Liverpool finalizes deal for Inter Milan’s Philippe Coutinho

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One day before the winter transfer window closes, Liverpool finalizes a deal that had been rumored for close to a fortnight. Twenty-year-old Brazilian attacking midfielder Phillipe Coutinho was granted a British work permit, allowing the Reds to complete his $13.4 million move from Inter Milan.

“I’m feeling very happy, it’s a very important step in my career,” Coutinho told this new club’s website. “I’m expecting to come here and play good football to give my contribution on the pitch.”

Celebrated as the future of the Nerazzurri when he was bought from Vasco de Gama in 2010, Coutinho only showed scarce flashes of his potential during parts of three seasons at the San Siro. In 28 league matches, he scored three times but has only featured in 10 Serie A matches since returning from last season’s loan spell at Espanyol.

In Spain, Coutinho looked like the player Inter thought they were getting from Vasco, the Brazilian scoring five times in 16 appearances in Barcelona. Though those performances gave Inter fans reason to believe Coutinho would flourish open his return to Milan, the attacker has been unable to get regular time under Andrea Stramaccioni. Two-and-a-half seasons and 28 games after being brought over as an 18-year-old, Coutinho is surplus to requirements.

It’s a complete turnaround from where Coutinho found himself before his arrival in Italy. Back in 2010, Coutinho was a year removed from a part in Brazil’s U-17 world title team. He’s worked his way into a Vasco side that had just gotten promoted to Brazil’s Serie A. He’d known since he was 16 that was going to end up in Milan. There’s a reason why Inter considered him key part of their future.

Small, quick, and extremely skilled, Coutinho can be deployed across the width of the pitch behind the striker. Ideally he’s play through the middle, either in support of another forward or as an outright No. 10. Unfortunately, at the level at which Inter Milan plays, those positions demand output: goals, assists, chances created. At this point in his career, Coutinho’s just doesn’t bring enough production to justify a spot.

“I’m a player who likes to make moves and to play along with the attack, passing as well as scoring,” Coutinho said. Unfortunately, neither skill won him meaningful time in Milan.

Now he’s gone, and while it may be too early to give up on somebody that promising, but Inter got a good price for him. In agreeing to the £8.5 million fee, Liverpool’s agreed to pay for potential instead of performance, but when you’re talking about hyped 20-year-olds, that’s the cost of playing this game.

But with any questionable fee, there are immediate questions. Is Coutinho worth it? Does Liverpool need him? What else could the club have done with that money?

Coutinho will never be worth it. In the present, he’s too expensive, and if he comes good, $13.4 will seem cheap. Inter’s price is that ethereal middle ground that allows them to justify abandoning their investment.

Liverpool, however, doesn’t need Coutinho. They’ve got Suso. Moroccan Oussama Assaidi has used Africa Cup of Nations to remind Liverpool fans he deserves more time. Jonjo Shelvey, a completely different kind of player, can occupy some of the same spaces Brendan Rodgers may play their new prospect. The Reds don’t need Coutinho, so they must feel they’re getting value.

The bigger questions are more basic. How good is he? Can he live up to his hype? And now, how will he fit in England?

He’s got the talent to be one of the league’s best players, but that’s a statement that would have been true four years ago. There’s little reason to believe Coutinho’s going to step on Mersey and become the player he’s supposed to be, but the most beguiling point of this move? That transformation could happen at any time.

Could Iniesta succeed at Manchester City

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It appears more likely with each passing day that Andres Iniesta will leave Barcelona at the end of the season.

The general feeling around Iniesta’s future is that he’ll either follow former teammate Xavi Hernandez to a club in Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, or follow Javier Mascherano to a club in China.

But according to reports in Spain, Iniesta has received a request from a manager who is inextricably linked with his career.

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Per Diario AS, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has reached out to Iniesta to try and gauge the 33-year old’s interest in coming to England. It’s a surprising move, considering Iniesta has appeared to have lost a step, and while his skill on the ball is still world class, he hasn’t played as big of a role for Barcelona this season as in years past.

But the big question for Iniesta – as hard as it is to believe we’re asking this – is where he’d fit into the side, and who he’d push out.

If Guardiola sees Iniesta as part of his best XI, and Iniesta played his usual position on the left side of a midfield trio or at left wing, that would see either David Silva or Leroy Sane losing their spot in the team. That’s hard to see, considering how big of an impact those players had.

Sane has scored nine goals and dished out 12 assists in the Premier League while Silva has a nearly-identical stat line, with nine goals and 11 assists in league play.

However, if Guardiola, who played a very small squad this season, wants to have a world-class player to bring off the bench some games or spot start in the UEFA Champions League, he couldn’t do much better than signing Iniesta.

After being given time to adjust to the physicality of the Premier League, there’s no reason why, even at his advanced age, Iniesta can’t make a big impact in 25-30 games for Man City in the future. You can imagine the Spanish maestro setting up 10 to 15 goals and scoring a few himself as he plays for another title-winning side.

Of course, Iniesta likely won’t earn as much money with Man City as he would in the Arab world or in China, so he has a big decision to make coming up.

Iniesta won three La Liga titles, two Copas Del Rey, two UEFA Champions League and two FIFA Club World Cup titles under Guardiola as Barcelona shined as the best club in the world during that era. Iniesta also made UEFA’s Team of the Year all four years.

Perhaps reuniting with Guardiola can bring the best out of Iniesta once again.

Report: Man United to target Rose, other full backs this summer

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Jose Mourinho has identified perhaps the most underrated position on the pitch as a place he needs to upgrade his squad this summer.

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According to a report from The Guardian, the Manchester United manager is looking to sign Tottenham wing back Danny Rose and potentially another full back in the summer transfer window. With Luke Shaw likely to leave the club, Mourinho is left with incumbents left back Ashley Young and right back Antonio Valencia, both on the wrong side of 30-years old and both converted wingers playing out-of-position.

Mourinho last December decried crosstown rivals Man City for spending more than $140 million to sign wing backs Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker last summer. Though Mendy missed most of the season with a torn ACL, Walker and fellow outside back Danilo helped give Man City’s attack another dimension out wide, as the wing backs in the 3-4-3 or Man City’s 4-1-4-1 with Fernandinho dropping back into the centerback pairing become ever more important.

Rose has had a contentious last 18-months or so at Tottenham and could be looking to leave this summer. But it will likely take a bid north of $75 million, around what it cost Man City to sign Walker last summer, to buy Rose out of his Tottenham contract.

Matteo Darmian meanwhile, another potential outside back for Man United, could also be departing the club this summer, as Man United looks to replenish its side.

Errors down, penalty kicks up after introduction of VAR in Italy

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The implementation of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in Italy has been controversial, but according to a look at the statistics, it has for the most part done its job to fix clear and obvious errors.

Italian sports paper Gazzetta Dello Sport compiled all the times VAR has been used through 346 matches, 330 in Serie A and 16 in the Coppa Italia. There were 1,736 checks (916 goals, 464 penalties and 356 red cards) with 105 corrections and just 17 errors where the referee and assistant made the wrong decision. Eight of those errors did affect the result, which is an issue that will surely be addressed by the Italian officiating organization.

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But overall, Gazzetta found that in the VAR era, referee errors only amounted to 0.98 percent during a match, as opposed to 6.03 percent in the past. In addition, fouls are down 8.8 percent, red cards are down 6.4 percent, and yellow cards are down 14.7 percent. On the flip side, penalty kicks are called 4.3 more percent of the time.

The Premier League voted recently not to add VAR to its league matches next season, while top leagues in Germany, Italy and in Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League continue to use it.

Report: New Arsenal manager will have small budget to re-shape squad

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Whoever takes the helm as Arsenal’s next manager will have to do some math gymnastics this summer to stretch every penny available.

According to a report from The Telegraph, Arsenal is giving Arsene Wenger‘s successor a little less than $70 million to work with in this summer’s transfer market, citing back-to-back transfer windows with club-record signings (Alexandre Lacazette last summer and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January) and three raises given to players. Arsenal paid around $78 million alone to sign Aubameyang and around $65 million for Lacazette.

[READ: UCL Preview: Liverpool vs. Roma]

That means whoever comes in next to lead Arsenal will likely have to sell one or two players this summer to raise additional money for world-class signings.

For the last decade, Arsenal has been crying out for a new pair of centerbacks and a holding midfielder in the mould of Patrick Vieira. In addition, with Petr Cech getting older, the prospect of needing a new goalkeeper is also on the horizon.

Luckily for Arsenal, they seem to be just fine up front. From Aubameyang and Lacazette to Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey, the club has the talent to challenge for a title next season in that department.

A dozen different names have been bandied about as to who will be Arsenal’s next manager, with out-of-contract and former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique reportedly on the shortlist. Vieira, former Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta, Germany National Team coach Joachim Low, Juventus boss Max Allegri and Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsman have all also been linked with the job.