fit in with FSG’s blueprint.

Comfortable with both feet, he’s a dangerous set-piece taker which would help fill the void left by Coutinho who takes the majority of Liverpool’s free-kicks.

There are drawbacks to Lemar, he can sometimes drift in and out of games and he’s not the strongest or biggest of players. Coutinho has a slight frame but he’s tough, the same can’t necessarily be said of Lemar.

ATTAINABILITY

If Mbappe departs it significantly reduces to possibility of Lemar following suit and regardless it will take big money to prize him away from the Ligue 1 champions.

Arsenal have been linked with him all summer and have struggled to get an asking price, though £80million is the touted fee.

He appears to be the ideal fit for Liverpool but at that price, they would need him to hit the ground running.

Thomas Lemar

Thomas Lemar

HAKIM ZIYECH

CLUB

Ajax

POSITION

Right winger/attacking midfielder

AGE

24

VALUE

£20million

SUITABILITY

Further down the chain in terms of price tag, the Moroccan is one of the most creative players in the Eredivisie as he helped guide Ajax to the Europa League final.

He has all the credentials to replace Coutinho but would arrive with the sense of pessimism players from the Dutch league tend to attract.

Still, he’s talent, that much is true and 11 assists (joint second-highest in the Eredivisie last term) and seven goals point to a player with creation and potency.

Ziyech is an elegant attacker, his feet are silk and his balance is perfect but his greatest attributes are also his weakness.

He has a tendency to over complicate his ventures forward and his passing ability is way behind the level of Coutinho.

He’s 24 but still relatively raw in that he has the ability become a more complete attacking midfielder but it’s yet to be properly refined.

Again, plenty of potential but not a ready-made replacement.

ATTAINABILITY

Ziyech is arguably one of the biggest names in the Eredivisie is Ajax’s gem, no doubt they would be reluctant to let him leave but a move to the Premier League would be difficult to ignore.

He signed for the Dutch giants last summer so is only 12 months into a contract which runs until 2021 but a serious offer could force their hand.

A move would represent a risk on Liverpool’s part but could end with plenty of reward.

Hakim Ziyech

Hakim Ziyech

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Scouting report of talented teenager Justin Kluivert as Ajax fall to defeat at Heracles

Alex Rea 13/08/2017
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Every weekend we pick out one under-23 player from around Europe and analyse their performance to provide you with an in-depth scouting report.

This week, we head to the Netherlands to focus on Ajax’s 2-1 defeat to Heracles in the Eredivisie and the man we analyse is 18-year-old Justin Kluivert – the son of Barcelona legend Patrick.

BASIC STATS

Goals – 0

Shots – 2 (tied 4th)

Shots on target – 1 (tied 3rd)

Touches – 57 (9th)

Passes – 31 (9th)

Key passes – 3 (2nd)

Dribbles – 3 (1st)

Dispossessed – 1 (4th)

Justin Kluivert battled for the ball with Bart van Hintum

Justin Kluivert battled for the ball with Bart van Hintum

EFFECTIVENESS

At 5″7′ his diminutive frame stands out because of the complete contrast to the players around him but his low centre of gravity gives him great agility which he used frequently to turn in behind Heracles full-back Bart van Hintum.

Operating on the right of a front three with Kasper Dolberg playing through the middle, he had the licence to attack his man but as is often the case with talented young prospects, his end product was imprecise.

Getting into threatening positions was a far easier task for him than making use of it but every time he got on the ball he was direct and had his full back on the backfoot.

The 18-year-old is a classic Ajax winger in that he looks to beat his man and then get the ball immediately into the box rather looking to cut inside and shoot.

But then he also intelligent movement as demonstrated with a solid strike as he cut in from his wide berth only to see his effort saved by the host’s stopper Bram Castro.

A promising display even if the result didn’t go Ajax’s way.

KEY MOMENTS

16th min – The teenager was a constant outlet on the right and but his crossing needs a little work, as exemplified when he received a ball with plenty of time and space only to overhit his ball into the box and into the hands of Castro.

25th min – Showed brilliant balance to drop the shoulder and sprint in behind right-back Van Hintum but again the end product was poor and with men in the box his cross sailed away from danger.

32nd min – Perfectly-timed run from the right was well slipped in by Amin Younes and his first-time shot was hit with power but straight at Castro who parried over the bar.

47th min – Lofted ball over the top found him in space and he sped away to the byline and fired a wicked ball to the near post but Kasper Dolberg couldn’t find a clean connection.

55th min – Heracles countered from an Ajax corner but he tracked back to fill in at the centre of defence and intercepted a dangerous through ball.

58th min – Silky first touch to turn the ball around Van Hintum on the halfway line, burned in behind the empty space but as he got to the edge of box delayed and then blasted a wayward cross out into touch.

Justin Kluivert

Justin Kluivert

VERDICT

Tidy passing, direct and positive when on the ball just the end product was lacking from an otherwise solid performance.

He was subbed in the 84th minute as Ajax chased an equaliser but his ability is obvious and it’s a case of allowing the teenager to fully establish himself.

RATING: 7/10

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Neymar transfer to PSG shows how players no longer hold all the aces as contracts prove the real trump card

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The times certainly seem to be changing. In its most attention-grabbing form, the new benchmark of €222 million (Dh963.8m) for Neymar has seen the unattainably preposterous become unfathomable reality. Summer madness at its most extreme.

Yet this paradigm-shifting outlay by Paris Saint-Germain is just one aspect of a more profound and all-encompassing trend which has grabbed hold of the market. A reframing is at play, floods of both TV money and largesse from owners combining to alter behaviour.

It can currently be witnessed in Southampton’s stubborness over Virgil van Dijk. From Borussia Dortmund openly detailing why their demands have pushed beyond €100m (Dh434.2m) for a player in Ousmane Dembele which they purchased last summer for €15m (Dh65.1m). Then to the amicable Philippe Coutinho causing civil war at Liverpool to force through his own move to Barcelona.

A paradox is at play. Manchester United this year becoming the first club to surpass the $3 billion (Dh13bn) threshold in valuation by KPMG helps prove there has never been more money in football, yet it appears making transfers is proving more difficult than ever. The art of negotiation is no longer needed. Accounts buttressed by burgeoning revenue streams ensure a steep price is paid, or no deal is made – as Manchester City’s no-expense-spared pursuit of full-backs has shown.

Heating of the market caused by the unexpected payment of Neymar’s release clause has only accentuated this issue.

The way clubs approach transfers and players embrace contract renewals also must change, as the power relationship between football’s two major factions shifts back into the direction of the employers.

The Red Devils’ moneyed manager Jose Mourinho has castigated the “dangerous” spending of “£30million, £40million, £50million in such an easy way” to land targets not from the top level.

Everton have lavished such sums on goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and Burnley centre-back Michael Keane, yet look destined to remain outside the top six.

Contracts are now king. If a player has more than two years left before expiry, then all the power is with the clubs. The financial imperative to sell has been negated. Arsenal’s comfort letting star man Alexis Sanchez wind his contract down is case in point.

The decision whether to renew is also now a delicate matter. Coutinho agreed to vastly-improved terms of £150,000 per week (Dh712,380) in January, yet this life-changing sum has potentially cost him the move of a lifetime to Barca. The same applies for Van Dijk and last summer’s renewal.

Do you take the money when offered, or hedge your bets that a better opportunity is to come in the season’s ahead?

In the NBA, LeBron James only ever signs short-term deals to maintain control of his destiny.

The supply chain the market is founded upon has been disrupted. Players moved to Southampton, and even Dortmund, knowing that exemplary performances would lead to transfers away. A tacit understanding of this reality drew players of Van Dijk’s quality to the Saints. But will they now be reticent to make such a move?

Or will clubs seeking to invest be prepared to offer shorter contracts to still be alluring, despite the lack of protection for their outlay?

These facets all add up to make the remaining weeks of the summer more intriguing than ever.

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