Welcome to the Burn Notice, a weekly column where I give you my unsolicited thoughts on the week’s soccer action.
Liverpool Wave Goodbye to Coutinho, Welcome van Dijk
Liverpool have made all the early headlines in the January transfer window.
After months of negotiation, Philippe Coutinho is finally going to Barcelona. Liverpool and Barcelona agreed to terms on Saturday, with the Reds handing over the prized wingerA�for a cool A?142 million.
The speculation surrounding this move has been rampant since the summer, when Coutinho first expressed his desire to move. However, the wild (and often baseless) gossip that engulfed this saga would have easily carved out a section in Regina George’s “Burn Book” fromA�Mean Girls. (How many of you thought you’d be reading aA�Mean GirlsA�reference? I’m feeling very fetch this week.)
Now that the ink is finally dry, the timing of the move is perplexing. Yes, Liverpool received a very handsome return on the A?8.5m they paid to get Coutinho five years ago. Yes, it was always going to be hard to rebuff Barcelona and prevent Coutinho from going to the club of his dreams. But this loss is a tough pill to swallow in the heat of EPL and Champions League campaigns.
Replacements of Coutinho’s ilk are hard to find. And, even harder to pluck away from other teams in the winter window. Obviously Liverpool still have very talented players. But JA?rgen Klopp will have one fewer dynamic attacking option at his disposal down the stretch.
For Barcelona, I don’t understand making the move right now. First, A?142 million is a lot of moneya��even with Coutinho’s talent. And it’s almost double theA�A?72 million Barca initially bid for him this summer.
Secondly, why now? Why in the middle of the season? The team isn’t needing of a spark. They’re playing well and dominating La Liga. For Barcelona, the pressing concern is not La Liga, but the Champions Leaguea��a competition where Coutinho is ineligible to play for them.
Additionally, what position will he play? He will likely slot in for AndrA�s Iniesta, but it’s a lingering question. There is no doubt Coutinho is an exciting talent, but this signing feels like an investment for the future rather than for the present.
Meanwhile, Liverpool’s other bit of businessa��acquiring center back Virgil van DijkA�for an eye-watering A?70 million fulfills a big need. I don’t know if making himA�the highest-paid center back in the worldA�makes financial sense, but I love the signing. Liverpool’s back line is shaky, and easily the team’s Achilles heel.
Van Dijk adds a veteran presence and reliability to a group that desperately needs it. He’s only one of four center backs in the past three EPL seasonsA�without an error resulting in a goal. Dejan Lovren alone has made three in that same time frame. Van Dijk also has the highest aerial duel percentage (71.9 percent) of any other EPL player with at least 50 appearances.
In addition, he passed more accurately than any of his new teammates last season. The graphic below, courtesy ofA�Sky Sports, tells the story:
He will be an exciting player to follow this season. And he would starthis tenure with a flourish byA�snatching the winning goalA�against Everton in the FA Cup.
Alan Pardew is Not the Manager to Keep West Brom Afloat
These are dark days for West Brom. They’ve set a Premier League record of 20 games without a victory dating back to August. And they are now firmly in the relegation zone with only 16 points.
In situations like these, wins are priceless.
That is why I don’t agree with hiring Alan Pardew to right the ship. And the results have born that out. For one, Pardew wasA�brought on at the end of NovemberA�and West Brom have not received the new manager performance boost that typically follows when struggling teams insert a new coach. Nothing has really changed for the Baggies. The team still hasn’t won in the Premier League.
Going back further to Pardew’s days at Crystal Palace, his track record is similarly poor. Since January 1, 2016, Pardew has only won 7 of the 45 games he’s managed (including Saturday’s FA Cup win against fourth-tier Exeter Citya��hardly a cornerstone victory). In fact, Pardew’s last Premier League win was December 3rd, 2016. Yikes.
Pardew was tasked with reviving the struggling West Brom because fans were not happy with the conservative approach of his predecessor, Tony Pulis. However, West Brom are still winless in their eight EPL matches under Pardew, having only scored four goals in that time. Drawing EPL heavyweights Liverpool and Arsenal is OK. Losing to Swansea, Stoke City and West Hama��three teams at the heart of the drop zone battlea��is a recipe for relegation.
Pardew brought the promise of more expansive, exciting soccer with results to push West Brom up the table. So far, none of that has happened. The Baggies still have difficulty scoring goals, and now they’re are letting in more than they used to. Ownership has promised to make waves in the January transfer window, and I hope that’s true because something is desperately needed. Perhaps they should start with the manager.
But until then…
Benevento Watch: La Befana Gifts Benevento Another Win
Last week, IA�highlighted the mystical historyA�of Serie A debutante Benevento after their first win.
Incredibly, after going the first 18 games without one, the Witches picked up their second in a row on Saturdaya��this time beating Sampdoria 3-2.
And I think I know how this time.
Saturday was the sacred day of the Epiphany, recognized in the Christian faith.A�In Italian culture, the symbol of the Epiphany is a broomstick-riding magical witch, known as the “Befana.” The revered Befana (not unlike Santa Claus), travels in the dead of night bringing gifts of candy to good children, and coal to bad ones.
Was it a coincidence that the Witches of Benevento won on the enchanted day of the Befana?
As “V”A�statesA�”I, like God, do not play with dice, and do not believe in coincidence.”