Opinion: Not replacing Philippe Coutinho in January is Jürgen Klopp's biggest gamble yet

The Liverpool boss has chosen to go with what he has for the rest of the season, but if they fail to make the Champions League, the scrutiny on him will be huge.

Opinion: Not replacing Philippe Coutinho in January is Jürgen Klopp's biggest gamble yet
Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool's Melwood training base (Photo credit: John Powell, Getty Images)

Jürgen Klopp has opted not to replace Philippe Coutinho, the man who departed Anfield for £142 million in early January as Liverpool's best player, choosing instead to put all of his faith in the rest of his squad until the summer.

In his Liverpool tenure so far Klopp has taken numerous risks: he chose to put James Milner at left-back for a season rather than sign another full-back as seemed logical; in the same season, he chose not to sign a replacement for Sadio Mané when he departed for the Africa Cup of Nations, and then waited it out to capture Virgil van Dijk when there was a clamour to sign another defender.

But to not replace Coutinho is a risk greater than any he has taken before. Liverpool without Philippe Coutinho are undoubtedly worse off than they were with him.

Champions League place at risk

It could cost Liverpool a place in the top four – and the money and pulling power that it brings – and that would set back the Klopp project years, especially having been knocked out of the FA Cup in disappointing fashion to West Bromwich Albion, and the Carabao Cup to Leicester City earlier in the season.

There are only 13 more league games to play, plus a maximum of seven Champions League games, but this is about quality not quantity.

Unless Liverpool win the Champions League, it will be the longest trophy drought the club has seen for 45 years; coupling that with missing out on the top four would be a recipe for disaster.

The knock-on effect in general would be enormous: fans would ask serious questions, and potential signings in the pipeline for next summer would radically change.

Klopp can talk all he likes about wanting players who want to join his team and push a ‘moving train’ rather than simply jump on, but is it is simply a fact that the elite, who will push his team to the next level, do not join teams who are not in the Champions League.

Summer targets potentially in doubt

Would Alisson Becker or Jan Oblak leave Roma or Atlético Madrid respectively for a team in the Europa League? Absolutely not – and neither would any other top target.

Naby Keïta agreed to move this summer thinking that he would be joining a team settled at Europe’s top table, and whilst he cannot get out of the move, it would not be what he was anticipating.

If Liverpool get one or two top players in, they can challenge Manchester City next season, as their recent victory over them showed, but that won’t happen unless they get back into the Champions League for the second successive season for the first time since 2009.

Whatever happens from now to the end of the season – whether Liverpool make the top four or not – the question will linger over ‘what if?’.

A chance missed to build momentum?

The feeling that with Coutinho, or with a Coutinho replacement, Liverpool could have gone one more step will loiter, and regret is not an emotion that fosters belief in the long-term future of Klopp's team.

More than that, as Leicester City proved when they won the league in 2015-16, momentum can be built up before next season even starts – from March 2015 to the end of the 2014-15 season, Leicester played 12 league games, losing only to Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea, winning seven of the others.

That was a big factor in their electric start to the next campaign which ultimately saw them take the top prize against all odds.

Liverpool, more than any other team, are a side that can build momentum quickly with a huge buzz around the fan base when things are going well. The positivity and optimism amassed during the 2013-14 season is the only example required.

It would be a gamble for Klopp not to sign anyone, going with the squad he has and relying on Adam Lallana to stay fit, and the outcome could shape his Anfield reign in the long-term.

Klopp must feel that his top target will arrive in the summer – perhaps the ‘mystery signing’ that was mooted but has not materialised – just as Van Dijk did a few months later than he originally wanted, but that will not happen if Liverpool were to miss out on the top four.

The safest option would have been to sign someone, even as a short-term option, but that is not the Klopp way.

This gamble, he must hope, is not a gamble too far, or the decision could undo all the good work he has produced to this stage.