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Philippe Coutinho’s exit rumours from Liverpool are picking up great steam in the past few days. Manager Jurgen Klopp had stated last week that Barcelona would be wasting their time if they continued the pursuit of the Brazilian, but latest reports claim otherwise.
ESPN Brazil (via Metro) has claimed that Liverpool have agreed to sell Coutinho, against the wishes of the manager and a deal could be completed in the coming week. This comes as a major U-turn after the club had been very firm on their stance of not selling the 25-year old at any price. The report also states that Coutinho has agreed personal terms with the Catalan club and has informed Liverpool that he wants to move to Spain in the summer.
This would come as a huge blow for Liverpool as Coutinho has been their best player for a couple of seasons now. The 25-year old is a pivotal figure at the club and was central to Klopp’s plans heading into the future, with the German wanting to build a team around the Samba star. But, if it so happens that there is some veracity to these reports, and Coutinho does end up moving to Barcelona before the deadline day, Liverpool will need to work fast in order to find a replacement for him.
One name that had been touted as a potential replacement for the 25-year old was that of fellow South American footballer, Manuel Lanzini of West Ham United (Daily Star). The 24-year old Argentine was one of the better performers for West Ham in a disappointing season, and as per reports, people at Liverpool see him as a like-to-like replacement for Coutinho.
Replacing Coutinho isn’t going to be easy by any stretch of imagination. The 25-year old has grown into one of the best players in the Premier League since his move to Anfield from Inter Milan back in 2013.
Coutinho finished last season with 13 goals and 7 assists in 31 Premier League outings and this, despite spending over a month on the treatment tables due to an ankle injury and not being able to find his best form after recovering from the injury. The Brazilian has shown he can produce a moment of magic out of nothing and change the course of the game all of a sudden.
But what makes him such a loved figure at Anfield is that he gives it his all on the pitch. Unlike many playmakers who stand and wait for the ball, the 25-year old works very hard to regain possession for his team and doesn’t shy away from his defensive responsibilities. This quality is what that made him such a perfect fit into Klopp’s high intensity pressing system.
Lanzini ticks a number of boxes in order for him to be the ideal replacement for Coutinho. The 24-year old possesses the nimble footwork and the flair that one associates a South American footballer with. He has sound technical ability and can manoeuvre himself out of tight spaces and create a chance or have a go at goal himself. Last season, the Argentine finished with 8 goals and 2 assists from 35 league outings.
The 24-year old has shown he can be a deadly creative force and lead a team, after taking over the attacking responsibilities for the Hammers, post the exit of Dimitri Payet. Most of his goals came from long-distance efforts, much like something that Coutinho keeps producing for Liverpool on regular occasions.
Yes, the assist numbers don’t really match up to what the Brazilian produced, but it should also be considered that West Ham had one of the most misfiring strike-forces in the Premier League last season. Despite this, Lanzini created 57 chances in the Premier League last season, only 8 less than Coutinho (65), highlighting his creative abilities.
The 24-year old has also shown that he can hold on to the ball well, which allows him to create more chances going forward. Last season, Lanzini was dispossessed 1.1 times from the ball and made 1.7 unsuccessful touches per game in the league. In comparison, Coutinho was dispossessed 1.8 times and lost control of the ball 1.8 times per game. The Argentine was also equally adventurous when on the ball, attempting 2.5 dribbles every game, which is the same as Coutinho. At the end of the season, Lanzini had completed 88 dribbles from 129 attempts, while Coutinho had completed 70 from 113 attempts. The number of dribble attempts would naturally be high for Lanzini at West Ham, as he is the chief creator there, whereas Coutinho has a lot of star names around him for support.
As mentioned earlier, Coutinho makes a difference on the pitch with his exceptional work-rate and defensive contributions as well. So, for Lanzini to be able to replace the Liverpool star, he will need to contribute defensively as well. The numbers suggest that he can meet those expectations. Last term, the Argentine made a total of 45 interceptions, which is 27 more than Coutinho. He also won 44 tackles, compared to 35 by Coutinho, and made 10 clearances, while Coutinho made 5.
The numbers show enough evidence to believe that Lanzini could be counted upon to take over from the Brazilian at Anfield. But there is the question of top-level experience that will pop up. The Hammers’ attacker has just played two seasons in the Premier League and doesn’t have the requisite experience in Europe either. But, having recently broken into the Argentine national team, he will know what it takes to play against the biggest of the stars and it should help him be prepared to step up at a club of the stature of Liverpool.
Surely, there can be no effective 100% like-to-like replacement for Coutinho at Liverpool, but Lanzini has demonstrated all the attributes that could make him the next best thing to the Brazil playmaker – the attacking instincts, the flair and skills on the ball, the creative edge to the game, eye for a goal and the work-rate.
His numbers last season may not have been mind-boggling, but being surrounded by players of higher calibre and better quality at Liverpool could take Lanzini to a whole new level. He certainly has the ability and the potential. While he may not be able to completely replace Coutinho, the Argentine will go a long way in filling that void for the Merseysiders.