Why Thomas Lemar and not Riyad Mahrez is the man Liverpool need to replace Philippe Coutinho

Alex Rea 5/01/2018
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Between Donald Trump threatening to nuke the planet and Philippe Coutinho’s impending departure to Barcelona, Twitter is pretty vitriolic place at the moment.

Indeed, the Brazilian’s expected switch in the January transfer window, ranging from projected fees of £100-140m, has angered many corners of the Liverpool fan base but is the vexation really warranted?

While frustration can be directed at Barca for their questionable tactics to bring down the price and of course the timing of his potential exit, as the Reds have shown countless times before no player is bigger than the club.

The transfer carousel is an accepted byproduct of modern football and the concern now is not of Coutinho leaving but of how Jurgen Klopp reinvests the exponential finances which will be at his disposal.

After all, Liverpool’s track record of buys following money-spinning sales like Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez hardly inspires confidence.

While Coutinho’s absence will be keenly felt there are other magicians who can take to the Anfield stage.

Two prime targets according to the Independent, appear to be Monaco’s Thomas Lemar and Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez.

So, out of the two, who should Klopp be targeting?

RIYAD MAHREZ

Basic Stats vs Coutinho (Premier League)

Games: 22 – 14

Goals: 7-7

Assists: 7-6

Key passes: 25-34

Chances created: 32-40

Tackles won: 13-14

Successful take-ons: 43-39

Shot accuracy: 67%-55%

Verdict 

It might come as a surprise to some that since the Foxes flier entered the Premier League in August 2015 he’s actually registered more goals (30) and more assists (21) than Coutinho (28 goals and 18 assists).

Statistically and stylistically, Mahrez perhaps represents a good match in this market for Coutinho and in terms of a player with the ability to kick Liverpool onto another level, the Algerian fits the mold.

Positionally there is a concern, however. One of the more useful aspects of Coutinho is his versatility to operate in a middle or front three. While he’s largely been deployed on Liverpool’s left, the flexibility to play through the middle gives Klopp a different dimension and Mahrez is a step away from that.

Far too lightweight to play through the centre, Mahrez would almost exclusively want to play off his natural position on the right and that would mean either a formation change or a swap in terms of personnel given Mohamed Salah currently resides there.

Then there is the doubts over whether or not the 26-year-old is fundamentally an archetypal *air quotes* Klopp player, in the sense Mahrez isn’t exactly known to be happy to press, track back, be unselfish, never stop running and employ a good work rate.

Going forward he undoubtedly fits the bill but Klopp requires more than just attacking verve as players like Daniel Sturridge have come to find out.

The entire foundation of the German’s philosophy is built on the counter press and it means the Reds can’t afford to carry any passengers in the system.

What Mahrez does represent, however,  is a cheaper (although there are reports it would still take £50million to prise him from Leicester) alternative to other options on this hyper-inflated market and in terms of filling the creative void there’s no doubt he would go some way to carrying the burden.

Should be signed? NO

THOMAS LEMAR

Basic stats vs Coutinho (Ligue 1)

Games: 13-14

Goals: 2-7

Assists: 4-6

Key passes: 22-34

Chances created: 26-40

Tackles won: 10-14

Successful take-ons: 21-39

Shot accuracy: 32%-55%

Verdict

Lemar is the more obvious replacement for Coutinho, at least positionally anyway.

In the same sense the Barca-bound Brazilian is far from an out-and-out winger, the Frenchman, too, is a player who likes to operate in the space between the left flank and attack-mid.

The 22-year-old constantly drifts inside and his ability to score from range was evident in the summer when he notched a belter of a volley for Les Bleus against the Netherlands.

Coincidentally, that strike arrived on the same night Liverpool and Arsenal were said to have bid for his services in last-ditch deadline-day moves but with the Reds unwilling to budge from their £65million valuation, the transfer collapsed.

And the fee is the most intriguing aspect because Lemar is still a raw prospect. He’s struggled with injuries this season and it’s naturally knocked him off his rhythm having only returned from a month-long absence in early December but he’s been way off the form of last term.

To replace Coutinho you have to instantly replace goals, assists, possession, free-kick ability and a good work rate and while Lemar has largely shown skill in all those elements it’s yet to happen on a consistent basis.

Ultimately, if Monaco are seeking a fee closer to £90million, taking into account the premium of buying in January, it’s a move which represents a tremendous risk.

The collective support of a coach known to bring the best out of young players and a style of football which suits his ability acts as the counterbalance.

There’s plenty of room for maturity yet his penchant for turning games around on his own is something which will surely excite and it’s for that reason he provides the best and most immediate option for the outgoing Coutinho.

Should be signed? YES

Swapping shades of red? Thomas Lemar

Swapping shades of red? Thomas Lemar

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UAE vs Oman player ratings as Omar Abdulrahman scores just 3 after double penalty miss in Gulf Cup final defeat

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Eye on the ball: Omar Abdulrahman (l) was watched closely by Oman (all Getty).

UAE golden boy Omar Abdulrahman endured the worst night of his career, critically missing penalties at the end of normal time and in the shootout to see underdogs Oman deservedly claim the Gulf Cup.

Al Ahmar forward Mohsin Johar struck the decisive effort from 12 yards as his team produced a perfect five penalties from five in Kuwait City, punishing the celebrated Amoory for his preceding effort which was pushed to safety by goalkeeper Faiz Al Rushaidi.

This mirrored his miss in the 90th minute with the score at 0-0, with the opportunity being earned after Al Jazira striker Ali Mabkhout went down under minimal contact from centre-back Mohammed Al Musallami.

Here, we rate the players from both sides in the wake of the UAE’s failure to claim a third Gulf Cup.

OMAN (4-2-3-1)

Al Rushaidi 8 – Frustrated Abdulrahman in the dying seconds of second half and in shootout. Otherwise, was surprisingly  untroubled.

Suhail 7 – An energetic presence on the right flank. Went close with one driving run and shot, also produced excellent penalty in shootout.

Said 7 – Complimented Al Musallami well. Made one superb covering tackle to keep out Mabkhout in extra time.

Al Musallami 7 – Unfortunate to concede penalty when Mabkhout went down. His energy helped keep the Al Jazira man in check.

Al Busaidi 7 – Complimented Suhail well. Outshone opposite number, Mohamed Ahmed.

Al Saadi 6 – Kept it simple throughout. A good foil for the attackers.

Kano 7 – Relished his battle with Esmail and Salmeen. Went close with a first-half header. Unstoppable penalty in shootout.

Ibrahim 6 – Quietest part of the Oman attack. but his energy helped unsettle the UAE.

Johar 7 – Stole the headlines with his perfect penalty under pressure to prevail in the shootout. On another night, would have been the match winner in normal time. Forced fine stops from Essa with a header and free-kick.

Al Yahmadi 6 – Had one threatening shot which was dragged wide.

Al Hajri 5 – The ex-Al Dhafra front man was bullied by the UAE defenders and headed wide with an open goal at his mercy in extra time when picked out at back post.

Ahmed Kano (No12) goes close for Oman.

Ahmed Kano (No12) goes close for Oman.

SUBS

Salim 6 –  Kept Oman ticking over. Essa got fingertips to penalty, but still went in.

Al Mushaifri 6 –  Negligible impact from the bench.

Al Muqbali 6 – Blink and you missed him. But penalty was perfect.

UAE (3-4-3)

Essa 8 – By far the UAE’s best player. Made two particularly fine saves from Johar; a second-half header and extra-time free-kick.

Mubarak 6 – Playing a third centre-back was unnecessary. Sacrificed early in second half.

I. Ahmed 6 – Towering presence in both penalty areas. Was busier than he would have expected to be. Smashed in a great penalty down the middle.

Salem 6  – Usual dogged self. Dominated Al Hajri.

M. Ahmed 5 – Invisible display from the versatile Al Ain defender.

Salmeen 5 – Lack of experience at this level showed. Notable that attackers declined to pass to him when free.

Esmail 6 – Experienced head in the middle. Kept ball rotating.

Al Menhali 5 – Was the hero in the semi-final, but only impact on Friday night came in the shootout. Another good penalty.

O. Abdulrahman 3 – Poor reputation in big games was only strengthened. Weak penalties at the end of second half and in shootout were unforgivably bad.

Mabkhout 5 – Struggled to make an impact, forced to feed on crumbs. Went down easily for missed penalty. Produced in the shootout with a nerveless first effort.

Khalil 4 – Clearly not match fit after months of inactivity. Should not have started.

UAE striker Ali Mabkhout (r) struggled to unsettle the Oman defence.

UAE striker Ali Mabkhout (r) struggled to unsettle the Oman defence.

SUBS

Barman 6 – Why was a third defensive midfielder needed? Beautiful penalty.

Al Hammadi 7 – Simply should have started. Has been absent even longer than Khalil, yet his energy and drive was far superior.

M. Abdulrahman 6 – Brought on with penalties in mind.

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Mohamed Salah 'proud' to be named CAF African Player of the Year but says Sadio Mane also deserved award

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Prolific Liverpool scorer Mohamed Salah was named African Player of the Year in Ghanaian capital Accra on Thursday, the first Egyptian to win the award since Mahmoud al Khatib in 1983.

The 25-year-old has scored 23 goals in 29 matches in all competitions this season for the Premier League outfit after moving from AS Roma in the summer.

He also starred for resurgent Egypt, who last year finished runners-up to Cameroon in the Africa Cup of Nations and secured a first World Cup appearance since 1990.

In the penultimate round of World Cup qualifying, Salah scored the brace that edged Congo Brazzaville in Alexandria, including the stoppage-time winner from a penalty that sealed a trip to Russia.


Salah’s Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane, of Senegal, was runner-up and 2015 winner, Gabon and Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang third after a 30-player list had been trimmed to three.








National coaches, Confederation of African football (CAF) officials, journalists and the public were involved in the voting.


“Winning this award is a dream come true – 2017 was an unbelievable year for me I had a fantastic time with the national team,” said Salah after receiving the trophy.


“This is a big award for me, a special moment in my career. I would like to dedicate it to all the kids in Africa and Egypt.


“I want to tell them to never stop dreaming, never stop believing.”



The Egyptian succeeds Algerian Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City as holder of the most prized CAF individual award.


It is the first time since 1986 that stars from the north of the continent, which along with the west is the strongest football region, have won successive titles.


Victory on Thursday completed an awards hat-trick for Salah, who was named BBC African footballer of the Year in December and Arab Player of the Year earlier this week.


Mane was voted 2016-2017 Liverpool Player of the Season, but the 25-year-old has since been overshadowed at Anfield by Salah’s scoring exploits.


He did stand out for Senegal, however, as they secured a first World Cup appearance since 2002, providing much of the creativity in a team stacked with physically formidable footballers.


Aubameyang was Bundesliga top scorer with 31 goals last season, holding off Bayern Munich and Poland ace Robert Lewandowski.


He flopped with Gabon, though, failing to take the 2017 Cup of Nations hosts past the first round and shunning several World Cup call-ups as Gabon failed to qualify.



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