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 By David Usher

Liverpool still in control when it comes to wantaway Philippe Coutinho

Just as Liverpool supporters had feared, the January transfer window has brought with it a repeat of the tedious daily updates from Spain concerning Barcelona's chase for Philippe Coutinho. 

It's "Groundhog Day" for Kopites, who are once more being subjected to constant rumour and conjecture fuelled by the Spanish press while the player himself (just as he did back in August), coincidentally misses games due to "a minor injury". There is a significantly different feel to it this time though. 

Last summer Liverpool were insistent that Coutinho was not for sale at any price because it was too late in the window for them to suitably replace him. They've since had five months to plan for this eventuality and it's telling that here have been no such declarations this time. 

While it's disappointing to fans that a key player would want to leave when their team are clearly on the up and playing some wonderful football, Coutinho's position is also understandable. He's been at Liverpool for five years and has won nothing, while Barcelona has always been the ultimate destination for many South American players. 

The frustration for Liverpool is that they are stronger now than at any point during those five years and under normal circumstances would currently be involved in a title race. These are not normal circumstances though and Manchester City are setting such a blistering pace that the Reds are 18 points adrift despite having only lost twice all season.

Barca, meanwhile, are riding high at the top of La Liga and cruising towards another title. Even the most blinkered and optimistic of Liverpool supporters would struggle to come up with a reason why Coutinho should turn down a move to Camp Nou.  

The events of last summer meant supporters were resigned to Coutinho getting his move eventually, but most hoped he would give it one more full season rather than walk out half way through. Perhaps that could still happen, but the player reportedly wants the move now and not even the possibility of winning the Champions League with Liverpool is enough to make him want to stick around. 

That's a long shot of course, but stranger things have happened, not least when the Merseysiders secured their fifth European crown in 2005. Liverpool are capable of beating anybody over two legs and most teams around Europe would probably like to avoid them. Coutinho himself is a big reason for that.

He would not be eligible to play in the competition for Barcelona so his only chance of winning it this year is with Liverpool. Perhaps that doesn't matter to him, but it should matter to Liverpool and must therefore factor into whatever decision they take. If he leaves it must be on their terms or not at all.

A deal with Barcelona now seems likely but it is still far from certain. Coutinho could still be at Anfield beyond this month if the Spanish giants are unable to meet Liverpool's valuation, or if a deal is agreed that allows him to remain with the Reds before making the switch to Spain in the summer.

Philippe Coutinho could be on the way out at Liverpool.
Philippe Coutinho could be on the way out this month.

If in the unlikely event it's the former, then Liverpool would be wise to offer the player an immediate and substantial pay rise to help ward off any future offers. 

The Brazilian currently earns a reported £150,000 per week. Such a figure is not nearly enough to deter to potential suitors, even with a massive transfer fee on top. If, however, Liverpool were to double that salary, then Coutinho would be well compensated for remaining on Merseyside and even the wealthiest clubs would think twice about shelling out upwards of £130 million while also giving him a wage increase (as let's face it, very few players move and take a pay cut).

Manchester City do not live in fear of the Spanish giants swooping for their stars and it's not just because they are regularly winning silverware, although clearly that helps. Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs meanwhile, are constantly at risk of losing their best players and that won't change until they offer comparative wages to the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea, and of course Barcelona and Real Madrid. 

A deal that allows Coutinho to join Barcelona in the summer would certainly be preferable to one that sees a key player leave midseason, so many see that as the best Liverpool outcome can hope for at this point. That's not necessarily the case, but it is the safest option.

A riskier but potentially more beneficial decision would be for Liverpool to let their want away star leave now for maximum value and then reinvest the funds on securing an immediate replacement. Easier said than done perhaps, but let's not forget that Klopp has had several months to plan for this and may yet have a surprise up his sleeve.

Monaco's Thomas Lemar has been on Klopp's radar since last summer, while there are reports that Arsenal would be willing to listen to offers in excess of £25m for Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean is believed to have his heart set on a move to City but, should they choose to, Liverpool could use the Coutinho funds to put together an enormous financial package that could possibly turn his head.

While the situation isn't ideal, Liverpool are not exactly over a barrel here and still have options. Agreeing to a deal that would see Coutinho remain with them until the summer would be acceptable, while selling the player now and landing a star replacement would be risky but exciting. 

The one thing they simply cannot do is allow Coutinho to leave now if they cannot sign a replacement. And if Coutinho doesn't like that, too bad. 

Dave Usher is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.


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