Chelsea’s Pre-Season Suggests Conte’s Days Are Numbered

As we speak Antonio Conte has got to be the most admired, successful but short term pawn at any football club in Europe.

We have come to appreciate, given the way the modern day game has developed, that managers, no matter how successful they are, have relatively short life spans.

Conte though is a particularly unique case. He will have come into the job at Stamford Bridge knowing the track record of the club and no doubt will have said to himself “okay I’ve got three, maybe four years to build something here.” Much like the way Jose Mourinho did on two separate occasions for example.

Yet despite delivering what turned out to be a record breaking title in his first season, Conte already looks like he is being prepped for an early exit. Now regardless of whether tensions at the club are as frosty as reports may believe, it remains plain and clear that Conte does not have the level of control he wants in West London.

And the reality is he never will have the control he wants. Managing Chelsea is an art, Mourinho seemed to understand it more than most. It’s an appreciation that you work with limited control. Both he and the club, effectively Roman Abramovich, want the same thing – sustained success. At present however it seems like they have very different views on how they obtain that.

No doubt, Chelsea’s starting XI on Saturday will impress. Man for man it could be argued it’s a better side than last year. Despite his penalty miss at Wembley Alvaro Morata looks a more rounded player than the Maverick Diego Costa and looks built more in Conte’s mould. Tiémoué Bakayoko looks set to start in the place of the now departed Nemanaja Matic. The former Monaco man looks ready made for the Premier League and his exploits in Europe last year prove he has the skill set to succeed in England.

Conte may also give a debut to summer import Antonio Rudiger, but it remains to be seen whether he chooses to oust one of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses given their performances last season.

What that XI does however is effectively paper over cracks Conte has tried so hard to address. For all Chelsea’s brilliance last year, Lady Luck did shine on them and more importantly their injury list. 10 players made 28 appearances or more last season thus allowing the Italian an immense level of continuity.

This was paramount given the way he implemented his now revered 3-4-3 system that has swept English tactic boards. This year however injuries will tell on his paper thin squad. The return of Champions League football adds another dimension with the burden that comes with playing three times a week and accumulating over 3,000 miles on a return trip to Eastern Europe.

The club’s resources will be stretched and Conte won’t enjoy the luxury of an uninterrupted week spent with his players. Additions have been few and far between and the Blues actually have a smaller squad this year than was the case 12 months ago.

Morata and Michy Batshuayi remain the club’s only two strikers whilst, beyond Bakayoko, N’Golo Kanté and Cesc Fabregas, Conte is short of a central midfielder. The cracks may begin to unravel even sooner than some of us anticipate and how Conte deal with those tumultuous scenarios could prove the making of him.

It was believed relations between him and the club’s hierarchy were close to breaking point earlier in the summer. The arrival of key targets acts only as mild collateral for a summer that has failed to match the Italian’s expectations.

The sale of Matic to rivals Manchester United only served to highlight how far apart the club and Conte are when it comes to the management of key assets. The ideal scenario is to add Bakayoko to an already title winning midfield thus improving Conte’s options. But a figure of £40 million for a 29-year-old was deemed too good to rebuff by the club.

Similarly strange was the decision to let a quartet of promising youth products to leave the club, whether permanently or on loan. Dominic Solanke, fresh from his exploits with England’s U20 side, looks an excellent acquisition for Liverpool whilst Nathaniel Chalobah has moved on to Watford.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham have both penned loan deals at Premier League sides Crystal Palace and Swansea City respectively. The duo will return to Stamford Bridge far better for the experience, but the question is whether Conte will be the man fortunate enough to utilise that improved talent.

For the first time since Abramovich purchased the club in 2003 Chelsea look content to build for the future if it means one season has to be the cost. Of course the club will not publicly state such desires, but the noises coming out of the champions are not aligning themselves with their business as usual approach.

Success over the last decade or so has elevated Chelsea’s stature as a club. The Champions are bigger than Conte and, whether he would chose to believe it, are also bigger than Abramovich – just about. Although his millions have made them what they are today.

Abramovich may be trigger happy and lack patience but he is not stupid. He has a business model that has proved successful even if several world class managers have been regarded as largely insignificant in that process.

The Russian knows that given Conte’s success last year even he cannot justify dismissing the Italian. But perhaps the owner has subtly put the foundations in place to hinder Conte in the short term, thus allowing the next man in the hotseat to succeed in the long term.

Abramovich has got his blue Chelsea machine moving and Conte, in the grand scheme of things, is little more than a spoke on the wheel. The wheel will continue to turn, but it doesn’t seem to be turning in a direction that Conte can follow Abramovich.

Ernesto Valverde’s Defining Moment is Set to Come Early

imagePep Guardiola’s decision to overrule his employers Barcelona during his first summer as manager sounds foolish, yet it should go down as one of the greatest triumphs in the club’s history.

Guardiola dismissed the idea that Lionel Messi would not play for Argentina at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, despite it originally being sanctioned by the Catalan club. Barcelona were in the midst of a transition phase, although it would not last as long as the club perhaps forecasted.

Barcelona had to negotiate a Champions League qualifier against Polish side Wisla Kraków to ensure their place at Europe’s top table. Absence from European competition was unfathomable. Barcelona knew, regardless of the standard of their opponents, that Messi’s inclusion would enhance any chance of success.

Nevertheless, Guardiola ruled that Messi would compete at the Olympics, having been a successful Olympic athlete himself with Spain in 1992. The Argentine came back with a gold medal and helped Barcelona to an unprecedented treble. The rest is history.

Guardiola’s decision to back Messi was the catalyst for everything good that emerged from the Camp Nou during his tenure. Now Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde is also now faced with a decision in his first summer as boss that could prove to define his career in Catalunya – how to replace Neymar?

So many dynamics have emerged from Neymar’s world record departure to Paris Saint Germain: Will the club reinvest his astronomical transfer fee? Will the group remain harmonious? And perhaps most importantly, does Valverde possess the clout and tenacity to emerge better off from the situation?

The immediate reaction would be to pump the Qatari millions into more world class talent. Philippe Coutinho had long been touted as a Barcelona target with suggestions strife that the Brazilian would struggle to resist the lure. French wonderkid Kylian Mbappe has reportedly stated his desire to leave Ligue 1 champions Monaco as he looks to progress his career. Real Madrid has been billed as his destination but with their new found wealth could Barcelona tice the 18-year-old from their fierce rivals.

Barcelona are also looking for a long term replacement for Andres Iniesta, with Paris Saint Germain talisman Marco Veratti thought to be high on the Catalan’s wishlist. That prospect looks to be dead in the water after Neymar’s move was finalised.

Valverde however, like Guardiola before him, may look at what promise is currently being nurtured in La Masia before dipping into the market. Guardiola himself won his initial Champions League in 2009 with just the one summer recruit – Gerard Pique. Who himself was Barcelona graduate who returned to the Camp Nou after several seasons away in Manchester. It highlighted the ability of Guardiola’s coaching that he could reinvigorate a group of players who had floundered in recent years.

Promoting players would also benefit the ambience within the side. Neymar was seen having a training ground row with new signing Nelson Somedo shortly before his departure. Rumours were prominent that the Brazilian’s indecision was causing unrest within the group. The challenge for Valverde now is to rebuild a team spirit for a season where reclaiming top spot from Real Madrid is paramount.

Yet, all of this depends on how much temerity Valverde has within him to get what he wants as he looks to build a legacy at Barcelona. Guardiola is proof of how vital it is to manoeuvre through the politics and decisions that are made by the hierarchy.

Valverde has to transmit, without hesitation, a feeling of total control and assurance to earn the trust and respect of his players. Once he has them engaged he can begin to embed his ideas which have paid dividends in Bilbao. More than one coach has failed at Barcelona, not because they lacked the ability, but because they lacked the personality.

The 53-year-old former Barcelona player has accepted the post at possibly the most demanding club at football. History suggest he has four years at max in the Camp Nou hotseat, but that is more than enough time to leave a mark. Yet before he is able to let his side do his talking for him on the pitch he must first stipulate how Barcelona handle the departure of one of their stars.

He takes his managerial bow next Sunday against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou, but until he entertains that fixture I expect his to do list will keep him occupied.

Continuity Paramount if the Lions are to level the Series

In retrospect, the Lions didn’t do too much wrong during their First Test defeat at Eden Park, it’s just the All Blacks, as they do so often, did so much right.

It was appropriate that New Zealand coach Steve Hansen admitted he thought the Lions played pretty well, but they just didn’t play well enough.

That doesn’t justify any sense of potential panic setting in. Coaches often fall into the trap of change for the sake of change. If it isn’t broken don’t fix it says the age-old adage. Nothing about the Lions performance on Saturday was broken, it’s more a case of fine tuning.

That will only come through experience and Warren Gatland needs to ensure he remains faithful to the players he choose at Eden Park. Barring a change or two: Maro Itoje looks set to come in for Alun Wyn Jones and I would not be surprised to see Sam Warburton reprise the captaincy from Peter O’Mahony.

The Lions were guilty of two things that prohibited them ending New Zealand’s 23-year winning streak at Eden Park: not staying switched on when it mattered and not taking their chances when mattered.

Codie Taylor’s try that put New Zealand 10 points up was born out of a lapse in concentration. The Crusaders forward kept his width whilst Elliot Daly surrendered his. The excuse of a quick penalty is immediately rebuffed as Aaron Smith actually tapped about 10 seconds after the referee had blown his whistle.

New Zealand made the Lions’ naivety pay. This coming after Jonathan Davies – who was a standout man wearing red – made a break after 90 seconds and almost sent Conor Murray over the whitewash. The Lions recycled the ball quickly but Daly could not get the better of Israel Dagg down the blindside and he was bundled into touch.

Two moments that defined the opening test and may come to justify the gulf between New Zealand and the chasing pack, of which the Lions are now firmly part of despite their short existence.

Execution is what separated New Zealand from the Lions in the First Test; both in defence and attack. How New Zealand constantly negotiated the gainline but still ensured their scramble defence kept the Lions to one try for 80 minutes until Rhys Webb dived over once time was up.

New Zealand had 62% of the possession and the territory. Stats like that make winning any game hard, but against this bunch, it makes it almost impossible. Yet testament is it to the phenomenal skill levels of the All Blacks that had the Lions enjoyed the possession and territory of their opponents at Eden Park they still would’ve been on the wrong side of the scoreline.

The Lions have to accept that New Zealand will have periods in the contest where they border on unplayable but that doesn’t mean they must resign themselves to defeat. Victory at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington is completely achievable.

Despite some indifferent warm up games this group know that they are capable of causing the All Blacks problems. All of the back three made breaks and utilised their pace to sidestep defenders. Liam Williams especially justified his selection at 15 whilst Anthony Watson, who lives off confidence, produced a scintillating run that saw him scythe through the New Zealand defence early in the second 40.

The challenge for this group now is articulating quickly how they turn these breaks into points. That is what New Zealand do so well. The hope is that an 80-minute lesson in enough to spur them on and level the series in the country’s capital.

Rieko Ioane’s two tries on full debut showed firstly his pace but also just how blessed the All Blacks are in their talent pool. Scary when you consider Julian Savea and Nehe Milner-Skudder have been omitted but the Lions are no slouches. Williams and Daly especially have been two of the best backs in Europe over the last 12 months. Lacking perhaps the depth of the All Blacks but man for man the Lions are a match for their southern hemisphere counterparts if they can elevate themselves once again.

Lions Must Utilise Partnerships to Counteract Minimal Preparation Time

Every four years the British and Irish Lions come together in an effort to ignite camaraderie, combinations and collectiveness that we hope results in a test series victory.

It’s the most aspirational concept we have in Northern Hemisphere rugby, and as dreamy as it may sound, we have to remind ourselves that continuity must remain at the forefront of what the Lions do.

Much has already been made of the vigorous schedule the Lions must undertake on route to the First Test in Auckland on 24th June. Six games in the first 13 days of the Tour begin this Saturday with a contest against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians.

The well documented minimal preparation time for Warren Gatland and his coaches is of concern – serious concern to fans and players. The players won’t concede that, and will have the utmost belief in their professionalism and ability to strike up combinations and understandings in double quick time. Nevertheless, you can’t create in four weeks what some players have created in four years or more in some cases.

That decisive Third Test against Australia that secured the series win last time out is demonstrative of why simply selecting the so called ‘best’ players won’t win you a series. In perhaps the most famed Lions selection call of all time, Gatland dropped Brian O’Driscoll in favour of Jonathan Davies.

Davies was the returning Jamie Roberts’ centre partner at international level and had helped Wales secure back to back Six Nations at that point. Gatland backed the partnership and understanding between the two over simply selecting a player who, rightly, will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats.

Despite the uproar it created, in a results industry, Gatland’s call was 100% justified. There’s no basis for arguing against that. So perhaps it’s some sort of ironic justice that the same man is at the helm again for this series when similar situations arise.

I’m thinking out loud here but take the tight five as an example of this. Selecting the ‘best’ players, which inevitably involves an element of reputation coupled with statistics and little current form, would lead to Mako Vunipola, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje and Alun Wyn Jones starting.

New Zealand will lick their lips at the prospect of those five starting against them at Eden Park in just over three weeks-time, and rightly so. The Lions can begin waving any minimal chance of victory they had goodbye. That’s no disrespect to the individual quality of the players but really, what sort of understanding will Vunipola and Furlong have either side of the scrum?

Now were you to replace Vunipola, whose form as of late has been questionable, with Jack McGrath suddenly you have a front three who work together consistently with Ireland and two props who live by each other’s side at Leinster.

This idea of an undercooked Lions side not having enough preparation time soon begins to wallow slightly. Similarly, if you drop Jones, despite his standing in the game, for George Kruis your second row all of a sudden has a familiar look to it.

Kruis might have been injured for most of 2017 but it’s still the lock partnership of a dual winning European Cup side. Not to mention the retired lineout freak turned coach Steve Borthwick now has his star pupil with whom he works regularly with England.

Gatland is looking to target the New Zealand tight five as some sort of weakness, if the All Blacks have any, and with their star hooker Dane Coles potentially an injury doubt that foundation does look a little weaker.

From numbers 9-15 the Lions are lacking slightly in continuity but have supplemented brilliantly with sheer class. The likes of Owen Farrell, Davies, Jonathan Joseph, Jack Nowell, Liam Williams and whoever else may be a test starter have enough about them to click in a relatively short time. Individuals like Nowell and Joseph play a lot on instinct as it is. For all the well-worked training ground moves the Lions can construct, playing what’s in front of you is paramount.

To allow the affluent array of backs the Lions have that opportunity however the forwards must give them a platform. Selection calls in the forwards are going to make or break this test series more so than with the backs. That’s no insult but for integral aspects of the game like the scrum, the lineout, the set piece to function there has to be a considerable connection between the individuals.

Anyone dreaming of a half-back pairing other than Conor Murray and Farrell has been watching a different sport for the last 18 months. But for them to pull the strings like they do the cornerstone of what they feed off must be set.

The mammoth task that lies in front of the Lions is exactly that, mammoth. But whilst time is of the essence, Gatland can utilise the work done by others over several seasons to make his job look that much easier.

Bath’s Season Ensures Their Bland Status Quo Continues

It started well, old habits began to sink in and had they continued in their current vein of form they’d have been lucky to secure Champions Cup rugby: that’s the story of Bath Rugby in 2017.

Quickly becoming England’s great underachievers to add to their tag as the country’s most underwhelming rugby club. It’s rather ironic that their Recreation Ground home overlooks the city’s cathedral because they need some serious help from above to return to the glory days on the 90’s.

Appointing Todd Blackadder at the start of the season brought with it an air of expectation not seen in these parts for many years. But in actual fact what Bath did was hire a coach sharing the same fundamentals they had: promises much, looks good but doesn’t achieve anything.

In seven years in Christchurch with the Crusaders Blackadder reached two finals and three semi-finals which are impressive but after a while it almost becomes depressive.

It was so typical of Bath to beat Leicester Tigers in their oh so brilliantly marketed move to Twickenham for a contest billed as ‘The Clash’ before going on to lose two of their remaining three games when they had their destiny in their own hands. Not to mention that those two losses came against the sides that finished the season in 10th and 11th place.

Never give Bath anything they have the capability to throw away, that’s what I’ve taken away from this season, because they never but cease to amaze you. First their place in the Premiership play-offs and then a fortnight ago when they wrestled potential victory from the jaws of defeat against Stade Francais in Paris before gifting a place in the Challenge Cup final back to the French side.

Quite what Bath do to rectify the problems in the west country I don’t know: George Ford is returning to Leicester this summer after four years in blue with Freddie Burns going the other way. In all honesty, despite being named Premiership player of the year two seasons ago, Ford’s departure really isn’t the worst thing Bath could wish for.

The England fly-half and his club’s journey in the last two years have mirrored that of the man who should really be wearing 10 for England and his side: Owen Farrell and Saracens. If you had to sum up Bath’s season in one game it would be their trip to Allianz Park to take on the defending champions.

Oh so many subplots that afternoon sum Bath up perfectly so let’s take a trip down memory lane. Sunday 26th March, half an hour before kick-off and the team sheets come out. Now as a rugby fan I’m excited, not only for the names on show, but also for the contest I – naively – expected to commence.

You pit XV against XV: Ford versus Farrell, Jonathan Joseph against Brad Barritt, Semesa Rokoduguni facing Chris Ashton, Anthony Watson opposing Alex Goode and cousins Taulupe Falateu and Billy Vunipola taking on each other. You can barely split the individual battles, yet on the day I thought that man for man Bath lined up with the better of the two teams.

Saracens do what they do and score early, no bother Bath are still in the game. Shortly before half-time, Watson crosses the whitewash and Blackadder’s men are back in it.

Then, with the hooter about to sound Bath win a penalty and Ford opts for a kick around 10 metres in from touch. The three points would put them one point ahead going into the break.

Ford sent it wide are there lies the story of Bath in an instant, not only is that a kick that you immediately think Farrell would have monotonously notched, they battle enough to earn the opportunity to take pole position in a vital moment but they haven’t the conviction to take it.

Nevertheless, head into the sheds, regroup and go again. And go Bath did, go all out to maintain the current status quo in the Premiership which says: Saracens are a class above and the gap to sides like Bath is as huge as the 53-10 score line at full time suggests.

The champions scored five tries in the final 20 minutes and you wonder how a match so much in the balance an hour ago has ended like this. Bath churn out more questions that they ever supply answers with almost every passing game.

Why is it that Joseph excels with England, and excels enough to become a Lion, yet plays like a cub in need of considerable guidance and maturing whenever he pulls on a Bath shirt? Owner Bruce Craig must pull his hair out, not only has he invested immensely in Bath, but he has given them the players to succeed.

Talent is not the question, if anything it’s the only thing guaranteed with Bath. The question is why can’t they use it and turn it into a winning formula. Bath came within one game of ending their wait for success again when, then head coach, Mike Ford lead then to the Premiership final in 2015.

Their conquerors that day were Saracens and their journey over the last two years has encapsulated the Bath of today. They did not learn from the experience, in fact the only thing them appear to have taken from it is self-pity and they still seem to be shaking the last of it off.

I really do hope that Bath can end the wait, Premiership rugby needs Bath in its latter stages but no one deserves anything in sport and right now a fifth-place finish, based on recent months, is way more than Bath really deserve.

The Best Yet Still Seeking Consistency

Five was the flavour of the day at the Etihad on Saturday: Manchester City won by five goals in a five-star performance their five-star coach would’ve approved of.

Why don’t they do that every week? Well your first comment would be they don’t play Crystal Palace at home every week but nevertheless, this is a side who have won on the road at Chelsea and Liverpool in the last month or so.

Goals from David Silva, Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Nicolas Otamendi put Pep Guardiola’s side back in pole position to finish third with three games remaining. It has been an immensely underwhelming baptism for the Catalan but when you watch games like this you get the impression unprecedented success is only a few clicks away.

Of course it’s easy to say this after watching a side win by five goals but Manchester City is, despite being 12 points adrift of Chelsea, without a doubt the best side I have seen this season and by a considerable distance. The media have been quick to attack Guardiola although he has at times left himself to be shot at but it has been a far more productive season than results suggest.

Note I said Manchester City are the best team I’ve watched this season, not at all the most consistent of those I’ve observed. Performances like those against city neighbours United back in September and home games against Tottenham and Chelsea for the first hour have at times seemed to herald a new beginning for Premier League football.

The tragedy is Manchester City only won four points from those three games and petty dropped points to the likes of Southampton, Leicester and Middlesbrough twice does undo the good work Guardiola and his side put in against their top six rivals.

It’s of stark contrast to Chelsea who looks set to win the Premier title for the second time in three years: of their five losses this term four of those have come against other top six sides. Ultimately it’s their ruthless efficiency against the so-called lesser sides that has really won them this title and it’s a good part of the reason Manchester City haven’t challenged them.

As much as we would like to believe it, the best side in a competition doesn’t always emerge triumphantly. Leicester was the greatest of fairy tales in 2015/16 but it would take either the most ignorant or uneducated of football fans to oppose the view that Tottenham was by far and away the best side in the land last season.

They somehow finished third and that looks like the position Guardiola and Manchester City are set for in their first season together. I’m by no means saying there is a connection, just mere coincidence, but it adds value to the idea that finishing top of the tree doesn’t always make you the best team. Consistency, ruthlessness and know how are just as affective traits as sheer brilliance.

The hope, or fear for the remaining 19 teams, is what Manchester City have shown in glimpses this year they can produce in buckets next year. A summer revamp of just as many anticipated departures as there are potential ins will, the hierarchy hope, ensure that Guardiola finally manages to implement the ideals we all hoped he would initially.

A 100% record in the Catalans first ten games showed that Manchester City could perform with some degree of regularity the football he wanted, but as time went on and Guardiola continued to push for more his players fell short. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach inevitably has displayed a hint of stubbornness – but who wouldn’t when it’s reaped so much success – with his players this year after calls for him to curb his flamboyant style of play his players were clearly not capable of.

It’s important to note though that this method of play has been proven to work over a considerable amount of time, and his record dictates that he is every bit good enough to coach in the Premier League. What his style has highlighted in alarming terms is just how average so many of this Manchester City squad are and begs the question just how poorly have the club spent their millions?

Full-backs – plural that is – are said to be top of Guardiola’s wish list this summer and you’d hope a new goalkeeper is not far behind. Going forward has not been Manchester City’s problem, it’s the constant need to score at least two goals to win every game given the fragility of their defence that has proved their undoing.

In games like their 5-0 demolition of Crystal Palace, you almost understand why Guardiola would neglect defending. His forward players press with such intensity and vigour that the ball doesn’t go further than the holding midfielder before being won back.

Obviously Guardiola cannot rely on that method of play to protect his defence for 38 games, but it is certainly his ideal way of defending. It worked at Barcelona, it worked in Munich and it has worked in England, just not with the same amount of success.

The fundamental point here is not Guardiola’s inadequacies because quite frankly they are few if any. If anything he has trusted and believed in players unable to repay that faith too often and he has borne the brunt of those mistakes, maybe rightly so. The fact is Guardiola arrived in Manchester with a picture of what needed addressing, a year on and that picture is even clearer.

It is fair to suggest that a student of the game like Guardiola has already diagnosed the problems and found the appropriate treatment. If the upcoming summer is even half as successful as the club envisage then the Manchester City that has had, myself at least, speechless and ecstatic on five or six occasions could do so weekly. If so, put their fixtures in your diary, it’ll be time well spent

Liverpool Risk Anointing Coutinho With Talismanic Status

They awe over him and they amplify his brilliance, that combination cost them Luis Suarez and the same combination could cost Liverpool Philippe Coutinho this summer.

Suarez’s somewhat unexpected departure a few months after he had come so close to effectively carrying them to the title in 2014 came down to several factors.

The lure of Barcelona which, for a South American player in particular, is hard to rebuff was key but the amount of love that Liverpool as a club showed their then talismanic figure Suarez was almost as detrimental as it was positive.

The Catalan club are said to be strongly considering Liverpool’s current talisman Coutinho as a long-term replacement for the phenomenal Andres Iniesta who is inevitably approaching the twilight of his career. The parallels between the two players, their futures and their list of honours at similar stages of their career should be of alarming concern for Liverpool.

They say that bad things come in threes: first Luis Suarez in the summer of 2014, then to a lesser degree Raheem Sterling 12 months later and now two years on Coutinho could be set to justify the damning statement.

There is a balance that must be struck between motivating a player and ensuring he feels coveted but also making sure that the talent pool remains healthy and not too reliant on one individual. A Liverpool side containing Suarez finished two points off the title in 2014, a year later a side minus him finished 25 points adrift of winners Chelsea.

Liverpool backed too heavily on Suarez and they were prepared to rise or fall with him, what they did not prepare for was a life without him.

Coutinho did sign a new five-year contract earlier this year but in the modern game a contract represents little in terms of security for a club. In real terms it protects them financially to ensure they get the maximum transfer fee for a player who they feel is of considerable importance. Coutinho’s buyout clause was not made public, but in the current market you expect it to be somewhere around £60 million and Europe’s elite are both able and prepared to meet that fee.

Jurgen Klopp was pictured smiling Cheshire cat esque next to his Brazilian star on the day his contract was made public but he is not naïve enough to think that Coutinho is here for the long term with no questions asked. Klopp may exude hope like few other managers do, but hope alone doesn’t win you honours.

It may provide the very beginning of a catalyst that gets that ball rolling, but his success in Germany was not built on hope. It was built on a brilliant central defender, some excellent attacking forwards and an irresistible Polish forward all playing expansive free-flowing but clever football.

Liverpool have shown that in glimpses, but not to any degree of regularity that suggests they are going to challenge for the title anytime soon. Even in the darker days of this season that saw losses to Swansea and Crystal Palace at Anfield Klopp remained defiant and Coutinho’s body language at least remained committed.

The Brazilian by nature is not a moaner, in fact, he isn’t particularly expressive other than when he scores, but don’t think that those feelings of doubt don’t circle around in his head. The former Inter Milan forward plays with too much talent for a man not to believe his own hype.

He’s left not just Anfield but many of us speechless this year, the way he dribbles before cutting back and leaning all his body weight to one side almost Arjen Robben esque. Then like Robben telegraphing exactly where he is going to strike but still leaving goalkeepers and defenders powerless to prevent it.

Strikes against Everton, Crystal Palace and Hull City showed just that. His free-kick on the opening weekend at Arsenal was as postage stamp a strike you will see this season.

However, praise and constant recognition as Liverpool’s best player will not be enough to satisfy Coutinho. He may still come across as the 10-year-old boy who was content to kick a ball around on the dirt covered pitches of Rio de Janeiro but deep down Coutinho wants trophies and medals to legitimise his undeniable talent.

Much of his future rests on whether Liverpool finish in the top four, right now that remains up for debate. Should they finish fifth Klopp may well have to accept a summer of rumours surrounding the future of his brightest pupil.

Since the days of Steven Gerrard and Suarez have passed the Kop have anointed Coutinho as their current king but the danger of that is whether Anfield can provide a kingdom, or more importantly a trophy cabinet, befitting a player of his quality.

Liverpool are still hurting, and truth be told still transitioning, over the departure of Suarez and his achievements in three years at Barcelona highlight just how phenomenal he is.

The arrival of Klopp reinvigorated everyone on Merseyside, but Klopp and his aura cannot do it all, contrary to what some might believe and he needs to Coutinho to buy into what his personality sells to be a success at Anfield.