JUST how do you replace Philippe Coutinho? That’s the question Liverpool executives and coaches are still trying to answer.
After more than 200 appearances and 54 goals, the Brazilian left Anfield for Barcelona last month in a deal that could potentially rise to £142million.
Jurgen Klopp has suggested that with Adam Lallana back from injury, the England international could step into Coutinho’s shoes, but that could just be a ploy to try to bring down the price of any potential arrival.
The Reds had been linked to the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Thomas Lemar last month, with rumours in January also suggesting Gremio’s Luan is a Liverpool transfer target.
So we asked our friends at Football Whispers to profile the Brazilian and look at whether he could properly replace his compatriot at Anfield.
It was nearly all over before it began for the attacker who could be the next Brazilian star to make it big in Europe.
Luan signed for Rio Preto Esporte Club at 15. But it was a culture shock for the teenager which nearly saw him give up the beautiful game.
Former mentor, Alex Sandro Rocha Pineiro, recalls that time: “For a whole year, he never played.
“So, after 12 months of training sessions, he went back to futsal. From the age of 16 to 18, Luan played only futsal.”
However, Pineiro, who’d known Luan since he was nine, knew better. He asked local side America to take the youngster as part of their squad to the Copa Sao Paulo youth tournament in 2013.
They agreed but the player only accepted their offer hours before registration for the competition closed.
Pineiro’s persistence paid off. Luan was a star and after turning down the opportunity to sign with Internacional, he agreed to join Gremio, managed by former Brazil and Chelsea coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.
But it took Scolari’s 2015 departure, and the subsequent appointment of Roger Machado, for things to really click for Luan.
He scored ten times in 33 starts in the 2015 league season, establishing himself as an integral player for Gremio and was named in the Brasileiro Team of the Year.
The following year, Luan was part of the Brazil squad that was expected to win gold on home turf at the Rio Olympics.
With Neymar, future Manchester City hotshot Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Barbosa in attack, Luan started the tournament as back-up.
With the “golden trio” faltering in the group stages, Luan was introduced and finished with three goals from four starts, which helped the Selecao clinch gold.
He made his full international debut earlier this year, coming off the bench to play the final six minutes of a 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Ecuador in September.
And he’s since started to attract interest from Europe, with both Liverpool and Arsenal linked with him towards the close of last year.
It’s a real step up from the level of side linked with him in the summer.
Speaking then, Gremio vice-president Odorico Roman said: “We had two firm approaches, from Sampdoria and Spartak. They were made, but Luan remains as a Gremio player at the moment.”
But Luan continued to gain plaudits and he was voted South American Player of the Year for 2017 after he helped Gremio to the Copa Libertadores.
He has a decent record for his club, with 131 appearances and 36 goals. And at 24 the time to move to Europe is now. If he stays much longer, he may miss the opportunity.
With Coutinho leaving Liverpool, a move to Anfield would make sense. Like his compatriot, Luan pulls the strings in attack while tending to play off the left.
But perhaps he is more of a Coutinho/Roberto Firmino hybrid with his movement and the positions he finds himself in similar to the latter.
While he largely plays on the left, he’s capable of fulfilling any role across the attack, which would make him perfect for Liverpool’s fluid team.
The Reds have had issues this season when trying to break teams down, as they found on Monday against Swansea.
They can look short of ideas and lifeless in attack. Luan may not be blessed with Sadio Mane’s pace but he is full of selfless movement and that is one way to unlock many defensive set-ups.
With Liverpool needing to replace their former No10 on that left-hand side, the Gremio man could do that job. Klopp will want a similar type of individual in mind and Luan ticks that box.
The Reds have one of the best attacking units in the Premier League right now but there’s no depth.
If one of Mane, Mohamed Salah or Firmino are ruled out, the drop in quality is evident. Luan could bridge the gap to give Klopp options moving forward.
It would be a risk to bring in someone with no previous European experience, but with the Brazilian thought to have a buyout clause of just £15m, he could well turn out to be a bargain if he moves to Anfield.