It wasn’t a bad dream, Liverpool fans.
You really did sell your best player in the middle of a season when SO much is still at stake.
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File that one under ‘naive’.
Philippe Coutinho is officially a Barcelona player and he’s embarked on a semi-heartbreaking farewell tour this week after being officially unveiled on Monday.
The Reds have already made a serious statement of intent by bringing in Virgil van Dijk this month but the loss of the brilliant Brazilian is a real sucker punch, whether he wanted to be there or not.
A lot has been made of Coutinho’s potential replacements – so how do you fill such a void?
Media speculation has inevitably produced a number of eye-catching names, from Thomas Lemar to Riyad Mahrez.
But Coutinho’s most obvious successor is actually staring Liverpool right in the face.
Before Van Dijk’s mammoth £75m move the Reds conjured an equally impressive coup by luring Naby Keita to Anfield from RB Leipzig, albeit in July 2018 instead of immediately.
But they need him now.
Keita is a rare gem and while Liverpool have the comfort of knowing he is definitely their player, Coutinho’s exit has heightened the Guinea star’s value.
When you break down their stats, as carried out by Football Whispers, the Leipzig star’s all round game underlines just what he could bring to Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Keita averages 5.5 dribbles and key passes per 90 minutes, compared with 5.0 for Coutinho.
He also dwarfs the Brazilian’s defensive output, contributing 5.3 tackles and interceptions per 90 compared to just 2.0 for Coutinho.
Keita is effectively two players moulded into one and the ultimate modern midfielder; think Coutinho and Emre Can’s lovechild.
His performances certainly suggest ex-Liverpool midfielder turned pundit Danny Murphy hasn’t actually watched him in the flesh.
Murphy claimed this week Keita was ‘a bit like Jordan Henderson’ and ‘not as creative as Javier Mascherano’.
His arrival, should Liverpool manage to convince Leipzig to join ahead of schedule in January, would be the most natural remedy to nurse the Coutinho blues.
Barcelona’s new £145m man was averaging a goal or assist every 70 minutes this season, but Liverpool’s front three score enough to compensate for that.
Keita, who has the third highest dribble success in the Bundesliga this season at 56.4%, is not only a decent goal threat but also creative enough to transform that Liverpool midfield.
Klopp and Liverpool have remained tight-lipped on their transfer plans since Coutinho’s departure, but they should focus all their efforts on wooing Leipzig into freeing Keita early.
It might be the German’s shrewdest bit of business yet.
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