• Brazilian set to be in squad for EFL Cup semi-final first leg at Southampton
• ‘It’s been difficult,’ says manager of Roberto Firmino’s off-field problems
Coutinho will return to the Liverpool squad for the EFL Cup semi-final first leg at St Mary’s Stadium on Wednesday having missed almost seven weeks with ankle ligament damage. The 24-year-old has trained only four times with the first team and will not be 100% fit for Sunday’s trip to Old Trafford in the Premier League.
But Klopp, who has lost Sadio Mané to the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal, says Liverpool need Coutinho match-fit as quickly as possible and that even a fleeting return could shape two matches of major significance to the club’s season.
The Liverpool manager said: “The time is not long enough for him to be 100% for Manchester United but he could play. We have spoken before about there being a difference between being fit and being match-fit but of course it’s Phil, so we want to try everything we can to bring him as close as possible to his 100%.
“In this moment I would say it makes sense for him to be involved against Southampton, in the squad, and we will see what happens there – whether we have to use him or not or whatever. If not, we have another three days to prepare him for United. A few minutes for him does make sense. We will see if he’s ready tomorrow and on Wednesday morning. Then we will make the decision.”
Coutinho has scored six goals this season and was instrumental in Liverpool’s rise to Premier League contention before suffering injury against Sunderland on 26 November. His time on the sidelines has quelled suggestions Barcelona are keen on the Brazil international but Klopp insists that would never have been an issue for Liverpool this month, fit or otherwise.
“It would be nice if big clubs thought like this and forgot about a player completely because he’s been injured for five or six weeks,” he said. “I’m not sure it’s like this but we never had any ideas or any plans or any talks about this because he is our player.
“There are no other ideas. Nothing changed. Big clubs don’t think this way, unfortunately. It was not a big injury so there was no question of him not being the same player afterwards.”
Klopp is likely to continue with Loris Karius in goal at Southampton in keeping with his policy of rotating goalkeepers for cup games, and has insisted Roberto Firmino’s off-field problems have not distracted the Brazilian.
Merseyside police have confirmed the Brazil international’s home was burgled on 22 December, days before he was charged with drink-driving.
The Liverpool manager said: “What can I say? It’s been difficult. But he has dealt really well with it on the pitch. That is how Roberto is. When he is on the pitch he thinks about nothing else other than football. It is a big strength of him, I would say. But it has not been nice.”
James Milner is expected to return from a calf injury at Southampton. Jordan Henderson will be absent with a heel problem but Klopp hopes the captain will feature at Old Trafford.