As Philippe Coutinho’s surprise absence against Burnley coincided with the opening of the January transfer window, the prospect of Liverpool’s Fab Four breaking up became an even more real one for those on Merseyside.
In fact, long-term admirers Barcelona have already inadvertently urged supporters to buy Coutinho shirts for the rest of the season and BetFair are now offering odds of just 1/2 for the Brazilian to move to the Nou Camp before the midseason window slams shut at the start of February.
Liverpool fans will no doubt be loathed to see the attacking midfielder move on after emerging as one of the Premier League’s brightest talents during his time at Anfield, but the apparent inevitably of his departure does raise an interesting question – who should Liverpool target to replace their playmaking maestro? Football FanCast suggests three solutions from around the Premier League…
If there were ever any doubts over Riyad Mahrez’s consistency after suffering some post-title blues last season, he’s surely eradicated them this term – rediscovering the level of form that unexpectedly took Leicester to the Premier League crown in 2015/16. 21 outings this season have brought seven goals and seven assists, meaning he’s actually been involved in more Premier League goals than Coutinho and the most of any midfielder outside the Premier League’s big six.
The Algerian international seems destined to ply his trade at Champions League level and in terms of style, his fluid movement and ability to play anywhere across the attacking midfield berth suits Jurgen Klopp’s game-plan perfectly.
The Foxes’ safety from relegation in comparison to a few months ago makes a mid-season move considerably more plausible, but they’ll expect big bucks for the flagship talent at the King Power Stadium.
Perhaps a less proficient attacking midfielder than Mahrez and Coutinho in terms of output, but nonetheless one who would suit Liverpool’s style of play and go some way to replacing the latter’s South American flair. Lanzini is hardworking, creative and mobile and has developed an insatiable knack for generating havoc by sneaking into pockets between the attack and the midfield.
That has seen him become West Ham’s biggest attacking influence since Dimitri Payet left the club this time last year, and the widespread belief is that he’d produce at an even higher level in a more consistent team – not least because seven of his 16 goals for the Hammers have come against big six opposition.
At 24, the potential is there for further improvement too, but he’s probably not a match-winning superstar who can instantaneously fill Coutinho’s void. Transfermarkt value him at just £13.5million, but West Ham will surely demand more for losing their chief playmaker amid a relegation battle.
It still feels as if we’ve only seen the real Xherdan Shaqiri in fits and spurts during his time in the Premier League, but there has been a much greater consistency to the 64-cap Switzerland international’s game this season in spite of Stoke’s turbulent form.
He’s just one set-up away from matching his best return for the Potters for both goals and assists in a single season, while only six Premier League players have averaged more key passes per match than the 26-year-old throughout 2017/18.
A knack for the occasional sublime creates the teasing idea of Shaqiri sustaining the level of form to one day to return to a club of Bayern Munich’s stature, but investing in the former Bundesliga winner inevitably feels like something of a gamble – one that Liverpool may have to pay a premium to discover the outcome of with the Potters now just two points off the relegation zone.
So, Liverpool fans, which potential replacement should you club splash the Coutinho cash on? Let us know which suggested solution takes your fancy by voting below…