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Liverpool

Would Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne be the ideal replacement for Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho?

Rob Meech

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Lorenzo Insigne

Despite Jurgen Klopp having repeatedly insisted star player Philippe Coutinho is not for sale, Liverpool continue to be linked with a number of players who could replace the want-away Brazilian.

The latest addition to this ever-expanding list is Napoli playmaker Lorenzo Insigne who, according to the Mirror, is being tipped to swap Serie A for the Premier League. The 26-year-old is valued at £60 million by Napoli, although the Italian club have no desire to sell one of their prized assets.

Barcelona’s pursuit of Coutinho is the transfer saga of the summer and could go down to the wire. The Catalan giants have already had two bids rebuffed by the Reds, the second of which was believed to be £90 million. However, Neymar’s world-record move to Paris St-Germain has given the Catalan giants an enormous pot of money to spend and they appear determined to get their man.

The revelation that Coutinho has handed in a transfer request has weakened Liverpool’s position and an offer of more than £100m would be difficult to reject from a financial aspect. Having cost a measly £8.5 million from Inter Milan some four-and-a-half-years ago, it would represent a massive profit.

What would Lorenzo Insigne bring to Anfield?

Insigne has become a key figure at Napoli, helping them to a third-place finish in Serie A last season. He has made 37 domestic appearances in each of the past two campaigns and chipped in with 30 goals in that time. Insigne’s his tally of 18 last season come at a ratio of nearly one every other game – an impressive statistic for a midfielder.

Insigne’s style suits the technical brand of football Klopp has adopted at Liverpool. The Italy international, who played under Antonio Conte in the 2016 European Championship, is small in stature but capable of changing matches in an instant. He would be a welcome addition to the phalanx of creative, attacking midfielders at the Reds, such as Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane.

Any deal for Insigne hinges on the future of Coutinho. If he does complete his dream move to Barcelona, Klopp would have to bring in a replacement. Insigne would fit the bill in many aspects but, with Napoli determined not to sell, it may take an irresistible offer.

Rob is a freelance writer, specialising in football, who previously worked as a sports journalist at the Dorset Echo. A long-standing AFC Bournemouth supporter, Rob can often be found on the terraces at the Vitality Stadium. Follow him on Twitter - @RobMeech

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Liverpool

Virgil Van Dijk plays pantomime villain but oozes class on his Southampton return

Martyn Cooke

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Virgil Van Dijk
Photo: Reuters

It is fair to say that Virgil Van Dijk was certainly not the most popular figure inside St Mary’s last Sunday afternoon.

The Dutch central defender made his first return to Southampton since joining Liverpool for £75 million in early January and he was subjected to a continuous chorus of boos, jeers and mixture of colourful language from the home supporters, who certainly did not hide the ill-feeling that they feel towards their former star.

However, the reaction from the crowd appeared to have little impact on the 26-year-old who, in actual fact, looked to be enjoying his role as the designated pantomime villain for the day.

He spent much of the afternoon with a smile across his face, although admittedly there was plenty to enjoy within the game for anyone connected with Liverpool.

Van Dijk produced his most dominant and imposing performance of the season against Southampton on Sunday and he was the model of composure and control at the heart of a defence that has looked increasingly frail and fragile at times this campaign.

The Dutchman was near faultless and looked every inch the world’s most expensive defender.

That 26-year-old has experiencing something of a topsy-turvy start to his career at Anfield and his return to form on Sunday will have come as a relief for player, manager and club.

The defender scored on his debut in the Merseyside derby but was then part of the team that lost consecutive games against Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion.

He was then the centre of attention last week when he conceded a somewhat controversial last-minute penalty against Tottenham Hotspur.

However, he was in cruise control on Sunday against a Southampton team that struggled to make any clear-cut goal scoring opportunities.

Van Dijk was unaffected by a hostile St Mary’s crowd who certainly showed no signs of forgiving either the Dutchman or Liverpool for the controversy that surrounded his on-off transfer sage for almost half a year.

The ill-feeling stemmed from the summer when Southampton reported Liverpool to the Premier League for making an alleged illegal approach for their star defender.

Liverpool issued a public apology and ‘withdrew’ their interest in the player only for Van Dijk to subsequently hand in a transfer request, which the Saints refused.

The 26-year-old did eventually get his move to Anfield, although he had to wait until January, and the £75 million fee sparked plenty of discussion and debate.

However, now five games into his Liverpool career, Sunday’s performance would suggest that Van Dijk has now settled into life at his new club and it will be intriguing to see what impact he has on the team over the remainder of the season.

Under the management of Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool are undoubtedly entertaining to watch.

The team attack with pace, energy and dynamism and the forward trident of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah have proven to be devastatingly effective so far this campaign.

However, much of the progress that has been made in recent years has been undermined somewhat by the defensive fragility in the side that always leaves the team likely to concede goals.

Whether the arrival of Van Dijk will correct all of Liverpool’s defensive frailties is yet to be seen. He is, after all, just one new addition to a defensive unit that still has obvious weaknesses.

However, his performance on Sunday is a sign that he will have a positive impact on the team and may be part of a wider solution.

Ironically, the boos, jeers and colourful language that was directed towards Van Dijk by Southampton supporters were being thrown towards a different figure by the end of the contest – that of their beleaguered manager Mauricio Pellegrino.

Van Dijk may have been the pantomime villain on Sunday in the eyes of the home supporters, but for Liverpool supporters he will be the hero if he can help the club to secure silverware by the end of the campaign.

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Champions League

Porto 0-5 Liverpool: Three talking points from Estádio do Dragão

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from Estádio do Dragão, as Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool dismantled Champions League opponents Porto.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Sadio Mane plundered a hat-trick as Liverpool produced a five-star performance to thrash Porto and virtually seal their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Mane opened the scoring on 25 minutes before adding two more in the second half which, coupled with goals from Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, made it a hideously one-sided affair at the Estádio do Dragão.

Porto offered precious little resistance during the 90 minutes and were completely outclassed by a Liverpool side bursting with confidence.

The return leg at Anfield in three weeks’ time will be nothing more than a formality to confirm the Reds’ place in the last eight.

Here are three talking points, as Jurgen Klopp’s men sounded a warning to the European elite…

Mane emerges from the shadows of Salah and Firmino

Liverpool’s ‘Fab Four’ has been a member short since Philippe Coutinho’s big-money switch to Barcelona in January.

But there has been no sign that the Reds’ form is suffering as a result. If anything, they look stronger by the game.

By his own high standards, Mane has had a relatively quiet campaign thus far and been overshadowed somewhat by the exploits of Salah and Firmino, both of whom were also on the scoresheet against Porto.

But the Senegalese forward returned to his dazzling best on the European stage to help Liverpool take total control of this last 16 tie.

Although he had a helping hand from the Porto keeper for his first goal, which really should have been stopped, Mane took his next two with great precision to round off a sensational evening for the visitors.

Klopp will be delighted that the former Southampton man proved to be so influential in arguably their most important game of the season.

Free-scoring Liverpool will take some stopping

It is not just Liverpool’s performances in the Champions League that have drawn widespread praise, but the amount of goals they have scored in the process.

No club have netted more than the Reds, with the five they bagged in their first knockout fixture since 2009 leapfrogging them above French giants Paris Saint-Germain.

It is now 28 goals in total for Klopp’s free-scoring charges, whose attacking weaponry proved too hot to handle for their Portuguese opponents.

As they showed against Sevilla in the group stage, Liverpool’s defensive frailties can sometimes undermine them.

And when, as expected, they line-up in the quarter-finals, they are likely to face a side with much more to offer in attack than Porto did.

However, new signing Virgil van Dijk, who made his Champions League debut for the Reds, should bring stability and leadership to the back line.

On this evidence, they look like viable contenders for the main prize.

Klopp’s reign is delivering the goods

When Klopp joined Liverpool in the autumn of 2015, many Liverpool supporters believed he would bring them immediate success.

The gregarious German is still yet to win silverware at Anfield, but there is no denying the club are taking significant strides forward under his management this season.

Some of the money they received from Barcelona for Coutinho has already been reinvested into the squad and more high-profile arrivals are likely to follow in future transfer windows.

Liverpool remain prone to suffering off-days against lesser opposition, perhaps more so than any of their main domestic rivals, but they possess the armoury to blow away teams of the highest quality.

Even Manchester City, the runaway Premier League leaders, recently succumbed to the Reds’ attacking might.

As always, the proof will come at the end of the season.

But under Klopp, Liverpool are playing an attractive brand of football that is illuminating Europe.

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English Premier League

Southampton 0-2 Liverpool: Deadly Mohamed Salah in-form once again

Jake Jackman

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Liverpool

Liverpool consolidated their position in the top six with a comfortable win against Southampton. They were quick to take the lead through Roberto Firmino and that was followed up before half-time with another goal from Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian now has 22 Premier League goals for the season as he continues to prove that he is one of the leading players in the division. Although the home side didn’t look like a team in the relegation zone, their lack of quality in the final third was a concern. Here are three talking points from St Mary’s Stadium:

Liverpool’s attack is not missing Philippe Coutinho

It was a huge blow to lose Philippe Coutinho during the January transfer window, but the side have continued to impress and it looks like he wasn’t as important as many first thought. Since the sale of the Brazilian, the Reds have scored two or more goals in all but one of seven matches that they have played. Against Southampton, they were at their free-flowing best and it was two of their front three that shone.

Salah was regarded as a good signing when he joined from Roma, but his achievements will have surprised even his biggest advocates. The Egyptian forward is one of the favourites to win the Golden Boot come the end of the season. He currently trails Harry Kane by one goal. Considering that he isn’t a natural striker, his form in front of goal is massively impressive.

Meanwhile, Roberto Firmino continues to perform to a high standard. The 26-year-old has contributed 12 goals and six assists. That is a great return for the Brazilian.

Mauricio Pellegrino is under pressure

Southampton have been one of the best teams outside of the top six during recent seasons. During the last campaign, they finished in 8th position and reached the League Cup final. Despite those achievements, Claude Puel was given the sack due to his style of play. It was seen as dull in the stands, but their decline this season has shown that decision to be a mistake. On Sunday, they slipped back into the relegation zone and they are in huge danger of being relegated.

There is only one point that separates them from 17th, but it is a big mental barrier to be in the bottom three, as it leaves the team with no margin for error. A lot of the teams in the bottom half have changed their manager this season. There is no sign that Southampton are close to pulling the trigger, but it is an option that remains open to them if they want to try and give the club a boost in the relegation fight.

The Saints have a good run of fixtures to come in Burnley, Stoke City, Newcastle United and Swansea City. These matches will shape their season and Pellegrino hasn’t shown enough to suggest he can deliver the results required. If they struggle in the first couple, a change of manager is inevitable.

Virgil van Dijk was excellent on his return to St Mary’s

The Dutch international was always likely to be the focus of attention during the match, as he left Southampton to join Liverpool in January. His actions during the summer did little to warm him to the Saints’ supporters and they let their feelings known on Sunday. Van Dijk was roundly booed every time he touched the ball.

It is a huge test of a player to rise above the atmosphere, but Van Dijk did superbly and delivered an assured performance. He was one of the best performers on the South Coast and played a key part in the visitors keeping a clean sheet.

His aerial presence is known and it was evident on Sunday as he won five aerial duels. Defensively, he rarely put a foot wrong, as he completed four ball recoveries and made seven clearances. Van Dijk showed himself to be a leader as he regularly shouted instructions and made sure that the side remained organised. Liverpool lacked that at the beginning of the season and they look a lot more solid as a result.

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