Could Christian Pulisic be the eventual successor to Philippe Coutinho

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Christian Pulisic of Borussia Dortmund and Eric Durm of Borussia Dortmund stretch during a training session ahead of the UEFA Europa League quarter final between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund at Anfield on April 13, 2016 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
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Joseph Kavaloski takes an in-depth look at how Christian Pulisic could succeed Philippe Coutinho at Anfield in the years to come.

In the latter stages of the summer transfer window, news came out that Liverpool was interested in buying Christian Pulisic from Borussia Dortmund. An £11 million bid was made to the German club, which was subsequently denied, but reports have surfaced that Jurgen Klopp has made the American prodigy a long-term target for the Reds.

At 17 years old with a number of players already crammed into Liverpool’s attacking midfield ranks, Pulisic would not be a transfer target as an immediate impact player. Rather, he would be a young developmental player that would play in the first team primarily in cup competitions before overtaking a member of the starting eleven for Premier League matches.

Klopp’s seemingly ideal attacking player is one that can press for 90 minutes and be positionally interchangeable through clever off the ball movement. Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane embody these two attributes – hence their constant presence in the starting lineup – but Philippe Coutinho is a different type of player that often thrives with the ball at his feet. Not to say that the Brazilian does not press or move well off the ball, but the “Little Magician” is at his best when picking out the pass for those making clever runs ahead of him.

For all of Coutinho’s talent, he has still been unable to create the necessary consistency in his game to be a top player week in, week out in the Premier League. Whether it be a result of hamstring injuries that have hampered him over the past year or poor decision-making in the final third, Coutinho has not been the talisman to drive Liverpool into the top four.

The Brazilian is an excellent player on his day, but the Reds’ lack of success during his time at Anfield has stirred up interest from abroad. European giants such as Barcelona and PSG have been rumored to be interested, and Coutinho could become interested in a move away from Liverpool. Despite the love many fans have for Coutinho, it is highly unlikely that he will spend the entire prime of his career in a red shirt and Pulisic could be the man who replaces the Brazilian.

Four days away from his 18th birthday and not even a Liverpool player, it is hard to pencil in Pulisic as an eventual successor to Coutinho. However, Klopp was the manager to give the young American a chance at Dortmund and this factor will not go unnoticed if he does not earn the playing time he needs under Thomas Tuchel. When everyone is fit, Pulisic is likely behind Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle, Ousmane Dembele on both wings.  Plus, attacking midfielders Shinji Kagawa and Mario Gotze can also be shunted out to a winger spot in the event of injuries or tactical matchups.

Dortmund will be competing in the Champions League this season as well as the Bundesliga and DFB Pokal so squad depth will be important for the German club.  This could open up an opportunity for Pulisic to feature, albeit in a limited capacity, but the American is unlikely to receive much game time this season in a yellow jersey.

When everyone is fit, Pulisic is likely behind Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle, Ousmane Dembele on both wings. Plus, attacking midfielders Shinji Kagawa and Mario Gotze can also be shunted out to a winger spot in the event of injuries or tactical matchups. Dortmund will be competing in the Champions League this season as well as the Bundesliga and DFB Pokal so squad depth will be important for the German club. This could open up an opportunity for Pulisic to feature, albeit in a limited capacity, but the American is unlikely to receive much game time this season in a yellow jersey.

Despite his youth, Pulisic is in the first team at one of the best clubs in Europe for a reason. Last season he became the youngest player to ever score in the Bundesliga at 17 years old, then became the youngest player to ever score twice in a season in the Bundesliga with his second goal. In total, Pulisic made nine appearances (four starts) for Dortmund last season, scoring those two goals.

The American has tantalizing attacking potential, but his work off the ball is just as impressive. He averaged 1.2 tackles and 1.1 interceptions per match, marks that are superior to that of current Liverpool youngster Sheyi Ojo who recorded 1.1 tackles and only 0.3 interceptions per match. Pulisic also compares well to Coutinho who averaged 1.3 tackles and 0.7 interceptions per Premier League match.

For a 17-year-old playing in a totally foreign environment with significant language barriers, Pulisic’s performance both on and off the ball is extremely impressive.

Today, tantalizing potential, no matter how young, comes with a very high price tag. Normally, an £11 million bid would be astronomical 17-year-old considering he only has nine first team appearances to his name. But for a player of Pulisic’s quality and potential it was an easy bid to decline for Dortmund. If Klopp really wants to bring the American to Merseyside, it will likely cost him upwards of £25m.

Bringing Pulisic to Anfield will be no easy task, but Klopp is very interested and if the youngster fails to gain the playing time he needs, he may decide to push for a move to Merseyside.

Liverpool can easily afford that kind of sum, but spending a significant chunk of money on a player that is unlikely to be a mainstay in the starting eleven in the short term may not be the most prudent financial decision. Plus, Dortmund may want to hold on to their budding star as the club’s two best players, Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, are always linked with moves away from Westfalenstadion.

In the event Klopp is able to bring Pulisic to Anfield, the American would not immediately become a starter.  In the German’s 4-3-3 formation, Coutinho and Mane are entrenched as the team’s starting wing players with Firmino, Lallana, Wijnaldum, and Ojo the other main options.

Pulisic would likely take Ojo’s place in the squad as an injury replacement/cup player, but long term his aspirations would be much higher. Mane is almost the perfect player for Klopp’s system making a starting berth on the right wing extremely challenging to earn, but Coutinho’s place on the left is far less of a sure thing over the long term. As previously mentioned, Coutinho is not a traditional Klopp attacking player and there have been rumblings that he could be looking to move away from Anfield in the not-too-distant future.  Were Pulisic to become a Liverpool player, he would most likely slot in as the Brazilian’s eventual successor.

Pulisic is a player built in the mold of Mane and Reus in that he is always looking to put the ball in the net rather than make the decisive pass. Coutinho, on the other hand, is the type of player who makes the pass rather than finishes the move for a goal. In addition, the Brazilian is probably Liverpool’s weakest link in the press, another demerit for his worthiness under Klopp. Pulisic is ruthless when closing down defenders and Klopp would be salivating at the potential triumvirate of Pulisic-Firmino-Mane closing down and harassing defenders for 90 minutes.

Coutinho is an incredibly gifted footballer who is one of the rare players to actually have the quality to be a starter at Barcelona, but his fit in an optimal Klopp team is questionable.  Klopp’s main goal over the next two transfer windows is likely to be the acquisition of Pulisic, and this could open the door for a Coutinho transfer.

Many Liverpool fans, myself included, would be gutted to see the Brazilian leave Anfield, but he is unlikely to stay in a red shirt throughout his prime in the first place and Pulisic could be an incredible replacement.

The American is far from becoming a Liverpool player and Coutinho is just as far from taking off the famous red shirt, but a scenario in which each of those outcomes occurs may not be as unlikely as it currently seems. In the short term, keep an eye out for Pulisic’s playing time at Dortmund and any rumors of a Coutinho departure – they could be a harbinger of what is to come.

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