Georginio Wijnaldum

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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.

Watch Live: Arsenal v. Liverpool

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Arsenal host Liverpool on Friday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in a huge top four clash to kick off the festive feast of Premier League action.

Liverpool sit in fourth but are just one point and one place ahead of Arsenal who have won 13 of their last 14 home games in the PL, but have lost all three of their last PL matches against Arsenal.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

In team news Arsenal start with Alex Iwobi and keep Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Jack Wilshere in the lineup, with Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolasinac on the bench.

Liverpool start with Sadio Mane and Emre Can who come in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Georginio Wijnaldum.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Cech; Bellerin, Koscielny, Monreal, Maitland-Niles; Wilshere, Xhaka; Iwobi, Ozil, Sanchez; Lacazette. Subs: Ospina, Walcott, Mustafi, Welbeck, Kolasinac, Coquelin, Elneny

Liverpool: Mignolet; Gomez, Lovren, Klavan, Robertson; Henderson, Can; Mane, Coutinho, Salah; Firmino. Subs: Karius, Wijnaldum, Milner, Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Solanke, Alexander-Arnold

Klopp explains rotation vs. Everton, Salah’s injury scare

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Jurgen Klopp took a fair bit of criticism over his decision to rotate four members of his first-choice starting lineup for Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Everton, and the Liverpool manager might not be done rotating just yet — only this time, his hand could be force by an injury scare.

[ MORE: Klopp says post-game interview not a big deal ]

Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum were all dropped to the bench, on the advice of the club’s medical team, at the end of a 21-day stretch which saw the Reds play seven times. Klopp came under further scrutiny for his decision to substitute Mohamed Salah, Liverpool’s undisputed player of the season thus far, with Liverpool leading 1-0 in the 67th minute.

Now, Klopp has revealed, that Salah was forced off due to fear of a potential hamstring injury, though the Egyptian is expected to be available to start when West Bromwich Albion visit Anfield on Wednesday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold) — quotes from the Guardian:

“I have 500,000 pieces of information and I have to make a decision; I cannot write a book before each game. I do not want to say [it was a risk to play Coutinho and Firmino] as that would sound like an excuse and I don’t need an excuse.

“I find it funny that we talk after this game about that but we did not speak about it after the 5-1 or 3-0, why they did not play [the wins at Brighton and Stoke when Salah, Coutinho and Sadio Mane did not all start]. This is one game we should have won they did not play. We play it 10 times and we win. We had a bit of information but, come on, it would sound like an excuse to me.

“I took Mo Salah off because he felt the hamstring a little bit. Then everyone said, ‘How can you take him off?’ I do not go out and say: ‘Because he is close to being injured.’ He is not injured at the moment, thank God. Hopefully we took him off early enough. We have to do it. Seven games in 21 days before Everton and now six games in 18 days. It is exactly the same. We need the best quality we can have before each game. We cannot ignore the number of games.”

The only thing Klopp could have done to draw even more criticism would have been to ignore the advice of the doctors prior to the game, then leave Salah on the field for all 90 minutes — win, lose or draw in the end. Once the above information had inevitably leaked out in said scenario, words like “irresponsible” and “negligent” would have been lobbed his way with reckless abandon.

It’s almost as if managers have more information available to them than the average, angry fan.

Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea: Spoils split

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  • Salah’s 15th Liverpool goal
  • Reds stay third
  • Willian‘s cross sails in

Mohamed Salah and Willian traded second half goals in a cagey and entertaining 1-1 draw between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield on Saturday.

The point keeps Chelsea third with 26 points, three ahead of fifth-place Liverpool.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Jurgen Klopp left Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Georginio Wijnaldum on the bench in an eyebrow-raising XI.

Eden Hazard was far-and-away the star of the opening 20 minutes, and forced the only dangerous moment for either keeper with a 21st minute drive that led to a corner kick.

Danny Drinkwater was the next to ask Simon Mignolet to stop him, poking over the keeper but wide of the frame.

The dangerous Mohamed Salah provided a rare moment of threat from Liverpool, moving between N'Golo Kante and Gary Cahill to curl a shot around a flying Thibaut Courtois… and the goal.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Hazard and James Milner were tangled on the edge of the 18, but Michael Oliver saw the incident as accidental and didn’t award a penalty kick.

At the other end, Courtois almost fumbled a bouncing Daniel Sturridge shot into the goal.

The Blues kept knocking, firing crosses in from the right to force Liverpool into tricky interventions and blocks.

Salah provided the break through, and refused to celebrate against his former club. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain set the chance up, and the Egyptian winger calmly and clinically made it 1-0.

Chelsea found an answer through Willian’s lofted cross, which was mishit and put Mignolet in a bad place. The ball sailed over the keeper’s head for 1-1.

Courtois stopped a late Salah strike, and the points were split at the Bridge.

Watch Live: West Ham vs. Liverpool

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With a pair of intra-top end battles coming Sunday, Liverpool hopes a trip to West Ham can help them close ground (Watch live at 1:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Jordan Henderson misses out for Liverpool, though Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum both passed fitness tests. Ragnar Klavan starts over Dejan Lovren with Joel Matip.

The Irons have Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez up top, and leave big money signing Marko Arnautovic on the bench.

LINEUPS

West Ham: Hart, Cresswell, Ogbonna, Reid, Fernandes, Obiang, Kouyate, Noble, Lanzini, Ayew, Chicharito. Subs: Adrian, Rice, Masuaku, Haksabanovic, Arnautovic, Carroll, Sakho.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Gomez, Matip, Klavan, Moreno, Can, Wijnaldum, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Salah, Mane, Firmino. Subs: Karius, Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Milner, Grujic, Sturridge, Solanke.