Pique addresses his Barcelona future and Coutinho links

The Spain international insists he has no intention of moving and says ‘great players’ are always welcome amid talk of interest in Liverpool’s forward

Gerard Pique insists he has never considered leaving Barcelona and intends to see out the remainder of his playing days at Camp Nou.

The World Cup-winning defender is a product of Barca’s famed La Masia academy system, but left his homeland for Manchester United in 2004.

He was brought back to Catalonia after four years in England and has gone on to become one of the finest centre-halves in world football.

RUMOURS: Pique could leave Barcelona

Pique has won just about every major honour with club and country, while taking his tally of club appearances to over 420.

He has, however, seen his future at Barcelona called into question of late, with speculation suggesting the 29-year-old’s pop star wife, Shakira, is eager to make a fresh start somewhere else.

HD Philippe Coutinho Liverpool

Pique, though, has sought to quash the rumours before they escalate, with there no desire on his part to leave Barca until the time comes to hang up his boots.

Asked during a Facebook Q&A session whether he has given any thought to a move, he said: “To be honest, no I haven’t. I’m happy here, this is my lifelong club and I hope to end my playing career here”.

While Pique has ruled out an imminent exit, he has also been pressed on possible arrivals at Barca.

Messi is like Batman – Sampaoli

Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho has been heavily linked with a move to the La Liga champions, with the Brazil international considered to be a “great player”.

Pique said: “It’s [Technical Secretary] Robert’s [Fernandez] job to handle those kinds of things but great players are always received here with arms wide open.”

Lionel Messi Barcelona 14012017

A stalwart of Barcelona’s recent successes also faced inevitable questioning on iconic team-mate Lionel Messi.

He said: “Playing with Leo is amazing. And obviously, playing with the rest of my team mates is as well.”

‘Messi will only leave Barca for Newell’s’

And regarding the debate as to who is best – Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo – Pique reiterated that his allegiance lies close to home.

“The question I always get asked – you already know the answer,” he added.

Messi and Barcelona are next in action on Sunday, when they head to Eibar looking to keep pace with the title-chasing frontrunners in the Spanish top-flight.

21

01 2017

Klopp: I could kick Mane in the… lower back

The winger bagged a second of the tournament to keep his national side in the AFCON mix, but his Anfield boss isn’t sure how to feel

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admits he has mixed emotions after watching Sadio Mane fire Senegal into the knockout phase of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Liverpool: Injuries, suspensions & line-up vs Swansea

The 24-year-old scored his second goal of the tournament in Thursday’s 2-0 win over Zimbabwe to secure Senegal’s second win in a row and a place in the second round.

Klopp is thrilled to see the pacy forward continue his excellent form for this season but could not hide his frustration that he will remain unavailable for Liverpool for at least a little longer.

“I wrote to him and said ‘I’m happy for you, but on the other hand, I could really kick your… lower back,” Klopp told a news conference on Friday.

“Of course, they’re through, it’s good, he scored again and played good again. Mixed emotions would be the best description. As long as he’s fit, we’ll take it like it is and support Senegal.”

Joel Matip also remains unavailable for selection as FIFA has yet to decide on whether the defender should be allowed to play for his club while the finals in Gabon are ongoing, after having rejected a call-up from Cameroon.

“No, I don’t have an update. FIFA mentioned it would be a kind of D-Day. But nothing yet,” Klopp said.

“We knew about the Africa Cup of Nations before. All teams knew about it. The Matip case is special for us and of course we don’t think it’s fair. It’s another experience, actually, which we don’t need. But you have to learn from it.

“I have respect for all they’re doing there under most difficult circumstances. It’s a great tournament. In the middle of our season makes it not too cool but I don’t think too much about it.”

Liverpool take on Swansea City at Anfield on Saturday looking to halt a run of two straight draws in the Premier League and Klopp admits that media scrutiny on every match is beginning to increase the pressure on all teams.

“The interesting thing about the Premier League – and I don’t know when it started – is that there are only finals,” he said. “Swansea are already playing to stay in the league. We play for whatever.

“But each game, especially in your opinion, decides the whole season. That’s really intense. But we’re really looking forward to this opportunity. We’re still in the race and that’s really good.”

Top 20 richest football clubs in the world

Philippe Coutinho made his first start since injuring his ankle in November in the 1-0 FA Cup replay win over Plymouth Argyle on Wednesday and Klopp believes he is regaining some of his sharpness.

“You saw it already, in the few minutes he had in the last games,” he said. “We were happy to have the opportunity at Plymouth to give him 60 minutes because even Coutinho can’t come back on the pitch at immediately 100 per cent.

“It helps the whole team when Phil is in, everybody can benefit from Phil’s skills.”

20

01 2017

VIDEO: Coutinho & Firmino take on Klopp in table tennis challenge

The Liverpool boss underlines why he is the coolest manager in the Premier League as he faces off against the star duo

If you’re not sure whether Jurgen Klopp is the coolest manager in the Premier League, the following video might change your mind.

Guardiola & Aguero hold talks

The German has earned many admirers over the years not just for being a fantastic manager, but also because he is very laid-back and down to earth.

And such is evidenced in a new video released by Liverpool, in which Klopp takes time away from a busy fixture list to take on Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino in a table tennis challenge.

OFFICIAL: Memphis joins Lyon

However, the Reds boss doesn’t take on the weighty task alone as he teams up with Table Tennis Youth Champion Liu Haoyu to face off against his side’s star duo at the club’s Melwood training centre.

[embedded content]

How does the match play out? Well, find out by watching the video above !

20

01 2017

Rivaldo: Coutinho would be ideal for Barcelona

The Liverpool playmaker has often been linked with a move to Camp Nou, and his fellow Brazilian believes a deal will be done in the near future

Former Barcelona star Rivaldo has backed Philippe Coutinho to join the Spanish champions from Liverpool.

Coutinho has blossomed into one of the Premier League’s finest talents since joining from Inter for a reported £8.5milllion in January 2013.

The 24-year-old has often been linked with a move to Camp Nou, despite him being contracted to Liverpool until 2020 and a public insistence from manager Jurgen Klopp that he will not be sold.

How did Memphis fail at Man Utd?

But Rivaldo, twice a Liga winner with Barca, believes signing Coutinho to link up with fellow Brazil forward Neymar would be a shrewd move.

“In my opinion, he’s a great player and a player who knows Neymar well,” he told Sky Sports . “I think they are both friends – players who stand out.

“I think that this transfer might happen because Barcelona is always going to attract the best, isn’t it?

“He is one of the players who stands out and I believe that this transfer – if he goes to Barcelona – would be a good thing for Barcelona for sure.

“He is a player who would definitely help Barcelona. Of course, Barcelona is a big club, but with a player like him, it would definitely be a big help.”

Rivaldo went on to admit that he could easily have been lured to the Chinese Super League as a player given the financial benefits on offer.

Carlos Tevez arrived in China this week after agreeing to join Shanghai Shenhua on a contract reportedly worth £615,000 a week, while Rivaldo’s compatriot Oscar is said to earn close to £400,000 a week at Shanghai SIPG.

Oscar’s former Chelsea team-mate Diego Costa has also been heavily linked with a lucrative CSL switch following a rumoured row with manager Antonio Conte.

“Players in that situation think about their future don’t they? About their children and about their family,” said Rivaldo.

“It’s a unique opportunity for a player. Of course, he [Costa] is already in a big club, but this is a unique opportunity and players will always think about the personal side of things.

“Just as the club, you know, the club will have to sell… when they are offered that much money, a club will certainly sell a player.

“So, it’s the same for the player. And I sincerely think that I would calmly go to China.”

19

01 2017

Plymouth win was perfect for Coutinho – Klopp

The star was decisive in Liverpool’s FA Cup Third Round win after returning from injury, prompting his boss to heap praise on him and the club’s youth

Jurgen Klopp was pleased with what he saw from Philippe Coutinho in Liverpool’s 1-0 FA Cup victory over Plymouth Argyle on Wednesday.

Money kings Man Utd will soon be the best club in the world

The Brazil international started for the first time since November following his recovery from injury and set up the only goal at Home Park.

Coutinho showed to be well on the comeback trail following the knock to his ankle as his 18th-minute corner was headed in by Lucas Leiva.

The star managed just over an hour of action before being withdrawn, and Klopp saw plenty of reasons to be optimistic following his display.

“I’m happy, really happy. It was very important for us,” the manager told reporters. “I thought 60 to 65 minutes was the perfect intensity for today. Good for him and good for us.”

Divock Origi missed a late penalty for Liverpool at Home Park, but his team managed to come through their third-round replay.

The 2017 Deloitte Football Money League

Teenagers Ovie Ejaria, Ben Woodburn and Trent Alexander-Arnold started, while Sheyi Ojo and Harry Wilson came off the bench.

“I saw a few really good things but they still have to learn,” Klopp said of his youngsters.

“We are not here to celebrate each single performance of our young players – that’s what we expect, that’s why they play. And then they need to get ready to be criticised.

“I don’t care what you say, but it’s important that they really listen to what we have to say.

Madrid & Ronaldo caught cold as Copa future hangs in the balance

“I liked, for example, the reaction of Ojo tonight. Everybody, maybe, with Ojo involved they expected he would have started if he was in this game tonight as one of the young players, but I was not too happy with one or two things.

“That’s not to say, it’s about something you need to feel and then go again. Today, I thought he made a big difference when he came on, with his speed and there was sharpness involved. He’s a wonderful player but, without sharpness, it’s nothing.

“I’m happy about their potential and we will do whatever we can to let it grow but they have a big job to do, too.”

Liverpool are back in action in the Premier League on Saturday, hosting Swansea City.

19

01 2017

'We have big objectives' – Coutinho calls for Liverpool focus in trophy hunt

The Brazilian playmaker sees the 2016-17 campaign as being ‘very important’ for the Reds, while he has hailed Jurgen Klopp as a ‘great manager’

Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho urged his team to continue pushing for their “big objectives” despite a dip in form.

Jurgen Klopp’s team are winless in four matches ahead of an FA Cup clash at Plymouth Argyle on Wednesday.

Returning from an ankle injury, Coutinho has made back-to-back appearances off the bench.

‘Liverpool could finish first…or fourth’

The Brazil international called on his team, who are third in the Premier League, to remain upbeat and keep chasing success.

“We have to keep working together because the season is very long. We have big objectives to realise this season,” Coutinho told Sky Sports.

“The confidence [of a good result] brings good feeling, tells us that we have to keep working hard.

“This season promises to be very important for us and Liverpool have to keep playing well.”

Coutinho was in brilliant form prior to his injury, leading to interest from La Liga giants Barcelona.

Matip could miss five more games

The 24-year-old, however, is enjoying working under Klopp and praised the German for helping Liverpool improve.

“He is a great manager,” Coutinho said.

“He has changed the mentality in our team, we have become much stronger in defence, and we’ll keep working together.”

17

01 2017

Coutinho's return is big for Liverpool, but Henderson is badly needed against United

The Brazil international is likely to make the Reds’ first 11 at Manchester United on Sunday, but the captain’s return would be a colossal lift


COMMENT


Philippe Coutinho had cut in from the left and, following a shimmy, fizzed past Guillermo Varela before flooring David de Gea with a dazzling dink from an acute angle. Old Trafford fell silent, stunned, save for the delirious away end that bounced all through the break and beyond through the haze of red smoke. 

Does Reds’ Man Utd test come at the worst possible time?

As the Brazilian’s chip sailed over the goalkeeper, the fight was sucked out of Manchester United; large swathes of their supporters departed with 15 minutes to spare knowing there were no designs for late drama. The hosts surrended the game 1-1 and the Europa League last-16 tie 3-1 on aggregate.

Jurgen Klopp has referenced that evening – March 17, 2016 – on several occasions, stating Coutinho’s wizardry was like a remote that shut down the opposition and turned off the noise of over 70,000 people.

That bit of invention from Liverpool’s two-time Player of the Year is one of the reasons behind the exultation felt by the club’s fans as he returned from a 46-day absence to play half an hour at Southampton. 

The minutes Coutinho was afforded after shaking off ankle ligament damage took into account this Sunday, when he’ll be back at Old Trafford for the first time since his name rung around the ground in a continuous chorus.

He is expected to start, a development that will lift the visitors and unsettle his upcoming markers as there are no question marks around the 24-year-old’s status as a match winner.

“When Phil is not playing, of course you miss his creativity and finishing and all that stuff,” Klopp said at Melwood on Friday afternoon after his assertion that any team in the world would miss a talent of his calibre.

Liverpool’s attacking play has not been as exhilarating sans Coutinho; the forward’s incision and improvisation has been missed as well as his telepathy with Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana.

His chance creation, dribbles, assists and goals are complemented by his defending from the front – tackles and ball recoveries to match the magic.

“I know everybody misses Phil, of course, but especially because the role he played it was very often like a central midfielder, or like a No. 8, when he came in the middle,” Klopp said ahead of his side’s 3-0 victory at Middlesbrough.

Diego Costa responds to Chelsea controversy

“That means when we misplace a pass from there and we lose the ball, then we already have a formation for counter-press and things like this.

“Now we have too many players in the first line, we still create chances with this but it is of course a little bit too risky.”

With Sadio Mane on duty at the African Nations Cup, Coutinho’s comeback has been nicely timed to sprinkle some luminosity and lethalness back into the final third for Liverpool.

His speed of thought and ability to play the game in the future can help circumvent the loss of pace and directness during the Senegal international’s absence.

While Coutinho’s availability is undoubtedly colossal for the Merseysiders, fingers and all else will need to be crossed for Jordan Henderson to line up from the off.

The captain, who was substituted off in the 1-0 victory over Manchester City with a heel problem, is quite simply the power button for Liverpool’s machine.

He provides the platform that allows them to dominate games in and out of possession, is the orchestrator when they’re on the front foot, and the organiser when the ball is ceded. Henderson sets the tempo and sweeps up. 

He switches play and snuffs out the opposition’s threats. Emre Can and Lucas have both found it difficult to deputise for the England international in the No.6 position, unable to equal his proactiveness, energy and influence. 

There is justified sentiment that Liverpool’s chances of winning on Sunday will be drastically reduced if the skipper cannot be his side’s metronome.

Drogba agrees big-money Brazil move

It would be an added bonus if Joel Matip is given the all clear to feature, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic set to be the focal point for aerial bombardments from United.

The free signing from Schalke has been a revelation in the Reds’ rearguard, but a troublesome ankle has seen him clock just 14 starts in all competitions. 

The 25-year-old has resumed full training and like Henderson, will be pushing beyond any pain and such for a place on the teamsheet. 

While Klopp has made the collective the champion at Liverpool, to be without so many key individuals simultaneously can be debilitating.

Aside from their own contributions, the knock-on effect on the system and the changing roles of others as a consequence has seen the Anfield outfit lose some of their early season shimmer.

Liverpool, in truth, have done well to keep pace with league-leading Chelsea despite their multiple setbacks. Being robbed of Coutinho, Mane, Henderson and Matip at the same time would be akin to Antonio Conte not being able to summon the powers of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and David Luiz for fixtures.

Why Payet is forcing Marseille return

Or Tottenham to go without Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris, Cristian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen. What of Arsenal minus Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Petr Cech and Hector Bellerin?

Would United be as daunting a prospect on Sunday without their Swedish superstar, Paul Pogba, De Gea and Henrikh Mkhitaryan? 

Unquestionably, Jose Mourinho will be happier if the opposition XI does not include Coutinho, Matip or Henderson this weekend.

Klopp hopefully won’t have to give him that satisfaction ahead of kick off. 

14

01 2017

'He's our player!' – Klopp issues hands off warning to Barcelona amid Coutinho interest

Nothing has changed when it comes to the Brazilian for the Red boss, with the manager ruling out a move to Camp Nou

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp dismissed Barcelona’s reported interest in Philippe Coutinho, insisting he still has no plans to sell the star midfielder.

Messi statue cut apart by vandals

The Brazil international is set to make his return from an ankle injury when his side face Southampton in the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final on Wednesday.

Coutinho’s stellar form has seen him linked with a potential £60 million move to Barca, but Klopp said the 24-year-old would remain at Anfield.

“We never had any ideas or plans or any talks about him leaving, because he is our player,” he told UK newspapers.

“There are no other ideas, nothing has changed.”

Coutinho was enjoying an excellent campaign before his injury, contributing five goals and as many assists in 13 Premier League games.

Klopp said there was no chance of a club like Barca cooling their interest in Coutinho just because of a slight injury setback.

“It would be nice if big clubs thought like this and forgot about a player completely because he’s been injured for five or six weeks,” he said.

Heerenveen seal loan deal for Odegaard

“Big clubs don’t think this way, unfortunately. It was not a big injury so there was no question of him not being the same player afterwards.”

After facing Southampton, Liverpool head to Old Trafford for a league clash against Manchester United on Sunday.

10

01 2017

Coutinho 'fit for Liverpool squad' as Henderson nears comeback

Having completed three sessions with another due before the trip to St Mary’s, the Reds could include the 24-year-old on their teamsheet, while the skipper edges closer to a return

Jurgen Klopp revealed Philippe Coutinho is fit enough to make Liverpool’s matchday squad for the League Cup semi-final test at Southampton, with captain Jordan Henderson hoping to return to team training by the end of the week.

The Brazil international, who sat out the club’s past nine fixtures due to ankle ligament damage, is on course to end his spell out in the first-leg clash on Wednesday.

Why Martial’s next two goals will cost €10m

Firmino spent Christmas in a ‘safehouse’

Having completed three sessions, with another pencilled in before the trip to St Mary’s, Klopp feels the 24-year-old has done enough to possibly be named on the teamsheet.

Ahead of Sunday’s top-flight showdown with Manchester United, Coutinho could even be afforded a cameo, depending on how the contest against Southampton shapes up.

“I think Phil is fit enough to be part of the squad,” the Reds boss said at Melwood on Monday afternoon.

“That means that it could be minutes, but it depends on the game, of course. 

Neymar and Pogba OUT of FIFA XI

“He’s in a very good way. It was six or seven weeks [of being injured], something like that, which is long. 

“He needs minutes in training especially, but then, of course, as soon as possible minutes in games. 

“We will see how we do it – there’s no final decision made now. I think today was the third complete session he did with the team, so tomorrow will be the fourth. 

“It’s not that many, but for being in the squad, I think it’s enough, so we will see.”

Henderson, meanwhile, is nursing a heel complaint and is targeting a return to team training on Thursday. 

“Hendo is in a very good way because he’s really a mentally strong guy,” added Klopp.

“It’s still painful I think, but he’s doing well so we will see what we can do with him. 

“Hopefully [he’ll be involved in] Thursday’s team training.”

RUMOURS: PSG to bid €70m for Alexis

There was further good news with James Milner having “no issues anymore” with a calf problem.

And Joel Matip, shaking off a troublesome ankle, “took his first steps, if you want, in team training”.

Loris Karius, meanwhile, is expected to continue between the sticks. 

The goalkeeper made his first start since December 11 in Sunday’s goalless FA Cup draw with Plymouth after being taken out of the firing line. 

“No final decision until now, but it’s pretty likely that Loris will play again,” said Klopp.

“It makes sense and it’s a fair response to training performances. It’s likely, not sure.”

09

01 2017

Coutinho in line to return for Liverpool's showdown with Man Utd

The forward is not expected to play against Plymouth and is unlikely to make the trip to Southampton but is set to return for the blockbuster meeting at Old Trafford

Philippe Coutinho’s recovery from ankle ligament damage is progressing well, with Liverpool anticipating that the Brazilian will feature against Manchester United on January 15.

‘Why I rejected Arsenal for Wolfsburg’

Jurgen Klopp revealed on Friday that the 24-year-old, who has been sidelined for the past eight games, is “on a very good way” but will not be in contention for Sunday’s FA Cup third-round match against Plymouth. 

He is also unlikely to be risked for the midweek trip to Southampton for the League Cup semi-final.

Joel Matip, who is nursing a troublesome left ankle, received the same prognosis as Coutinho. The centre-back is hoping to return to full training shortly.

Daniel Sturridge, meanwhile, has not had a session since limping off in the 2-2 draw with Sunderland. 

The England international, who had scored at the Stadium of Light during his first league start in 77 days, was withdrawn after taking a knock to his right ankle.

“He didn’t train until now – for no foul!” said Klopp.

“He will probably train today. It depends on how he feels, but it should be possible.”

Mikel bids farewell to Chelsea fans

James Milner is also set to sit out the Plymouth game, with Klopp admitting that “rotation makes sense” given the exacting nature of the previous three fixtures in short succession.

“We were lucky that we didn’t have any proper injuries after the game so that’s all good,” the Reds boss explained.

“Milly had a little issue with his calf – we weren’t sure whether it was more because of the intensity but I’m pretty sure we will not take a risk with him for the weekend.”

Jordan Henderson, dealing with pain in his heel, will also not be involved.

06

01 2017