Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum has revealed the sadness in the club’s squad at Philippe Coutinho’s departure but insisted no one individual will be expected to fill the void.
Coutinho completed his dream move to Barcelona this week in a deal worth £142m despite manager Jurgen Klopp’s best efforts to persuade him to remain on Merseyside.
The atmosphere at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground in the build up to their Premier League fixture with Manchester City has been more subdued than normal in the wake of the Brazil playmaker’s exit.
Coutinho was not particularly renowned as a big personality in the dressing room at Anfield, but Wijnaldum admitted his absence will be felt.
“To be fair it is still strange, I think we still have to realise he has gone,” Wijnaldum said.
“A quality player like Phil, every team will miss a player like that if they leave.
“He was a really nice guy to work with, that is why we are happy for him that he can make the move, but also sad that he didn’t stay because with Phil in the team, you are a better team of course.
“He was one of the best players we had in the team but as a person he was maybe even the best.
“He was not like ‘I am the best’ or arrogant or something like that. Phil was always a person who listened to the team, who listened to the coaching.”
Wijnaldum believes City, and other Premier League clubs, are fortunate they will not have to face a Liverpool team with Coutinho in their ranks.
Last month was Coutinho’s most prolific in a Liverpool shirt as he scored seven goals in all competitions.
“They are lucky, yes,” added Netherlands international Wijnaldum.
“I think every top team is probably happy he leaves to another team in another country. I think that’s also lucky, yes.”
Klopp, however, will not attempt to fill the gap left by Coutinho’s switch to Nou Camp by placing a greater weight of expectation on his midfield players.
Wijnaldum continued: “He (Klopp) is not saying you have to step up now or do this or that, he just wants us to enjoy the game and try to do our best.
“The manager is not the kind of manager who will put that kind of pressure on players.
“The only pressure the manager puts on us is that we have to give 100 per cent and try to use the quality we have.
“It’s not that I think I now have to go on and think I am the best man and number one.”
City have not won at Anfield since 2003, a run of 16 matches in all competitions, but that will not matter to Pep Guardiola’s side according to Wijnaldum.
“I think the players don’t really care about it because every game is a new game. Anything can happen,” he explained.
“If you look at the past, I think City now has a better team than they had in the past. I don’t think it is a good thing to look back on the history.”
Liverpool centre-back Virgil van Dijk will make his Premier League bow for the Reds, having scored a dramatic late winner in their FA Cup tie with Everton on his debut, and Wijnaldum reckons his Dutch compatriot’s cool assurance and leadership qualities will be an asset.
“I didn't even know he was that calm,” said the 27 year-old.
“He talks a lot to help his team-mates and particularly those in front of him. That is why he was captain of Southampton before the trouble came.
“Virgil always tries to learn, and even though he is a leader he knows he can still get better.”