Liverpool must be patient, smart with spending Coutinho windfall
Philippe Coutinho was unveiled as a Barcelona player this week but the debate on why he was allowed to leave in midseason rages on among Liverpool supporters.
Many are dismayed that a replacement was not signed before the crowd favourite was allowed to leave and it's not an unreasonable view. After all, Liverpool had five months to plan for Coutinho leaving and if their transfer targets were not available until the summer, they could have refused to let the Brazil international leave until then. Coutinho would not have been happy about it but he had three-and-a-half years left on his contract so Liverpool were in a strong position.
Yet Jurgen Klopp allowed him to leave now and with so much still to play for this season, the obvious conclusion is that the manager must have a signing or two up his sleeve. Let's hope that this is the case but it could simply be that he felt that the player's unhappiness meant it was in everybody's best interests for him to move on. Whatever the reason, Coutinho is gone and Klopp has to decide what, if anything, to do next.
It's unlikely that we will see a "Coutinho type of player" being brought in as there aren't many out there who can do what he can; there are even fewer still who can do it in both midfield and attack. Klopp may as well try to find a needle in a haystack as look for a player who can play both positions at the level of which Coutinho is capable.
So the question is simple: do Liverpool replace Coutinho the midfielder, or Coutinho the left-sided attacker? Maybe they do neither and instead strengthen other areas of the team, or perhaps they end up doing nothing until the summer.
Liverpool's forward line, even without Coutinho, is good enough to strike fear into any team throughout Europe. Let's not forget that they destroyed Arsenal back in August with Coutinho nowhere to be seen.
In midfield, however, it's a different story. Without Coutinho, Liverpool have plenty of graft but not much guile. Adam Lallana is the one exception to that and if he can stay fit and play at his peak between now and the end of the season -- and the front three all steer clear of injury, to -- then Liverpool may yet be able to overcome the loss of Coutinho.
Yet relying on the fitness of Lallana and the rest is a risky policy. This perhaps explains why the Reds are reportedly hoping to persuade RB Leipzig to allow Naby Keita to make the switch to Anfield this month rather than in the summer as there is no question that Liverpool now look short in midfield.
Klopp may even believe that he has enough in his current squad to get by until the summer and that between them, Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can help to fill the void. Perhaps he also feels that Virgil Van Dijk can have such an impact at one end of the pitch that it will make up for the loss of what Coutinho provided at the other end. Instead of often having to score three or four to win games, with an improved defence perhaps one or two will be enough?
Losing a star player for big money need not be the end of the world provided that the funds are re-invested shrewdly in other areas of the team. Liverpool used to be good at that but in recent times, they've lost their touch. That is the challenge now facing Klopp.
Having already addressed the centre-back position by making Van Dijk the world's most expensive defender, Liverpool can be much better than they ever were with Coutinho if he could put that fee towards bringing in an elite goalkeeper, a dominant midfielder and another creative player. It sounds simple but obviously it isn't as you have to get the right players, all of whom are unlikely to be available in the current window.
If Liverpool fail to make any further signings this month, supporters will have every right to feel angry and let down. It will be a tough sell for Klopp to talk of the difficulties of clubs not wanting to sell their best players in January when he himself has just done exactly that.
Klopp is thick-skinned and doesn't allow such talk to sway him from his beliefs. He will not spend for the sake of it or just to appease fans. If that was his nature, he would not have waited for Van Dijk to become available and would instead have turned his attention to other defenders last summer when seemingly the whole world was telling him to do so.
If Klopp has to wait until the summer to get his main targets, that's what he will do. Most supporters are relatively understanding of that but not if it sabotages the rest of this season.
Ultimately, Klopp's track record provides cause for optimism that he will use the Coutinho windfall to ultimately take Liverpool two steps forward. The concern is that it might come at the expense of one immediate step backward if he comes up empty-handed this month.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.