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.

Wigan player races off for son’s birth after scoring 2 goals

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WIGAN, England (AP) It was better than a hat trick.

A player for English soccer team Wigan had a night to remember when he scored his second goal before dashing off the field and to the local hospital, where his girlfriend was in labor.

[ MORE: Chelsea advances to UCL Round of 16 after win over Qarabag ]

A picture of Ryan Colclough holding his new-born baby, Harley, while still in his soccer uniform was shared on social media by Wigan chairman David Sharpe.

Colclough said his father, sitting in the stands on Tuesday for Wigan’s 3-0 win over Doncaster in the second division, “gave me the action that the waters had broken,” but he didn’t want to come off until the ball was out of play.

“My head was a little bit battered, but I went and scored, looked at the manager and he said we’ll bring you off now,” Colclough said Wednesday of his 58th-minute goal, which he celebrated by pretending to rock a baby. “I came off and was straight down the tunnel, grabbed my keys and my phone, and went to hospital.”

Colclough had visited the midwife that day, and was told the baby was unlikely to arrive for “another couple of days.”

Lille suspends coach Marcelo Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) French club Lille has provisionally suspended coach Marcelo Bielsa following a string of poor results in the top tier.

[ MORE: Basel stuns Man United late to keep UCL hopes alive ]

The northern side said in a statement that Bielsa has been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club.” Lille did not elaborate.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but has failed to make the club competitive again, with the team second to last after 13 matches.

The 2 Robbies podcast: PL sides in the UCL, Pulis sacking and more

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In today’s Euro Pod Edition, the Robbies breakdown the latest Champions League action. Man United lose at Basel, Chelsea cruise at Qarabag, Spurs impress against Dortmund, Man City continue to win, Liverpool surrender a 3-goal lead against Sevilla. Plus, the guys weigh in on the Oumar Niasse ban for diving and the Tony Pulis sacking.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Europa League preview: Arsenal looks to wrap up Group H and more

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While several teams have already booked their place in the knockout phase, the Europa League reaches its penultimate round on Thursday with many big matches in hand.

[ MORE: Yannick Bolasie finally returns to Everton training ]

Of the two Premier League sides in the competition, only one will advance to the Round of 32, as Arsenal have all but assured themselves of the top spot in Group H. The Gunners can do so tomorrow with a win over Koln or a Red Star Belgrade defeat.

The other end of the spectrum features Everton, who has already been eliminated from reaching the next round after acquiring just one point in its first four matches.

European giants AC Milan can lock up a spot in the knockout phase on Thursday despite the club’s ongoing struggles in Serie A, while fellow Italian side Atalanta can move a step closer to the Round of 32 in Group E along with Lyon.

Here’s the full rundown of Thursday’s UEL matches.

Astana vs. Villareal — 11 a.m. ET
Konyaspor vs. Marseille — 1 p.m. ET
Rosenborg vs. Real Sociedad — 1 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Vitesse — 1 p.m. ET
Viktoria Plzen vs. Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv vs. Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit vs. Vardar — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Vitoria — 1 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hertha Berlin — 1 p.m. ET
BATE vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Zorya — 1 p.m. ET
Koln vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET
Nice vs. Zulte Waregem — 1 p.m. ET
Lugano vs. Beer-Sheva — 1 p.m. ET
Ludogorets vs. Istanbul — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga vs. Hoffenheim — 3:05 p.m. ET
AEK vs. Rijeka — 3:05 p.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. Apollon — 3:05 p.m. ET
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Slavia Praha — 3:05 p.m. ET
Sheriff vs. Zlin — 3:05 p.m. ET
Partizan vs. Young Boys — 3:05 p.m. ET
Skenderbeu vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:05 p.m. ET
Everton vs. Atalanta — 3:05 p.m. ET