Updated: Oct 15, 2018
When the rumors started swirling this past summer of Phillipe Coutinho going to Barcelona the initial reaction was that Liverpool’s season was doomed after a positive summer highlighted by the signings of Mo Salah and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Since the departures of club icon Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez, the Reds second place finish of 2013/14 seemed like a distant memory. Fortunately for Liverpool in the subsequent summer transfer windows they managed to bring in players like Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane, and the rest of the Southampton starting XI who helped them build a team capable of finishing in the top 4 and getting that illustrious Champions League football.
There was no doubt that Coutinho was the crown jewel of Liverpool’s midfield, he’s not only a technically gifted player but a player with a penchant for the spectacular (I.E.: his free kick against Arsenal in the opening fixture of the 2016/17 season or his beautiful curling effort from outside the box for his first Barcelona goal to name a few). With all of Barcelona’s bids rejected I began to wonder if Liverpool could indeed hang onto their most prized asset.
However, once the season began it was obvious that Coutinho wanted to leave and the fact that Jürgen Klopp started him on the bench for their first Champions League match after the window had closed further showed that this saga would continue throughout the first half of the season. At this point the writing was on the wall and although his form never dipped, his attitude and his demeanor would be called into question.
Mohamed Salah made the decision that much easier. Salah’s season has been prolific to say the least. His pace and trickery has made Premier League defenders look absolutely silly (I.E.: his four-goal match against Watford). With his performances and selfless nature on and off the pitch he has become a favorite of the Kop and Liverpool’s decision was ultimately made coupled with the reemergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the Reds sold their most prized asset during the January transfer window.
They finally consummated a deal that resulted in Liverpool netting 142 million pounds. The fee itself is enormous obviously and is a figure that could never be turned down and smartly, Liverpool invested most of that money into the signing of Virgil van Dijk who has been more than impressive in his first months in the Red shirt and very much looks to be their much-needed pillar in defense. Defense was the one area where Liverpool were obviously lacking in, their attack and midfield had carried them through the entire season and after flopping with the signings of Ragnar Klavan and Dejan Lovren, van Dijk was a welcomed sight to Anfield.
It could be said that Barcelona didn’t need Coutinho just yet, with one hand firmly on the La Liga title Barcelona needed him merely to rest Andres Iniesta for the Champions League, but it’s curious why Coutinho a guaranteed starter at Liverpool would leave for Barcelona mid-season when he knew he was going to be cup-tied and not able to play in the Champions League. Coutinho claims he left Liverpool to lift the Champions League trophy with Barcelona and yet Liverpool are the ones heading into the last four as Barcelona spectacularly crashed out of the Champions League at the midweek in Rome.
Coutinho’s departure and Van Dijk’s arrival actually stabilized the squad and propelled them to a strong second half surge. Although Liverpool were helped by Chelsea’s and Arsenal’s inconsistent form they managed to play better defense and to the surprise of many Mane, Salah, and Firmino were just as prolific without Coutinho.
Their drubbing of Man City in the quarter-finals of the Champions League is further evidence of how this team has been better without the Brazilian playmaker. Usually the sale one of your best players mid- season is a recipe for disaster however in this instance it worked out for the better and I like many were completely wrong about how the sale of Coutinho would adversely affect this team. Coincidently with his departure, many top players from Europe’s top leagues were linked with moves to Anfield, most notably Shalke’s midfield duo of Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka.
According to the Mirror, Liverpool made record profits this season and with the additional funds the Fenway Group is looking to reinvest in the squad. With the acquisition of Naby Keita and emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez, the future looks incredibly bright for the Merseysiders. If the Reds can continue to work on their defense they have a legitimate chance at not only a top 4-finish, but a shot at the Premiership trophy.