Neymar will be a greater leader for Brazil without the captaincy – Rai


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Studious Tite reaps reward for prep work with dream start as Brazil coach

With tactical shifts, new faces young and old, and six points from two games, a new-look Selecao is beginning to take shape under the new boss

Brazil coach Tite has grown accustomed to the making the most of his time.

Overlooked by the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) in 2012 and 2014, he was finally handed the role in June but his decision not to lead the Under-23 side into the Rio Olympics left him with two months to fill.


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On both occasions, he stayed busy. After leaving Corinthians in 2012 Tite spent his free-time travelling the globe, visiting some of Europe’s biggest clubs in order expand his knowledge of the game and fine-tune his philosophy of play.

Between his unveiling during this year’s Copa America and his official debut on the bench this month, he watched endless matches in the Brazilian championship, studied his first opponents, Ecuador, and travelled to the USA to cast an eye over Colombia at Copa America 2016. He also sent his son to Asia to observe the Brazilian nationals now plying their trade in the Chinese Super League.

Tite is a studious man, and his preparation paid off as he made a dream start to life with the Selecao. He opened his tenure by ending a 33-year wait for a Brazil victory in Quito before seeing off Colombia 2-1 in Manaus – two results that catapulted the Selecao into second-place in Conmebol’s World Cup qualifying table.

Widely considered to be head and shoulders above all other current Brazilian coaches, expectations were high, but back-to-back victories surprised even him.
  
“I try to find a balance, because there is a great burden of responsibility in this job, but it went rather better than I thought. I’m really very happy because the performances were even better than I expected.”


 
Those performances were a direct result of all the work Tite had done during a period when some would simply have sat scratching their heads.

With just three days to work with his players ahead of their trip to Quito, Tite had prepared meticulously for the Ecuador match. He’d identified that smart-passing midfielder Christian Noboa was key to the home side’s chances, and that neutralising him would be vital.

The scouting report he’d requested from Asia spoke positively of Paulinho, who’d played a major role the Copa Libertadores and Club World Cup victories Tite had achieved with Corinthians. 

Despite not having represented Brazil since a very disappointing showing at World Cup 2014, Paulinho returned and was put straight into the first team with a specific task: stop Noboa.

He did exactly that, and after another tactical tweak to slow the early progress of Jefferson Montero on the left side of Ecuador’s attack, Brazil ran away 3-0 victors thanks to an inspired performance from another debutant, Gabriel Jesus.

19-year-old Jesus had struggled at centre-forward in the Olympics, but Tite was convinced his pace and incisive running would stretch the play, open up the field to leave greater space between Noboa and his colleagues, and provide Brazil an outlet for the ball over the top.

Ecuador were restricted to just 38% possession at the altitude of Quito. Noboa attempted half as many passes and had around 40% less touches than he’d managed in his side’s previous home qualifier, against Paraguay.

Paulinho remained for the second of a World Cup qualifying double-header against Colombia, and fulfilled a similar function as he stamped out playmaker Macnelly Torres, who sets the tone and rhythm of Jose Pekerman’s side.

Utterly ineffectual, Torres was withdrawn five minutes into the second half and his direct replacement, Juan Cuadrado, was the player who failed to track Neymar for Brazil’s winner in the 2-1 victory.

 Another key aspect of Tite’s approach was how much his side concentrated their attacking play down the left side. All three goals against Ecuador resulted from attacking plays built on that side of the field, and so did Neymar’s winner against Colombia.

Naturally, the team is drawn to left-sided forward Neymar when in possession, but Renato Augusto, another who achieved success alongside Tite at Corinthians, has left his deep-lying playmaker role to operate as a left-midfielder in order to improve the supply-line to Neymar.

The recall of Marcelo in place of Filipe Luis also appears designed to assist Neymar in the Brazil attack. His Real Madrid colleague Casemiro was sublime as the lone pivot in midfield triangle that has been inverted under Tite, an attacking variation many of the local media have been demanding for decades.

Time and again he stamped out counter-attacks and, considerably more gifted on the ball than many of his predecessors in that role, it was his pass that made the key breakthough last week when a smart ball in behind Ecuador saw Gabriel Jesus race onto to win a vital penalty that gave Brazil the lead.

The one victim of Tite’s first week in the role appears to be Willian. The Chelsea wide-man has, arguably, been the Selecao’s most consistent player since World Cup 2014, but the concentration of play on the opposite side left him completely marginalised.

He was largely a passenger and was replaced by Liverpool’s Phillippe Coutinho in both matches. Coutinho has faced a wait of his own for a proper crack in the Brazil side and impressed in both cameos, leaving the right-side of Tite’s lop-sided 4-4-2 to operate almost as a second-striker alongside Gabriel Jesus to form a more penetrative 4-3-3.

A collectiveness and cohesion looks to have returned to the side, who are also pressing much more productively. 

“They all know that without the ball they will have to work hard,” Tite said. 

“Neymar will appear only if he is receiving the ball in the final third. Marcelo will appear only if Casemiro offers cover and Renato can provide the supply.”

There have been a number of interesting and productive practical changes under Tite, but there also appears to be a change in the emotional tone of the group.

The entire atmosphere around the Brazil camp changed following the dismissal of Dunga, a fierce and often misanthropic coach who appeared desperate to stress that the Selecao were forever at war.

A Marquinhos own goal and a reckless Neymar tackle that earned a booking just before the break to against Colombia could previously have been signs that Brazil were at breaking point. But Brazil kept their cool, even as they were repeatedly frustrated by a dogged Colombian defence in their hunt for a winner.

With Paulinho’s work for the evening already done, Giuliano – another former Tite alumni – was introduced to add some extra dynamism alongside Coutinho and it was the two substitutes who combined to create Neymar’s winner.

September continued the feel-good factor kicked off by August’s Olympic gold. Talk of winning World Cup 2018 may be premature, but Brazil are certainly looking better than they have in the two years since ‘the 7-1’.

“We are in a process of evolution,” says Tite. “The level of concentration and commitment is fundamental. This team already has a spirit and solidarity.”

Brazil will ride the wave of optimism for another month now as the Selecao return to qualifying action in October by hosting Bolivia before visiting Venezuela. Tite will no doubt spend the next four weeks hard at work.

Neymar exorcises ghosts, Paulinho pivotal and Willian on the brink – Five lessons from Brazil 2-1 Colombia

Brasil Global Tour looks back at the major talking points after new coach Tite made it two wins out of two with victory in Manaus on Tuesday


GOALANALYSIS


Tuesday saw new Brazil coach Tite complete a dream start to life on the Selecao bench, as Neymar sealed a 2-1 win over Colombia that completed their leap from sixth in the table to second place, just one point behind Uruguay on the long road to Russa 2018.

The result arrived just four days after this his debut brought a first win in Quito for 33 years as a teenage Gabriel Jesus inspired the Selecao to a historic victory.


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More than 36,000 packed the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus to see Neymar get one over on his old rivals this week as he hit the winning coal in the win over Colombia. 

Below, Brasil Global Tour look back at the five major talking points from Tite’s second game in the dugout.

PAULINHO PROVES PIVOTAL

The return of Paulinho to a Brazil squad for the first time since World Cup 2013 wasn’t a huge surprise, given his history of success with Tite at Corinthians in the first few years of this decade, but the decision to start him in both games did raise a few eyebrows. Paulinho did not pull up many trees against Ecuador or Colombia, but his contribution proved vital. The former Tottenham Hotspur man stopped the Ecuadorian midfield passing on Thursday and on Tuesday he nullified playmaker Macnelly Torres, who may well be Colombia’s most important player. There were no moments of magic from Paulinho, but he was decisive in both matches and looks set to stay with the Selecao.

NEYMAR EXORCISES COLOMBIAN GHOSTS

It appears Neymar has exorcised the ghosts of Colombia past. After leading Brazil past them in the quarter-finals of the Rio Olympics, he once again made proved the match-winner as the senior side came to town. For long periods Brazil once again focused all their play down the left, and it paid off as Ney grabbed the winning goal to make it 48 goals for his country – a total that saw him equal the great Zico and become the fourth highest-scorer in the history of the national team

CRUNCH TIME FOR WILLIAN 

Prior to Tite’s appointment, Willian was arguably Brazil’s best player since World Cup 2014 – certainly one of the most consistent. However, he has had two frustrating evenings since the arrival of the new boss. With Brazil’s play so heavily focused down the left, with Renato Augusto playing almost as an outright left midfielder, Willian is seeing very little of the ball. As he was against Ecuador, Willian was replaced by Coutinho against Colombia and the substitute once more took up a central position among the strikers – on both occasions, this change has resulted directly in goals on what could otherwise have proved tough nights for Tite. Willian’s days in the starting elven may be numbered.

TITE THE TALK OF THE TOWN

Two games, two wins. With very little time to meet some of this players, let alone work with his team, the former Corinthians man has got off to the dream start. He has also proved his salt tactically, making tweaks to his team both to stop the opponents playing and to freshen things up when they were needed at the latter stages of his first two matches in charge. The local media and fans alike have been mightily impressed with the new man charged with leading the five-time world champions into a new era.

BRAZIL SETTING THE PACE IN MARATHON TO RUSSIA

Ahead of this round of qualifiers, there were some serious concerns that the world could be in store for a first ever World Cup without Brazil. Sitting in sixth position, having struggled under previous coach Dunga, the previous two years had thrown up little reason for optimism. But with a new coach, some new players, and a new leg of the marathon to Russia 2018, the sun is shining on the Selecao’s bright yellow shirts once more. South America’s long qualification process ebbs and flows, with early pacesetters Ecuador among those to have tired and drop back to joint he chasing pack. There will be many more twists and turns ahead, but Brazil are back on track.

TEAM NEWS: Coutinho starts but no Can for Liverpool at Tottenham

The 24-year-old is named in the first 11 after missing Tuesday’s cup encounter, but the midfielder is ruled out with a concern sustained in that game

Philippe Coutinho has shaken off a tight hamstring to slot straight back into Liverpool’s starting line-up for the test at Tottenham, but Emre Can is not in the matchday squad as he nurses an ankle problem.

The Brazilian sat out the 5-0 win over Burton Albion in the League Cup due to the niggle, but is restored to the attack alongside Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.

The trio combined superbly last time out in north London against Arsenal, and will want to repeat that at White Hart Lane. 

Daniel Sturridge, who scored twice off the bench in Tuesday night’s cup encounter, is held in reserve. Divock Origi suffered with cramp in that fixture, but is also among the substitutes.

Can, meanwhile, picked up the setback at the Pirelli Stadium and will not be risked. “He had a little pain in his ankle without any touch – I couldn’t see any contact,” Jurgen Klopp explained in his pre-match media conference. 

“It was a long leg, then a little bit floppy and then he had pain.

“But it is not that serious. It’s not that big [of a] pain anymore, but it’s the ankle he had problems with at the end of last season, so he’s a little bit worried.

“Hopefully it’s nothing too serious.”

Joel Matip starts his first Premier League game for Liverpool, with Ragnar Klavan out due to a minor knock. 

Lucas, who played 45 minutes for the Under-23s in their 3-1 victory over Arsenal on Friday, is named on the bench.

Tottenham, on the other hand, have made just one change from the side which started their 1-0 win over Crystal Palace last time out, with Dele Alli replacing Vincent Janssen in the starting lineup. 

Tottenham starting XI: Vorm, Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Dier, Wanyama, Eriksen, Alli, Lamela; Kane

Subs: McGee, Carter-Vickers, Davies, Onomah, Winks, Janssen, Son

Liverpool starting XI: Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana, Mane, Coutinho, Firmino

Subs: Manninger, Lucas, Moreno, Stewart, Grujic, Origi, Sturridge

'Phenomenal' Coutinho can match Messi and Ronaldo – Heskey

The former Liverpool striker has lauded the Brazilian, who scored a superb double in the Reds’ 4-3 win over Arsenal on the opening weekend of the Premier League season

Former Liverpool striker Emile Heskey believes “phenomenal” Philippe Coutinho has what it takes to reach the same level as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Coutinho, 24, grabbed the headlines as he scored a magnificent double in Liverpool’s 4-3 win over Arsenal on the opening weekend of the new Premier League season.

Messi and Ronaldo are widely regarded as the two best players in the world, having shared the last eight Ballon d’Or awards between them.

And Heskey believes former Inter man Coutinho can match the star duo if he manages to improve his consistency. 

“I think he’s got the ability to [match Messi and Ronaldo]. I think he’s got just as much ability as them and we’ve seen it in spurts. We need to see it more on a constant level now. His skills are phenomenal,” Heskey told Omnisport.


GOALREAD MORE  | Liverpool reject Palace’s Benteke bid


“I’ve seen it when he was at Inter and some of the videos that you see from there in training … wow. He’s a phenomenal player.

“And some of his visions… You know when you are closing someone down and you think that you’ve got him and he does a trick and you’re wondering ‘how did he actually do that and how did he know I was coming in behind him?’ You’re thinking he’s got eyes in the back of his head. He’s got that sort of vision.

“Those players come round only once in a lifetime really. He’s a phenomenal player. That’s why he’s going to have teams interested in him, but he is a massively important player to Liverpool.  

“Some of the stuff that he does you’re like ‘this is a young lad’. [He’s] still young now to be fair, but he needs to take it to that next level. I believe he can do that, but it’s a mentality thing not a talent thing. Mentality wise that’s where we have to question it.”

Coutinho and Mane combine to lift Liverpool and loot Arsenal

The Brazilian scored twice and created another of his club’s four goals at the Emirates on Sunday, while the Senegal international was scorching on his debut

Pep Lijnders had the perfect description. “Phwoar, machine!,” he succinctly declared when talking about Liverpool’s £30 million signing Sadio Mane. 

The Senegal international, recruited from Southampton at the end of June as the Reds’ third most expensive purchase ever, provided another sample of why he’s more than worth the hefty sum in Sunday’s 4-3 victory over Arsenal.

Not only did he display his strength, speed, skill and surety when toying with Nacho Monreal and Calum Chambers before tucking his effort into top corner for Liverpool’s fourth of the evening, the 24-year-old was industrious throughout on his competitive debut for the Anfield side.


GOALREAD MORE  | Klopp: We celebrated too soon


He completed the most take-ons in the match, notched the highest ball recoveries and topped the tackles table.

Even when Liverpool were indecisive and passive at the onset of the first half, Mane was a constant source of promise for the visitors at the Emirates.

He fed the feet of Philippe Coutinho when the Brazilian drew a foul off Rob Holding, before perfectly executing the resulting free-kick. 

Liverpool did not deserve to be level on the balance of play after Theo Walcott’s opener, yet their two-time Player of the Year got them back in the game with another stunning curler to add to his weighty catalogue. “Maybe our first goal of the season, will be our goal of the season!” Jurgen Klopp said of the strike, which he also labelled ‘genius.’

When Coutinho turns it on, he turns defences inside out and the game on its head, as was the case against Arsenal. 

The attacker followed up the equaliser by flicking on cleverly for Gini Wijnaldum, who provided a lofted pass to Adam Lallana for Liverpool’s second.

The 24-year-old then treated himself to another goal after anticipating Nathaniel Clyne’s low cross into the box and finishing past Petr Cech again. He could have recorded a hat-trick right afterwards after being set up by his compatriot Roberto Firmino, but the Arsenal stopper was finally able to foil him. 

Coutinho and Mane embraced at the final whistle, both praising each other’s contribution. The latter looked to be telling his team-mate that he was the match-winner, but Coutinho shook his head and pointed back at Mane as if to suggest it was he who made the difference.

In truth, both players provided the inspiration for Liverpool to record a thrilling triumph to start 2016-17 off positively. 

It was far from a surgical performance from Klopp’s side, but the pair were luminary when the Reds needed it most. 

Ragnar Klavan, who made the most clearances – of the headed variety too, also enjoyed a solid debut despite conceding thrice.

And Wijnaldum, the final player making his bow for the Reds in north London, elevated his display in the second 45, contributing to Liverpool’s second and third goals.

Last season, Coutinho had to do too much on his own too often. That shouldn’t be case anymore given the quality Klopp has injected into his attack,  and especially with Mane looking tailor-made for the manager’s blueprint. 

Coutinho excited by 'fast' Liverpool recruits

The signings of Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum from Southampton and Newcastle have excited the Brazil international, who is looking forward to witnessing their impact

Philippe Coutinho is excited by Liverpool’s newest recruits Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum, and believes the former is “too fast”. 

Mane and Wijnaldum have both signed long-term deals at Anfield this summer, becoming Jurgen Klopp’s latest additions to his squad ahead of the 2016-17 Premier League season.

Playmaker Coutinho is excited to see what both players will bring to the team, and is especially looking forward to the pair injecting significant pace into the club’s attack.

“I am looking forward to playing with them. They’re both very good players and fast players, so maybe you can pass a long ball and they’ll arrive to it,” the Brazil international told Liverpool’s official website.

“But it’s not only them, the squad is very good and there are a lot of good players. I hope we can all do a good job together this year.

“There are a lot of players now and there is good competition in the squad, which helps you to get better and helps the team.

“It’s been very good playing with Sadio so far, but if anything he’s too fast! That’s good because you need this in your game. Everyone is very happy with him – he is a nice guy and very good player.

“The new signings are] very good for Liverpool and the squad because there is good competition to play. Everybody wants to be involved and that’s good for the club.”

Five lessons from Brazil 0-1 Peru

Brasil Global Tour look back at the key talking points from the Selecao’s early Copa America Centenario exit on Sunday


GOALANALYSIS


Brazil saw their Copa America Centenario campaign come to a premature end on Sunday as a controversial 1-0 defeat to Peru sent them crashing out at the group stage.

It was the first time since 1987 that the Selecao have failed to make it past the first round of a Copa America tournament.

Dunga’s expansive side made a good start to the match, impressing in the first half with an attacking 4-2-3-1 that saw Santos playmaker Lucas Lima replace the suspended Casemiro – an approach the coaching staff had been experimenting with since the Chevrolet Brasil Global Tour victory over Panama last month.


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But the eight-time South American champions failed to turn their dominance into a lead and ultimately went out to a Raul Ruidiaz winner 15 minutes from time.

Below Brasil Global Tour looks back at some of the key talking points from the Selecao’s early exit.

Coutinho’s no-show

After the victory over Haiti brought a brilliant performance from hat-trick hero Philippe Coutinho, all eyes were on the Liverpool man to continue to deliver in the final third. But this time out he could not have the same impact.

A number of misplaced passes as Brazil lost their rhythm in the second half meant he failed to settle into the game and was nowhere near as deadly as he had been in front of goal last time out. Coutinho had waited so long for an opportunity to be a real protagonist for his country, but the team’s lack of cohesion after the break made it very difficult for the Liverpool man who will no doubt go on to be a future star of the national team.

Gabigol – close but not quite close enough

The past couple of weeks had seen Santos starlet Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa grow from promising youngster into bonafide senior international, coming off the bench to hit two goals in three substitute appearances as he made his first steps in the national team.

Against Peru he was handed his first Brazil start and twice went close to breaking the deadlock in the first half. First he received a low pass and turned expertly to roll a shot towards the far corner, but was denied by a fine save. Then he hit a snap shot that stung Pedro Gallese’s hands but was not accurate enough to beat him. Gabigol was replaced by Hulk with 20 minutes remaining. It was a disappointing ending to a whirlwind few weeks for the 19-year-old, but he’ll be back in August to star at the Olympics.

Dunga’s brave approach doesn’t pay off

With no Casemiro and youngster Walace the only outright defensive midfielder at his disposal, Dunga took the bold approach of fielding a midfield without a holder to sit in front of the back four. The position has become so entrenched in Brazilian football that it was an extremely brave decision from a coach previously criticised for his pragmatic approach.

But despite his courage to take the game to the opposition and introduce more possession to his side, the second-half performance was well below par as his side failed to create clear-cut chances and ultimately bowed out to a goal conceded on the counter-attack.

Subsitutions fail to make the difference

As his side struggled to find the sort of cohesion they showed in the first period, local commentators insisted that changes were needed if Brazil were to arrest their sudden decline. Six late withdrawals had left Dunga without a number of his preferred options from the bench.

The Selecao needed something extra, but only one change was made as Hulk came on to replace Gabigol. Perhaps the likes of Lucas Moura and Paulo Henrique Ganso could have added something extra. Regardless, the one change Dunga did make so very nearly paid off but Elias couldn’t convert a glaring opportunity at the death after a fine cross from Hulk.

Refereeing failure

As Ruidiaz and his colleagues set off towards the corner flag in wild celebration, it was clear to see that something wasn’t quite right. Brazil goalkeeper Alisson led the protests, insisting the Peru attacker had used his hand to swat in a cross that was bending behind him.

The referee and his assistants took almost six minutes deliberating over the incident, with everyone in black appearing to have missed the handball. The big screen in the stadium would later show it was clearly Ruidiaz’s hand that sent the ball into the net. But it didn’t matter. Brazil were behind and they would bow out.

Filipe Luis: Uruguay elimination serves as Brazil warning

After two straight defeats sent Luis Suarez’ side packing from the Copa America Centenario, the Atletico Madrid full-back has urged Brazil to avoid the same fate

Filipe Luis has urged Brazil to take Uruguay’s elimination from the Copa America Centenario as a warning.

A 1-0 defeat to Venezuela followed a loss to Mexico in Uruguay’s opening match, resulting in an early exit from the competition for the most successful country in the competition. 

Star striker Luis Suarez sustained an injury while representing Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final in May, and was unable to return to fitness in time to feature in either match for the 15-time champions.

Brazil head into their final Group B match against Peru with a place in the quarter-finals still not secured, and Filipe Luis is determined not to suffer the same fate as Uruguay.

“Uruguay’s elimination serves as a warning. It’s a complicated competition, everyone wants to win and there is no easy game,” said Filipe Luis.

“Uruguay have a great team but ended up losing their first game – obviously they felt the absence of Suarez.

“But we are in a good moment, we are growing every day. I believe that we are more prepared than anyone.”

After a dour goalless draw against Ecuador, Brazil sprung to life with a 7-1 thumping of Haiti in their second group match.

Philippe Coutinho struck a hat-trick in the resounding victory, and Filipe Luis hailed his understanding with the Liverpool forward.

“Playing with Coutinho is easy,” he added. “He’s a very quick player who dribbles well.

“He knows how to play out wide, and my job is no just to go past and help him, is also to give the greatest number of passes to him in space around the opposition right-back.

“I have an understanding with him, I know the movements he likes to make, but firstly my function is defensive.” 

Sell Coutinho? No! There's no price tag for progress

The Reds need to reject any offer for the Brazilian, regardless of the fee involved as the playmaker is nowhere close to his ceiling and has proved pivotal for the club

Here Liverpool are again. Another summer, another scenario where clubs are circling around their best player.

Paris Saint-Germain are heavily considering luring Philippe Coutinho to the French capital. And they will not be the only European powerhouse sniffing around the Brazilian, who netted a hat-trick in a 7-1 Copa America crushing of Haiti on Wednesday night. 

Neymar has been unequivocal about wanting his countryman at Barcelona, while Filipe Luís has stated ‘O Magico’ would be more than welcome at Atletico Madrid. More stellar showings at the 16-team tournament will invite more admirers.

He is a stunningly gifted player capable of the simple, the sublime and mixing graft with guile. He only turns 24 next week, and is nowhere close to his ceiling. Coutinho’s best years are ahead of him, and Liverpool need to ensure most of those are spent on Merseyside. 

They are expected to bat away any approaches for the playmaker, and if the club are intent on being formidable in future, the Reds need to stick to the ‘not-for-sale’ stance at present.

Over the past two summers, Liverpool have watched Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling walk away. The Uruguayan, unquestionably one of the world’s premier players, was always going to move on. And when he did, the Anfield side lost genuine, unrelenting quality. The former captain, past his playing peak but still in possession of the kind of authority the club requires, should have been convinced to stay. 

The Sterling saga was toxic, and Manchester City paid an English record fee for the attacker, but the Reds ceded an excellent player of only 20 at the time, who felt they couldn’t match his ambitions.

Regardless of how he handled matters, that is a damning indictment. 
 

If the trend continues and Coutinho is allowed to make a switch this summer, when does the talent drain stop? Who will be next? Emre Can? Divock Origi if his exponential development continues? 

Liverpool’s squad has plenty of industry, but is lacking inspiration and to lose some of the current stardust would be criminal. 

Attacking players are already at a premium, with the Reds themselves acutely aware of how hard it is to land stellar creative sparks. 

Months of selling the club to Mario Gotze is currently at the stage where it is looks unlikely that he will opt to move to Anfield. Liverpool switched focus to Sadio Mane, and Southampton will play hardball over the Senegal international, who is set to command a £30 million fee. 

What then, is Coutinho worth? How do you put a price on progress? Because if the former Inter man departs, Liverpool are back at square one needing to replace their reigning two-time Player of the Season. Who would they target? And at what fee? How long would it take a new buy to get to where Coutinho is – a reference point for the team? 
 

Since signing the Rio-born virtuoso on 30 January 2013 for just £8.5 million, whom have Liverpool recruited that has proved to be better? Can and Roberto Firmino are excellent purchases, but neither are at the stage yet where they can help galvanise the dressing room and routinely decide a game.

Suarez said it. Gerrard said it. And Liverpool must know it: Coutinho is the player to build this team around. He provided many of the standout moments of 2015-16, as he did in the campaign prior. There are currently very few players at Anfield who entice and excite the crowd, he is atop that list. 

Coutinho has spent three-and-a-half seasons with the Reds: for two of them, fans and his peers have voted him the main man. For the other year and six months, Suarez described him as “the difference that makes Liverpool.”

And he is only getting started. Just swinging into stride.

The acquisition of Jurgen Klopp last October has been the greatest show of ambition Liverpool have managed in the last decade. 

They need to match that by standing firm over their premier players. 

The club are still recovering from the sales of the likes of Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso, they cannot continually add to the inventory of high-profile outgoings and expect to be a constant force. 

Liverpool need to thwart the trend. They need to line up with Coutinho next season. 

If the Reds want to land great players, they need to start by keeping the few they’ve currently got.