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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona: Liverpool star a wanted man

The guys respond to your tweets about Neymar's fee, Pep's managerial pedigree and how Stevie would replace Coutinho.
Julien Laurens evaluates Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho as possible replacements for Neymar at Barcelona.

A version of this article first appeared on ESPN in November 2016.

Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho could be set to join Barcelona. The Catalan giants are reportedly planning a move after losing Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain but what does the future hold for the 24-year-old?

ESPN FC's club correspondents Glenn Price (Liverpool) and Sam Marsden (Barcelona) discuss Coutinho's potential £90 million move.

The Barcelona view

Even before Coutinho almost broke the Argentina net in Brazil's 3-0 World Cup qualifying last year, his face was already plastered all over the front cover of Catalan newspaper Sport.

The Liverpool midfielder has been linked with a move to Camp Nou on and off for well over a year now; his form for club and country last season only strengthened the idea that he could tread the same path as Luis Suarez followed in 2014.

Even before Neymar's move, Sport claimed last year there was regular contact between the player's representatives and Barca and the club now clearly see him as a transfer target.

His friendship with Suarez, six month loan spell with Espanyol 2012, where he got to know the city and the language, and even his "Barca DNA" have been listed as reasons why it's inevitable he would choose the Blaugrana if he ever left Liverpool.

And while it may have been difficult to see where he would fit in at Barcelona with a front three of Lionel Messi, Suarez and Neymar, now it's simple.

At 25, Coutinho has age on his side and could be the eventual heir to Andres Iniesta if he drops into the deeper midfield role we saw occasionally at Liverpool. Though that would mean Denis Suarez and Andre Gomes, who are both younger than him, would probably have to move on eventually.

Coutinho has shown he can dovetail well with Suarez further forward and any player will improve when playing alongside Messi. Liverpool will demand upwards of £90m but, for the first time in years, Coutinho to Barcelona feels more fact than fiction now. -- Sam Marsden

Philippe Coutinho
Philippe Coutinho is on Barcelona's radar following the departure of Neymar.

The Liverpool view

It is natural that elite players at the top of their game are going to be linked to elite clubs, especially when those clubs have a massive Neymar-shaped hole to fill. And when some members of the Barcelona team have long-standing friendships with that player, the links are going to be even hotter.

For Liverpool, all they can do is to maintain their "little magician" is simply not for sale and hold him to the five-year contract he signed back in January. English clubs do not do buyout clauses, so Barcelona will feel frustrated not to be able to rely on the same trick that saw Neymar depart for France.

Liverpool can stand strong. They are on an upward trajectory under Jurgen Klopp, who has looked to put an end the continued departure of the club's best players. Keeping Coutinho, who repeatedly linked to a move to PSG last summer, was important, given Suarez and Raheem Sterling had left Anfield in 2014 and 2015 respectively. But if the player makes it clear that he wants to move and Barcelona use at least half of that £198m Neymar fee, then the Merseyside outfit may have no choice but to let Coutinho fulfil his ambitions in Spain.

Last season, the Brazilian looked to have shaken off the inconsistency that meant a move to Barcelona would have been a stretch too far in the past, taking his game up a level. Liverpool rejoiced when he signed a new deal in January but the Neymar's shock move means that they face a tough battle to hold on to their star during this summer transfer window. -- Glenn Price

Verdict

Liverpool know all about losing stellar South American talent to Barcelona having seen Suarez leave in 2014 and they may go through it again. Coutinho is settled at Liverpool but Barcelona are a step up and the Premier League club may soon have around £90m to spend on finding a replacement.

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