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.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”