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Liverpool played the Coutinho game perfectly

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Buy for $15 million, sell for (a possible) $192 million. Barcelona has won the Philippe Coutinho sweepstakes, but so has Liverpool.

The Reds got all they could out of the Brazilian midfield star, and when they could not get any more, they cashed in at the highest possible value. Last week’s sale of Coutinho to Barcelona was the best possible result for the Merseyside club, one still looking to regain its footing as a top challenger in the Premier League.

There was no keeping Coutinho forever. He was always going to leave, ever since he came closer than many thought over the summer. Nay, instead, they cashed in on a peak 2016/17 season where Coutinho was arguably the best player in the Premier League, a sell-high proposition that only the most wealthy of clubs would have been able to pass up.

[ MORE: Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang set for move to China ]

Coutinho is an unbelievable player, and Liverpool will surely be the worse for wear without his brilliance on the ball or magic from set-pieces. It may even cost Liverpool a top four place this season, as holding off Tottenham and Arsenal without the club’s best creator will be a daunting task. However, every player has his price, and Liverpool surely exceeded Coutinho’s.

It all becomes clear when looking at the numbers.

The biggest difference between Coutinho’s 2016/17 brilliance and this half-season appears to be his shot-selection, which has declined considerably. Last season, Coutinho took a total of 106 shots in Premier League play, with 40 of those coming inside the penalty area ((38%). The combined xG per shot for Coutinho through last season was about 0.09. We know Coutinho is not a pure goalscorer first and foremost, and those paltry numbers shouldn’t surprise anyone given his style of play and his ability to score fabulous goals from great distance. Nevertheless, giving up possession in the hopes of scoring a wonder-goal is a negative aspect of Coutinho’s play, and that has done nothing but get worse this season.

This year, through half a season, Coutinho has taken just 14 of his 54 shots (26%) from inside the penalty area, for a total xG per shot of 0.06. That paltry number has gone down even further, despite the benefit of a better attacking side around him that has helped increase his key passes per 90 minutes by nearly three quarters of a point.

While this is just one small aspect of Coutinho’s game, it suggests that Liverpool have sold high on a player who, while brilliant, may have maxed out his play while in the Premier League. It would be foolish to say Coutinho’s 2016/17 season was a fluke, or even an outlier, but it was likely above the mean for his ability.

What Liverpool must now do is bank that $192 million and reinvest it properly, and there’s no reason to suggest they can’t.

Liverpool has already added Mohammed Salah this past offseason, a brilliant arrival that is almost certainly the signing of the season already. Sadio Mane, an addition last summer, has brought a cutting edge to the attack. Roberto Firmino was expensive, but worth it. Heck, they even bought Coutinho from Inter in January 2013 for pennies on the dollar (which is becoming a VERY bad look for the Italian side).

However, like any top club, they’ve also missed a few. The $33 million spent on Georginio Wijnaldum at this point appears to be a miss, although he’s settled into more of a starting role of late suggesting things could turn around. Christian Benteke was a disaster, although they managed to con Crystal Palace into giving them a hefty chunk of it back. Lazar Markovic was a waste. This is normal, and Liverpool has done well to mitigate the failures in the transfer market while highlighting the successes.

There’s plenty of pressure on the Reds to finish the job and reinvest properly. They need to replace the Brazilian (Christian Pulisic, not Riyad Mahrez) while also improving at the back (Virgil Van Dijk hopefully plugs a big hole there) and filling a need at goalkeeper (Samir Handanovic, anyone?). Despite that, all the signs point to a bright future for Liverpool, and this massive influx of cash could be the turning point that gets them over the hump to returning as a perennial Champions League contender, even if it costs them a top four spot this season.

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

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Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

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Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.

2018 MLS Mock Draft: LAFC, Galaxy hold the keys

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Major League Soccer’s latest batch of hopeful rookies learn the next steps of their professional careers beginning Friday with the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft.

There are several intriguing prospects, including accomplished Stanford center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce and dangerous Michigan winger Francis Atuahene.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

An MLS mock draft is always tricky given the wildly varying opinions on players from the college game. This year, it’s even trickier as clubs without picks and some with multiple first round picks may be looking to move up and down even more than the norm.

Here’s how we think the draft could play out:

  1. LAFC – Tomas Hilliard-Arce, CB, Stanford
  2. LA Galaxy – Jon Bakero, FW, Wake Forest
  3. DC United – Francis Atuahene, FW, Michigan
  4. Montreal – Joao Moutinho, LB, Akron
  5. Minnesota – Wyatt Omsberg, CB, Dartmouth
  6. Orlando City – Ema Twumasi, FW, Wake Forest
  7. Montreal – Chris Mueller, FW, Wisconsin
  8. New England – Mo Adams, MF, Syracuse
  9. New England – Chris Lema, MF, Georgetown
  10. Real Salt Lake – Justin Fiddes, LB, Washington
  11. FC Dallas – Marcelo Acuna, FW, Virginia Tech
  12. San Jose – Brandon Bye, RB, Western Michigan
  13. Sporting KC – Ed Opoku, FW, Virginia
  14. Atlanta – Alex Roldan, MF, Seattle
  15. Chicago – Mason Toye, FW, Indiana
  16. New York Red Bulls – Alan Winn, MF, North Carolina
  17. Vancouver – Tristan Blackmon, RB, Pacific
  18. Sporting KC – Jon Gallagher, FW, Notre Dame
  19. New York City FC – Daniel Musovski, FW, UNLV
  20. Houston – Mo Thiaw, FW, Louisville
  21. Columbus – Brian White, FW, Duke
  22. Seattle – Tim Kubel, MF, Louisville
  23. Toronto FC – Oliver Shannon, MF, Clemson

There are a few players to keep an eye on for the later rounds that I won’t project for the first round due almost exclusively to first person bias (Some I’ve seen play in college, others at other levels). Afonso Pinheiro from Albany produced like crazy until this season, and Bowling Green defender Alexis Souahy has a skill set that could really transmit to the MLS level.

Mac Steeves (Providence) is a prototypical big body scorer, while Evansville’s heady Ian McGrath has a flair for the absurd and can play almost every position up the center of the pitch. Charleston’s Thomas Vancaeyezeele was a D-2 monster and is probably worth a shot earlier than people suspect.