Liverpool must prepare themselves properly for the departure of Philippe Coutinho, according to former defender Mark Lawrenson. The Brazil international continues to be the subject of intense speculation regarding his future, and the Reds have been advised to brace for his exit.
Sport understands Barcelona are interested in bringing Coutinho to the Nou Camp. The Catalan publication adds that his close relationship with international compatriot Neymar could help seal the deal, which the La Liga champions could hope to complete as early as next summer.
The 24-year-old agreed a new contract in February 2015 that should keep him at Liverpool until 2020 – however that is unlikely to deter Barca's attempt to lure him away from Anfield. Lawrenson believes Jurgen Klopp's side have to accept they will lose Coutinho, and must start to make plans to replace the playmaker.
"Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid to a certain degree, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich are the clubs continually successful in Europe," Lawrenson told the Press Association, according to the Liverpool Echo. "You can't keep those top players if those clubs come in for them.
"I don't think, apart from arguably Manchester City, anyone can stop them. The clever thing is to plan for it. Rather than say 'Coutinho might be going, what are we going to do?' you have something in place already."
Coutinho has played a central role in Liverpool's success this term, with five goals and five assists in the Premier League helping Klopp's side top the table heading into the international break. The former Inter Milan youngster has starred in an attacking quartet alongside Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana, which has help the club net 30 times in 11 league matches.
However, the impressive start has been overshadowed by Barcelona's creeping interest. Former midfielder Xavi believes Coutinho is one of few players who could make the step up to Barcelona and has urged Luis Enrique to make the move a reality.
"There are not many players that can improve Barcelona, but if you are asking me if he [Coutinho] is one of them, on this form, I think he is. Technically he is very good. He would suit Barcelona's philosophy well," Xavi told Goal.com. "Coutinho is a player I have always thought is special – but under Klopp he has gone up another level. On form there are not any better midfield players in Europe.
"He has always shown quality but now he is consistently playing well and that is good news for Liverpool if they want to really challenge for the title. He is playing under one of the most intelligent coaches in Europe. Klopp has a lot of experience at developing world-class players, so it is a good club for him to be at. When you play at the level he is there is always going to be talk, but for now he needs to ignore all that and stay focused, because I think Liverpool have a real chance this season."