Monday Verdict: Coutinho stance momentus; Arsenal daggers drawn

Date published: Monday 4th September 2017 6:15 - James Marshment

Liverpool’s decision to keep Philippe Coutinho could be a key moment in their history, while simmering tensions at Arsenal are also discussed in this week’s Monday Verdict.

 

ONLY ONE WAY COUTINHO CAN WIN BACK LIVERPOOL FANS

Liverpool’s decision to keep Philippe Coutinho this transfer window was both brave and foolish in equal measure.

The player clearly owes Liverpool a lot after they transformed him from “just another Brazilian player with promise” into one of the world’s best footballers….but as we all know, loyalty counts for ‘F all’ in the grand scheme of things these days.

The path from Anfield to La Liga has been a well-trodden one in recent years, with the likes of Steve McManaman, Michael Owen, Javier Mascherano and Luis Suarez among those to have made the moves.

However, after Liverpool bravely – or foolishly –  did all in their power to ensure Coutinho wasn’t to become the latest, the decision could be one that could have a significant influence on their future.  I use the word ‘brave‘ because Barcelona’s reported third and final offer of £114.2million for the player was one the majority of clubs would struggle to wave away – particularly as the player had made clear his wishes to move on.

Indeed, a large portion of Reds fans appeared to have reluctantly accepted it would be best for all parties to move Coutinho on. Had the club listened to those in favour of selling him, however, there would have been an even louder outcry towards the club’s owners, FSG, over reneging on their word to keep the player.

And for staying true to their pledge to keep him, Liverpool, and FSG, deserve lots of credit.

However, the rejection of a £114m cash windfall could also come at another cost to Liverpool. After all, who wants to have a £150,000-per week unmotivated asset on their hands? So to that end, the decision to reject Barcelona’s offer is a huge gamble by Liverpool.

However, it is a gamble probably worth keeping. With Mohamed Salah added to their attacking armoury this summer, Jurgen Klopp had always intended to play Coutinho in a more influential midfield role.

The Brazilian has spent the last week or so back in Brazil licking his wounds. In that respect the time away has probably come at the perfect time and will probably have done him some good.

It’s true what they say, time can be a good healer….

Liverpool fans will also hope a quiet word in the ear from Reds teammate Roberto Firmino, whose role in the player’s future cannot be stressed enough, may too have played a part…

Incidentally, conspiracy theorists among you wondering why Alberto Moreno wasn’t sold this summer….? Did Liverpool abort plans to sell Coutinho’s best mate in an effort not to further agitate the Brazilian? Stranger things have happened in the game!

So Liverpool will be hoping Coutinho can return to Anfield with a small part of that chip removed from his shoulder. The phasing back of their star man into the fold could give all at the club a serious lift – and is something Jurgen Klopp alluded to when questioned about him this weekend.

Such is Coutinho’s influnce at Anfield, Liverpool fans will hope it could yet prove a telling moment in their history.

While their defence remains suspect, if Klopp can once coax an about-turn in the player’s mental state then Liverpool will possess an absolute delicious midfield three to play behind their fluid attacking triumvirate.

And perhaps a challenge for the Premier League title isn’t out of the question if Coutinho can turn his transfer frustrations into a positive for Liverpool on the pitch.

And if he does that, not only will Liverpool fans forgive and forget this summer’s whole sorry saga, they’ll also probably send the player on to Barcelona with their best wishes….

 

WHO CARES IF IT’S NOT HELPFUL, LEGENDS ARE RIGHT TO SLAM ARSENAL

If you were reading TEAMtalk on Sunday, you’d have noted a bid of a war of words heating up between Mesut Ozil and some of the club’s legends.

Amid claims the Germany star hasn’t delivered on a regular basis for Arsenal, nor shown enough fight during his time at Emirates, Ozil has hit back at his critics by insisting they “do not know him” and by urging “legends to behave like legends”.

On one hand, you have to give Ozil his dues for responding to the critics – after all, it would be far easier to hide and say nothing.

But on the other, it’s hard not to side with the legends Ozil refers to.

One, Emmanuel Petit, appeared to hit the nail on the head when he said: “Someone should sit them down and tell them not to act like babies and kids. They should be proud of wearing that Arsenal shirt.

Emmanuel Petit: Regrets leaving Arsenal to join Barcelona

“Many of those players do not seem to realise how lucky they are to be at the club. I just want to shake the tree and tell them how fortunate they are to play at a club of Arsenal’s standing.

“If Arsenal are to achieve anything this season, then the motivation must come back into the team. And the players have to be responsible for that.”

Unhelpful or otherwise, the standards Arsenal have demanded – and more often than not attained in the 23 years Wenger has spent in charge – have slipped badly. It no doubt pains everyone connected to the club to see their struggles on and off the pitch. The factions within the club appear to be getting larger too, with even the usually mild-mannered Aaron Ramsey appearing to call the club into question last week.

It seems to me that Petit’s critiques, and those from the likes of Paul Merson and Thierry Henry, have struck a nerve with Ozil.

But that may be no bad thing, just as long as Ozil and Co do their talking on the pitch and significantly show the fight so many of their critics say they now lack….

 

POORLY-WORDED ERIC DIER INTERVIEW ILL-ADVISED

“We’re normal human beings with a gift we’ve been given. Sometimes it can be difficult to handle all the money and the fame.”

The words of Eric Dier, who this weekend did his best to show that footballers were, in fact, good role models.

But as wages threaten to spin ridiculously out of control, it’s hard to have some sympathy when your average Premier League player takes home more in a week than you or I do in a year.

I understand what Dier was trying to say and the message he was trying to get across. But as soon as he related it back to money, he’d have pretty much lost everyone.

James Marshment

 

FIVE THINS WE LEARNED FROM SPAIN 3 ITALY 0

 

Spain beat Italy 3-0 at the Bernabeu to move clear at the top of World Cup qualifying Group G and take a major step towards Russia 2018.

Here, we take a look at five things we learned from the encounter in Madrid.

WHO NEEDS A NUMBER NINE?

Spain opted to start without a regular centre forward, instead deploying Manchester City midfielder David Silva in the ‘false nine’ role. However, with the continued rotation of the front line, it proved a positive tactic by head coach Julen Lopetegui.

Italy could not cope with the additional movement down the channels, effective when Andres Iniesta set up Isco for a well-taken second goal just before half-time.

MORATA’S THE MAIN MAN – IF YOU NEED HIM

Given Spain’s set-up, there was a touch of irony about Alvaro Morata, the man wearing the supposedly no longer needed number nine shirt, coming off the bench to net a late third.

The Chelsea forward may still have a way to go to justify his hefty £60million price tag after swapping the Bernabeu for Stamford Bridge in the summer, but continuing to put himself in the right place at the right time is not a bad start.

ALL GOOD THINGS MUST COME TO AN END

Barack Obama was still serving as a senator when Italy last lost a qualifier for a major championships, beaten 3-1 by France in September 2006 on the road towards Euro 2008. It was an impressive record which stretched over some 56 matches, taking in 42 wins.

The Azzurri, though, will have little time to reflect on what might have been as they gear up for the visit of Israel on Tuesday night.

THE ITALIAN 4-2-4 JOB NEEDS SOME MORE TINKERING

Despite Spain’s well-known approach, Italy coach Giampiero Ventura opted for a 4-2-4 formation rather than trying to pack the midfield in front of a back three.

With Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini out with a calf injury and Roberto Gagliardini suspended, it was a bold move, but ultimately one which backfired.

While going for a first away win over Spain since 1949 was an admirable quest, you suspect the fans back home would have been happy enough with a battling goalless draw.

THE BERNABEU ARE A TOUGH CROWD

Gerard Pique: Defender unpopular among some fans

Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets all started on ‘enemy’ territory, and there were certainly a few jeers greeting the Barcelona men.

It could, of course, all have been nothing more than a bit of light-hearted banter and home favourites Isco certainly lifted the mood with his first-half double. Morata’s late third proved the icing on the cake as their former striker sealed the win.

While Atletico Madrid man Saul appeared to have sneaked on to replace Marco Asensio for the closing quarter-of-an-hour, the cheers which marked the return of veteran David Villa, New York City FC’s former Barca man back in the squad at the ripe old age of 35, for a brief cameo were rousing.

Seems if you are the nation’s all-time top scorer, it does not really matter who you used to play for.

Press Association Sport

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