Players keep focus amid Coutinho transfer saga
Speculation over Brazilian no distraction for rest of team, insists Liverpool captain Henderson
Liverpool have not been distracted by the ongoing saga of Philippe Coutinho wanting to move to Barcelona, according to Jordan Henderson. The captain said the players had not discussed Coutinho’s desire to leave Anfield and Liverpool’s insistence that the Brazilian would stay beyond the end of the transfer window which closes on Thursday night.
Liverpool have rejected a series of huge bids from Barcelona for their playmaker, the third and highest of which has been 125 million euros (£115.3 million), which would amount to the most ever received by a British club for a player.
A fourth bid may be lodged this week following the completion of Barcelona’s deal to bring in French forward Ousmane Dembele from Borussia Dortmund for an initial fee of £97 million, which will rise significantly with add-ons, as they try to shore up the club in the wake of Neymar’s astonishing departure.
Coutinho has submitted a written Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp cannot believe the criticism Mesut Ozil receives and has told his men to be wary of the Arsenal playmaker’s skill.
Last week Anfield legend Steven Gerrard – now academy manager at Liverpool – branded the German World Cup winner a “liability” in the wake of his anonymous display in the 1-0 loss at Stoke.
Ozil will be on show at Anfield today, and Klopp said: “He is an outstandingly skilled boy. If people are not happy with him, I don’t know why. There is no doubt in Germany about the quality of Mesut Ozil.” transfer request and is said by friends to be “sad” and frustrated he has not been granted his dream move but Henderson insisted it had not unsettled the dressing room. The Liverpool captain said: “As players and professionals, you expect things to happen, especially when transfer windows are open and stuff like that. That’s the nature of football at times. You’ve got to get on with it.
“As players, you focus on what’s important – playing football and doing your job. And I’ve felt we have done that brilliantly over the last few weeks. We need to carry that on.”
Asked whether it was easy to ignore what was going on – and with Coutinho still unavailable for Liverpool after a back problem and illness – as they prepare to face Arsenal at home today in the Premier League, Henderson added: “It is. At the end of the day, whatever happens – players coming in and going out – you have to stick together as a team and focus on what is important. That’s playing well and winning your games, and hopefully we can do the same again against Arsenal.”
As captain, it might have been expected that Henderson, who has told Coutinho he wants him to stay, would have spoken to the rest of the players. But he says that is not the case and was not necessary. “We’ve just continued to get on with the job as normal,” he said. “We have started pretty well, we always want to improve and hopefully we can now kick on against Arsenal.”
Liverpool go into the encounter now qualified for the group stages of the Champions League – where, in Group E, they will face Spartak Moscow, Sevilla and Maribor – after their thumping 6-2 aggregate victory over Hoffenheim.
Henderson said: “We feel as though we are in a good moment. We’ve started well – we’ve four points from six [in the Premier League] and would have liked six from six, but there are still a lot of positives. There are still a lot of things to work on. That’s always the case, but we played excellently in the first 20 minutes against Hoffenheim so we have to be confident going into the Arsenal game before the international break.”
In that period against the German side, Liverpool scored three times. And there have been plenty of goals – an average of 4.4 a game for the past eight fixtures – when they have come up against Arsenal, who may bring back Alexis Sanchez. He, like Coutinho, had hoped to move away this summer.
But unlike Coutinho, it appears Sanchez is reconciled to staying for the final year of his contract at least, although Manchester City are expected to test that with a late bid for the Chilean this week.
Liverpool boasted the best record against the top six sides in the Premier League last season and under manager Jurgen Klopp have lost only once at home against one of those, Manchester United. They beat Arsenal convincingly, 3-1, last March at Anfield in a game where it first became publicly apparent Sanchez wanted to leave as he was dropped to the bench before coming on at half-time.
After that, Sanchez’s future became unclear and was certainly a distraction for Arsenal, who ended up finishing outside the top four. And, although they won the FA Cup, it was the first time they had not qualified for the Champions League in manager Arsene Wenger’s two-decade reign.
Liverpool are now back in the European big time themselves, with their play-off win against Hoffenheim. And Henderson believes that, despite Coutinho’s unhappiness, the team are in a good situation, with the midfielder himself glad to be back from injury.
“It was important for me to get a good pre-season under my belt,” he said. “I feel as good as ever. I feel fit. It was a tough pre-season.”
It has been a tough summer, also, for Liverpool, who have faced frustration in the transfer market – not least in their protracted attempts to sign Virgil van Dijk from Southampton and Naby Keita from RB Leipzig. Holding on to Coutinho, however, remains the priority before Thursday’s deadline, even if the club are braced for another effort from Barcelona to prise him away. £34 million they paid Valencia last summer. Inter Milan and Juventus are interested.
Arsenal are not lining up any immediate replacement for Mustafi, despite their interest in Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk, and believe they have sufficient centre-back cover in Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Rob Holding, Calum Chambers and Nacho Monreal, as well, potentially, as Sead Kolasinac.
One deal that is close is the sale of Gibbs to Watford. Gibbs has been at Arsenal since 2004 after coming through their academy.
Perez is also expected to finalise a move away from Arsenal before the closure of the window. The situation in terms of incoming players could change if key targets such as Van Dijk or Thomas Lemar became available but Arsenal’s feeling is that it would be better to wait until next year in the hope that such deals become feasible, rather than commit resources to what they would regard as lesser options now.
Wenger believes Alexandre Lacazette will prove one of this summer’s biggest bargains. Arsenal travel to Liverpool today under major pressure due to a profligate 1-0 defeat at Stoke. If Arsenal are going to challenge for their first title since 2004, they will need hefty contributions from the former Lyon man and Sanchez, who is available again after an abdominal injury.
“Lacazette is more of a combination player than a finisher,” said Wenger. “If you look at his numbers, the quantity of his finishing compared to the rest of Europe is a bit below. But the quality of his finishes is top. He is a guy who doesn’t shoot a lot, but when he shoots, he finishes.”
‘It is easy to ignore. Whatever happens, players coming in, players going out, you stick together as a team’
Eye on the ball: Jordan Henderson is only concerned with beating Arsenal today, despite all the talk about Liverpool losing their Brazilian talisman Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona