Barcelona forward Philippe Coutinho is being targeted by two Premier League clubs, with a decision expected to be made on Friday afternoon.
Coutinho, who was signed by Barcelona from Liverpool for a club-record £146m in January 2018, wants to return to the Premier League and sign for an ambitious club where he can play regularly.
There were up to six English clubs in the race to sign Coutinho earlier this week, but there are now only two serious contenders fighting it out for the Brazil international.
Aston Villa were among those registered with an interest in the midfielder after making a tentative enquiry to Barcelona, with manager Steven Gerrard – a former team-mate of Coutinho at Liverpool – a big admirer.
Gerrard refused to be drawn on the speculation at a Thursday news conference, but heaped praise on Coutinho, who he still regards as a friend.
“Sixty-three caps for Brazil, a serial winner, was incredible at Liverpool, so I can understand why he’s linked to a lot of football clubs,” said Gerrard, ahead of Monday’s FA Cup third-round tie at Manchester United.
“I can understand why a lot of supporters up and down the country are speaking about him. I don’t think you get a nickname as a magician if you’re not a special footballer, so he’s someone I have an incredible amount of respect for.
“But I don’t want to add to any speculation, because he belongs to Barcelona.”
‘Coutinho a serial winner wherever he’s been’
Coutinho, who has scored 28 goals in 105 games for Barca, has struggled since making his dream move to Catalonia, but still managed to win four major trophies as a bit-part player.
Despite widespread belief that Coutinho has underperformed since moving to Spain, Gerrard has defended his former team-mate’s record at the Nou Camp and thinks he still has a lot to offer.
“He won two league titles and two Copa del Reys with Barcelona,” added Gerrard.
“I think if you go and have a look at his Wikipedia page I think you’ll see a serial winner wherever he’s been.
“I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about the player, he’s a friend of mine, so if I’m asked the questions I can speak for as long as you want.”
Coutinho also spent the 2019/20 campaign on loan at Bayern Munich and won the Champions League, the Bundesliga, and the German Cup under Hansi Flick.
‘Coutinho would be more than happy to play for Aston Villa’
Sky Sports News’ Kaveh Solhekol:
“Speaking to people on the player’s side of the deal, my feeling about this is that Philippe Coutinho would be interested in joining Aston Villa.
“He knows people at Aston Villa. He knows Steven Gerrard and Christian Purslow from his time at Liverpool. He feels Villa are an up-and-coming club. Gerrard, Purslow and the owners have big plans for the club.
“He also knows the king of quality in the Villa squad, players like Ollie Watkins, Emi Buendia and Emi Martinez, and he feels if he was playing at Villa regularly, he could help them get up the table and into Europe.
“So, I think that is definitely on the cards and as far as Aston Villa are concerned, of course, they are not giving anything away. They are not commenting at all because as far as they are concerned, he’s a Barcelona player.
“From the player’s perspective, I understand Coutinho would be more than happy to play for Aston Villa and Steven Gerrard.”
Who will be on the move in January?
The January transfer window opens on Saturday January 1, 2022 and closes at 11pm on Monday January 31.
Keep up-to-date with all the latest transfer news and rumours in our dedicated Transfer Centre blog on Sky Sports’ digital platforms. You can also catch up with the ins, outs and analysis on Sky Sports News.