Philippe Coutinho might have left for Barcelona midway through the Premier League season, but with Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino in stunning form, the Reds have the class to finish strongly without the departed star.
With the spotlight firmly on the Barcelona star, we ask: Will Liverpool make the Premier League top four without Coutinho?
What side are you on in our debate?
ALEX REA, SAYS YES
As Philippe Coutinho strolled into Luton Airport his next stop was clear, but for the club he’s left behind that answer is not so obvious. The immediate question for Liverpool is where do they go from here and the answer lies in between nowhere and everywhere.
While there is a growing sense the Brazilian will not be replaced this month, supporters need not meltdown because Jurgen Klopp has all the attacking power he needs to clinch a top-four spot.
Granted, Coutinho is a quality player but the 25-year-old is not essential in the same way he was after the 2013/14 season. Back then, Liverpool’s title-challenging squad was dismantled over the course of two summers with Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard all departing.
Left with the likes of Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini, the forward momentum lost thrust and the engine of creativity was dependent on Coutinho. Now the Red machine is a sum of parts rather than individuals.
They’ve scored 76 goals in all competitions this season and Coutinho (12) accounts for just 15.8 per cent. Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane (47) are 61.9 per cent of the total and beyond that, they provide a blend of creativity and pace.
Behind them in midfield is the vastly improved Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the combination of those five alone offer the quality to absorb Coutinho’s absence. Individually, the Brazilian was their best player but collectively his qualities are spread across the squad. It’s important to emphasise that a quality footballer isn’t necessarily an indispensable one. Their win percentage in the 14 league matches with Coutinho stands at 42.9 per cent but they’ve triumphed in 75 per cent of the eight he’s missed.
You can say the likes of West Ham, Huddersfield and Stoke are cannon fodder but it’s against perceived lesser sides Liverpool notoriously struggle to break down.
The reality is they have already navigated past teams without Coutinho and so there is no excuse for landing outside the top-four in May.
CHRIS BAILEY, SAYS NO
The way that this played out suggests Liverpool were spooked by Barcelona’s supposed pursuit of Antoine Griezmann.
Surely then Barca’s budget would have been blown, leaving Jurgen Klopp with an unhappy player on the verge of mutiny after watching his boyhood dream slip by.
That’s the only justifiable reason, and it’s a pretty flimsy one at that, as to why the Reds let Coutinho go in January.
Surely they could have used the carrot rather than the stick on the wantaway midfielder if they told him that he’d be free to leave before or after the World Cup. He won’t even be able to play in the Champions League for the rest of the season because he’s cup tied.
He’d been performing extremely well despite all the hullabaloo – and tears while on international duty with Brazil – over the summer. Liverpool are losing a player who has contributed either a goal or assist every 73 minutes across the Premier League and Europe.
Much has been made of the fact that Klopp’s men average 2.2 points a game in the EPL this season without the Brazilian as opposed to 1.8 without. But it’s not that simple, as Coutinho has missed games against relative cannon fodder such as Huddersfield, a pre-Moyes West Ham and Stoke.
The beauty of Coutinho also lies in his flexibility. He can line up further forward in a midfield three, or as a roaming playmaker nominally on the wing.
With the fitness and form of Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane – two key attackers who now need to pick up the slack – under scrutiny, Coutinho’s departure only becomes more baffling.
Liverpool currently have a three-point cushion inside the top four but with Manchester City on the horizon that could be cut as soon as next week. If Tottenham hit any kind of form, they will be toast.
Virgil van Dijk is likely to be a hit at the back, but the Reds have effectively added a vertebra to their spine before removing another. Now they can’t patch it back up until the summer.
Liverpool will refund fans who bought 2017-18 replica Philippe Coutinho shirts after agreeing a deal with Barcelona to sell their Brazilian playmaker for £146 million.
“The offer – which applies to all shirts purchased in official club outlets and via the official LFC website – follows today’s announcement that Coutinho will join Barcelona and reflects the exceptional circumstances behind the player’s departure,” a statement on the club website read on Saturday.
Coutinho was close to completing a move in the summer, only for Liverpool to rebuff Barcelona’s attempts to seal the transfer.
At that point it seemed that the 25-year-old would see out the season for the Merseyside club, with any move likely to come after the end of the current campaign.
But Barcelona were insistent on signing Coutinho this season, even though he’s now cup-tied for the Champions League.
Liverpool have made a hefty profit on Coutinho, having bought him from Inter in 2013 for just £8.5 million.
Everton answered their chronic striker shortage by signing Cenk Tosun on a four-and-a-half-year deal worth £27 million. But what does the Turkish star bring to the table?
Tosun will be tasked with the responsibility of leading a Toffees attack which has been woefully short on goals all season following Romelu Lukaku’s summer departure.
But with the 26-year-old now acquired, boss Sam Allardyce feels the former Besiktas man is one of the best unearthed talents around in Europe and is just waiting for his chance to shine in the Premier League.
Here, we take a closer look at four attributes Tosun has in his locker to help catapult the Blues up the table.
TURK’S DIRECT STYLE SEALED DEAL FOR ALLARDYCE
Teams under Allardyce have always generally played with a powerful forward who is strong in the air, a physical presence and offers plenty more than just a high goals return.
Kevin Davies at Bolton and Crystal Palace’s Christian Benteke are two players, to an extent, that fall under that category of players he has previously managed under his long-ball, pressing style.
And you can now add Tosun to that list.
Everton have a rich history of No.9s – from Dixie Dean to Bob Latchford to Duncan Ferguson – Evertonians have always latched onto their forwards and tend to get behind a powerful frontman.
The Turk is direct and capable of receiving the ball to feet, holding play up with his back to goal or charging at defences with darting runs into the box. While both Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Oumar Niasse are possibly quicker across the grass, neither are equipped to lead the line as effectively alone. Tosun is better than both of those with his head, too.
HE CAN USE BOTH FEET
Yes, a Premier League footballer who can use both his right and left foot. It made sound obvious but it’s actually quite rare as very few players possess that quality or are equally as efficient on both wings.
Tosun, who has netted 41 goals in 96 Turkish Super Lig games since the start of the 2014-15 season, is capable of operating with either boot and that is surely a big boost for an Everton team which has netted just twice in five matches.
— Cenk Tosun (@CenkTosun_) January 6, 2018
OFFERS MORE THAN JUST GOALS
Four goals in six Champions League appearances this season have showcased Tosun’s finishing qualities at the highest level but it’s not all about goals.
The German-born star is capable of dropping deep to seek the ball and kick-start forward plays, something which will benefit the Blues especially if he can hit it off with the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Rooney.
Indeed, for Besiktas, he created 70 chances and recorded 10 assists on top his 41 strikes.
HE IS A PENALTY KING
While Everton have both Rooney and Leighton Baines in their ranks as penalty-takers, Tosun netted 10 times from 12 yards for Besiktas and was their dedicated spot-kick taker.
He showed how cool he was by dispatching a pen against Monaco in the Champions League back in November.