Ox defends Coutinho amid transfer talk

Dejan Lovren scoring Liverpool's second goal with a diving header in their 4-0 Premier League victory over Bournemouth on Sunday. The away win pushed the Reds back into the top four.
Dejan Lovren scoring Liverpool's second goal with a diving header in their 4-0 Premier League victory over Bournemouth on Sunday. The away win pushed the Reds back into the top four.PHOTO: REUTERS

He hails the Brazilian for consistently doing his best despite relentless Barcelona interest

LONDON • Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain described Liverpool team-mate Philippe Coutinho as "the most professional person I've seen all season" after the playmaker dazzled in the 4-0 Premier League victory at Bournemouth on Sunday.

Coutinho, who failed to join Barcelona in the summer despite three bids from the Spanish giants, enhanced his reputation by slaloming through the Bournemouth defence and finishing into the bottom corner to give the Reds the lead.

He also struck the woodwork from a free kick and set up Roberto Firmino for the fourth.

Barcelona are expected to test Liverpool's resolve to retain the 25-year-old next month but, when that matter was raised in a post-match interview, Oxlade-Chamberlain moved to intervene.

"Phil's a Liverpool player right now and he's doing really well for us," said the Man of the Match, putting his arm around the Brazilian. "He's been the most professional person I've seen all season.

"He's been top quality from the start and, every time he gets on the pitch, he does his all for the club. That's the most important thing right now."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp also had to field questions about Coutinho's future on a day when he left forward Sadio Mane on the bench. The German revealed that he is trying to structure his squad in a way that will ensure a player is not missed if unavailable.

"He is a fantastic player, but the job of LFC is to play without Phil Coutinho, to play without Sadio Mane, to play without Mo Salah," he said. "That makes the quality of a squad. Today, he (Coutinho) played really well and helped us a lot but, about the transfer, we have nothing to say about that."

He reiterated that the collective is key, playing down Mohamed Salah's achievement of registering a 20th goal in 26 appearances for Liverpool as the club returned to the top four of the Premier League.

The winger is the first player to reach that milestone before Christmas since Ian Rush in 1986-87. And only George Allan, in 1895, got there quicker, within 19 matches.

"As a manager, you don't like talking about Mo. He knows how much I respect him. You talk about 'Fab Four' - I don't like that name either," Klopp added, referring to the quartet of Coutinho, Salah, Mane and Firmino.

"I do not go to bed at night, thinking, 'Wow, how good is Salah?'. He is a very important player for us, like all of the others."

Liverpool next travel to Arsenal in the league on Friday as the first team in English top-flight history to win four straight away games by at least three goals.

They will attempt to stretch their unbeaten run in the Premier League to 10 games, with Klopp demanding consistency following disappointing home draws against Everton and West Bromwich Albion.

"We are consistent, but we have to be even more consistent in decisive moments," he said. "We had a few games like the West Brom game - not performance-wise, but result-wise."

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2017, with the headline 'Ox defends Coutinho amid transfer talk'. Print Edition | Subscribe