EXCLUSIVE: Chris Bascombe on Coutinho, van Dijk and Naby Keïta

Michael Mongie spoke to the Telegraph’s Chris Bascombe about Virgil van Dijk, Naby Keïta and want-away midfielder Philippe Coutinho.

Heading into the 2017 summer transfer window, Liverpool fans were buoyed by the recent achievement of finishing in the top four for the first time since 2014.

Following a successful 2016/17 campaign, reports indicated that the Reds were ready to splurge on top players and while that was initially true, Mohamed Salah is the only top class signing that has arrived on Merseyside this summer.

The club’s failure to sign their top targets thus far has overshadowed the fact that Jürgen Klopp still has a very talented squad capable of challenging for top honours.

The bombshell that is Philippe Coutinho’s official transfer request has not done much to assuage fears heading into the new season but there should still be a sense of optimism surrounding a side that bossed the league in the opening months last season.

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To gain further insight into transfers, Liverpool’s pre-season and what the future holds, I spoke to Chris Bascombe.

After all that has happened, do you think that Liverpool will sign Virgil van Dijk this summer?

Only Southampton can answer that. At this point, Liverpool does not know and the player does not know. All you can do as a reporter is try to offer an explanation of the situation as it is on a given day – report on the state of the game rather than predict its outcome.

There is no point making absolute statements about transfers. If Southampton decide they have to sell van Dijk I am sure Liverpool will reignite their interest, but they will not be alone. Until then no-one can say what will happen next.

Liverpool have rarely revisited missed transfer targets in the past but reports suggest that they will wait until next summer to sign Naby Keïta. Do you see them going back for the Guinean or do you think they will focus their attention elsewhere?

If Keïta continues to impress, the clause in his contract will make it easier for Liverpool to sign him next summer. If he is as good as a £66 million bid suggests it would be odd if Liverpool did not want him in a year’s time.

I have found it somewhat worrying when Liverpool have chased targets previously – the likes of Piotr Zielinski, Mahmoud Dahoud and Ben Chilwell most recently – and then gone cold on them within 12 months.

It begs the question: what if they had actually signed those players a year ago? Did they deteriorate that much in a year?

Speculation surrounding Philippe Coutinho’s future has been rife with two bids from Barcelona being rejected. Are Liverpool just hiking up the bidding price for the Brazilian or is there really no intention of selling the no.10?

No they are not trying to hike up the price. There is always emotion around transfers. People convince themselves a player will stay because they want him to stay, or that he will sign because they want him to sign.

All you can do is report the position of the club as accurately as possible. As I have written in the Telegraph, both publicly and privately Liverpool’s position has not shifted since the first bid.

They say they will not sell Coutinho for any price and under any circumstances this summer.

I would be amazed if that position shifted – the most recent public statement was significant. Nothing gives me the impression Liverpool will soften their stance, although evidently, it will be a long three weeks until August 31.

You can never underestimate the level of bullshit spouted and dirty tricks that will be used until the end of the month to try and make Liverpool relent. This is the football business, I’m afraid.

Mamadou Sakho is still at Liverpool despite Liverpool’s clear stance on his future. Is Liverpool’s £30million valuation hurting their chances of selling him and is another loan spell a possibility?

Liverpool are right to ask what they believe a fair price for Sakho. Sakho is obviously within his rights to wait and see what opportunities present themselves. I spent two years reading what a fantastic, underrated defender Sakho is, so in the current market £30m is fair enough, isn’t it?

Lazar Markovic is another player destined for an Anfield exit but is yet to find his way out. Are Liverpool asking for too much or is it a case of a lack of interest in the winger?

Like Sakho there has been interest, but evidently not at the kind of valuation Liverpool expect. Markovic was an expensive mistake on the day he signed. Sorry to sound cold, but I have not given him much thought recently and probably will not do so until the day comes to write he has been sold.

Do you think Liverpool are well-prepared for the new season in the way of transfers or, as fans on social media feel strongly, the lack of top signings thus far will be Liverpool’s demise?

Liverpool have an exceptionally good first team. They were unbeaten against the rest of the top six last season, and if Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mané and Jordan Henderson had played a full season they would have won over 80 points. As it was, 76 was pretty good in Klopp’s first full campaign.

The well-documented problem was those injuries and there is paranoia about similar issues this year. Maybe I am in an increasing minority now, but I still find the chatter on social media largely divorced from reality.

The only way to remain sane on Twitter is to treat it with a healthy dose of ridicule (and every so often a bit of contempt) because the conversations on there are too angst-ridden and extreme to be given much credence.

I believe most supporters recognise there is a bloody good team at Anfield that just needs a little more class to thrive in the Premier League and in Europe. The frustration is the club has not yet been able to recruit those players that will turn a good side into a trophy-winning one.

Liverpool need to get better but – unlike recent years – this season they are starting with a more solid foundation. I most certainly do not see any cause at this moment to predict an imminent ‘demise’ although a better judgment on the state of the squad can be made on September 1.

If you were Jürgen Klopp and you could sign three more players in the next three weeks, who would they be?

I’m not going to start naming names. It’s the job of Liverpool’s scouts and recruiters to know who they best players out there are. In terms of positions, I would say a centre-back is an obvious area in need of improvement. Beyond that, perhaps another pacey winger would assist if Mané and Salah need resting.

I’m not sure they need three more players, to be honest (unless there is an injury crisis). The policy this summer is to target proven class as much as developing talent and having endorsed such a policy when the club signed too many ‘for the future’ I agree with this idea. The problem thus far has been securing all the elite targets.

The name that has been on everyone’s lips: Dominic Solanke. What do you make of the youngster’s first pre-season with Liverpool and how does it set him up ahead of the 2017/18 season.

He looks an astute purchase in the ‘development’ category and I do not believe he will be spending all of his time in the U23s.

He seems to be an immediate option for the first team and his arrival should push Divock Origi to start fulfilling his potential because – on current form – Solanke looks the more able deputy for Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge.

What do you make of Alberto Moreno being kept on at Liverpool for another season after being iced out for most of last season?

I’d say he performed well in pre-season, but he is going to have to do a lot more to earn complete forgiveness for the Europa League final.

Finally, where do you predict Liverpool to finish this season in the Premier League?

Given what Manchester City have spent, Pep Guardiola has to win the league. Beyond that, I believe the next five teams are once again fighting for the next five places. Optimistically I would say Liverpool will finish 2nd, but if I was having a bet I’d settle on them being in the top four and winning a trophy this year.

Cheers Chris for your insight and willingness to chat to us. Follow Chris on Twitter for breaking Liverpool news and the worst banter in the world.

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