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With Philippe Coutinho gone, much of the burden falls to Adam Lallana

With Philippe Coutinho gone, much of the burden falls to Adam Lallana


Carlos Carvalhal is determined to hold onto star defender Alfie Mawson, suggesting Swansea would only consider selling the England Under-21 defender if they received an offer in the region of £50 million.

Mawson has been heavily linked with Watford and West Ham in the January transfer window, while Celtic and Everton are also reportedly interested in the 23-year-old Londoner.

Swansea signed Mawson from Barnsley for £5m in August 2016 and he has two-and-a-half-years left on his contract at the Liberty Stadium.

But Carvalhal insists buying rather than selling is on the agenda of the Premier League's bottom club this month, with the Portuguese saying that chairman Huw Jenkins has given him assurances that Mawson will not be leaving the club.

"When I signed [as manager last month] it was very clear we would try and bring in players to improve the team,'' he said.

"We will not sell the best players in January, the message is clear.

"I have had guarantees from the chairman, but it depends if someone comes in and gives £50m, £100m, £250m.

"Of course, then it is completely different -- to me, [Philippe] Coutinho or Neymar.

"You can never say that it will not happen, but the fundamental idea is not to sell players and try to improve the team.''

Carvalhal used a fishing analogy last week when he suggested Swansea would have to buy "sardines and not lobster'' in January.

If that was a sign that Swansea will not be spending millions in their attempt to escape relegation, Carvalhal said the club have been busy in their pursuit of targets.

Keeping the fishing talk going, he said: "The boat is on the sea -- but the fish didn't bite the hook.

"There is nothing so far, but you never know when the boat is on the sea.

"It depends if you have a storm or whether the fish are sleeping or not if they come to the boat or not.

"I won't talk about numbers but I want quality players. If we bring some quality players in, it will be on our budget.''

Swansea travel to Newcastle on Saturday with doubts over Renato Sanches and Tammy Abraham.

However, South Korea midfielder Ki Sung-yueng could return after a month out with a calf injury.

"The team against Watford, Tottenham and Wolves played like I want at that moment,'' Carvalhal said about his first three games in charge.

"Let's see game by game. It is not just the philosophy, it is trying to achieve points.

"It will not happen in two days or two weeks.

"It might not be possible for the team to play as I want after just a month, what is important is that we fight to win games.''

Leicester striker Jamie Vardy will be fit to face Chelsea after recovering from a groin injury.

The England international missed Saturday's FA Cup draw at former club Fleetwood but will travel to Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Captain Wes Morgan and defender Danny Simpson remain out with a hamstring problems but Vicente Iborra (hamstring) Christian Fuchs (illness) are available for the Foxes.

Boss Claude Puel said: "He will be available for the game, there is no problem with Jamie. He can train well this week.

"I don't know how long Wes will stay outside the squad but I hope to have some good news and hope I can speak about the end of the injury.

"Simpson can run a little which is good news and we will see when he can come back into the team."

Meanwhile, Puel confirmed the Foxes are close to the signing of Fousseni Diabate from French Ligue 2 club Gazelec Ajaccio.

They have agreed a fee of around £2million for the 22-year-old, who can play either as a striker or a winger.

Puel said: "He is close to signing and it's a good opportunity for us. In the past Leicester haven't signed bad players from Ligue 2, like [Riyad] Mahrez.

"He has quality, pace, penetration and is good with ball at his feet. He can play as a winger wide right or left and striker also.

"He's an interesting player for the future and will be between the Under-23 and Premier League squad -- he has quality to play in Premier League. He's a young player but has all the attributes to become a good player."

Espanyol and former Watford boss Quique Sanchez Flores is Stoke's first choice to succeed Mark Hughes, multiple outlets are reporting.

Reports say a Stoke delegation met Flores in Barcelona on Wednesday, and that Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill is also under consideration.

The Potters sacked boss Hughes last weekend after the 2-1 FA Cup loss at League Two Coventry, which followed a run of seven losses in 10 Premier League games.

The 18th-placed Staffordshire outfit were interested in Derby manager Gary Rowett until he signed a new contract with the Rams on Tuesday.

Flores' one season in English football to date saw him guide Watford to a 13th-placed Premier League finish in 2015-16, with the Hornets also reaching the FA Cup semifinals.

The 52-year-old Spaniard then took charge at Espanyol in the summer of 2016, on a three-year deal, and they finished eighth in La Liga last term. They were 14th ahead of Thursday's match at Levante.

O'Neill and his coaching team agreed contract extensions with the Football Association of Ireland last October.

But the 65-year-old said after the Republic lost their World Cup qualifying playoff the following month that he would need to have "a real think'' about his future, and still nothing has been signed.

Since the departure of Hughes and his assistant Mark Bowen, first-team coach Eddie Niedzwiecki has been in temporary charge at Stoke, taking training ahead of Monday's league clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Niedzwiecki has been assisted by Under-18s boss Kevin Russell, who faced the media at a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

Russell said: "It's been a bit difficult with a manager gone who is really well-respected in the club.

"He was very liked, and it's sad when someone loses their job. It was a matter of picking them up on Monday a little bit -- there are players who were hurting, and rightly so.

"But as the week has gone on, we all know football -- it's just a matter now of getting on with it and trying to prepare for the new manager coming in, making sure the players are in the right frame of mind, or the game on Monday, whichever it is [that comes first].

"It was difficult at first but they have picked up over the last couple of days.

"Whoever comes in is coming into a fantastic football club. They will be a lucky manager.

"Eddie's in charge and I'm just helping him out. I don't think there is a timescale on it. Obviously the owners want to make sure it's the right person, which can be difficult. I'm sure they'll try to get it done as soon as possible.

"A new manager could come in tomorrow, and it's just a matter of us trying to make sure the lads are prepared, organised and ready to go.''

Defenders Erik Pieters and Bruno Martins Indi, sidelined of late by hamstring and groin injuries respectively, could be available for selection for Monday having returned to training this week.

As Liverpool's attempts at squad strengthening continue in the wake of their controversial sale of Philippe Coutinho, the teammates the Brazilian left behind are preparing for Sunday's eagerly awaited clash with league leaders Manchester City at Anfield. The loss of Coutinho, while significant, should not really harm Liverpool too much this weekend. Perhaps that seems like an odd statement considering the success "the little Magician" has had against City in recent seasons, but his absence will be most keenly felt in those supposedly "easier" games against stubborn opponents who only want to pack the defence and frustrate Jurgen Klopp's side.

Liverpool certainly won't have to worry about navigating their way around a parked bus this Sunday. Providing the Reds can remain secure in defence there will be space for the forwards to run into and plenty of opportunities to counterattack, and they are fully capable of exploiting that even without Coutinho, particularly with Adam Lallana now fully fit again after a four-month layoff.

Liverpool are at their most dangerous when they can go hunting for the ball high up the pitch and play at a high tempo, but it is only possible to do that against opponents that want to play football rather than sit back and frustrate. City like to play out from the back and will always give you a chance, which is why Lallana could be a real difference-maker this weekend.

The England man stands to benefit more than most from the sale of Coutinho, as with a full squad fit and available, often he would have been competing with the Brazilian for a place in the side. As important as Lallana is to Liverpool, that is a battle he was unlikely to win very often.

Coutinho's departure at least simplifies things for Klopp in that regard. He no longer has to figure out how to get Lallana into his team without being forced to sacrifice one of the now defunct "Fab Four". When fit and available, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah were going to occupy the front three positions more often than not, so going into the season one of the most intriguing questions was how would Klopp find a way to get his five best attacking players on the field at the same time.

Sunday's opponents have shown that it can be done. This year Pep Guardiola has deployed Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva in deeper roles than we are used to seeing them, which in turn has allowed City to still field three pacy forward players ahead of them.

Klopp may have been able to do something similar but unfortunately never had the opportunity, as Lallana picked up a serious injury in preseason and by the time he was ready to come back into the starting lineup, Coutinho already had one foot out of the exit door and was unavailable for selection.

Whether a midfield of Coutinho, Lallana and either Jordan Henderson or Emre Can would have worked is something we'll sadly never know. Having five attack-minded players works for Guardiola but his team dominate possession to such an extent that you sometimes feel they could play with no defenders and still not concede, simply because the opponent often cannot get out of their own half.

It's a little different with Liverpool, as their less than impressive defensive record shows. Depriving their back four of even more of the already scant midfield protection they get probably wouldn't have ended well, but the hope from supporters is that by adding Virgil Van Dijk to the defence and employing a more workmanlike midfield without Coutinho, Liverpool will be able to cut down on the amount of goals they are conceding, certainly away from home. At Anfield they have quietly been rather stingy, only conceded four Premier League goals in 11 games this season.

Lallana has been one of Liverpool's most important players ever since Klopp walked through the door, but now he is needed at his best level more than ever before. We know he will help bring energy to Liverpool's midfield and that he is often the catalyst for Klopp's famous gegenpress, but he also needs to contribute goals because very few of the other midfielders look like they can.

The former Southampton man was a regular scorer last season and it's important that he can maintain that because neither Georginio Wijnaldum nor James Milner have offered much of a goal threat this season. Emre Can did chip in with a few earlier in the season before he had to switch to a deeper role following an injury to Jordan Henderson, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has never been a regular goalscorer at this level, so unless Klopp can bring somebody in, much of the burden seems to fall on Lallana's shoulders.

He is more than capable of providing what Liverpool need providing he can stay fit, but there is always the risk that he will succumb to injury again and it's little wonder that Klopp is trying to bring forward a deal for RB Leipzig's Naby Keita, who is due to sign for the Reds this summer.

It remains to be seen if the Reds can pull that off, but it's an exciting possibility for supporters. Having already brought in Van Dijk, if Liverpool were able to land Keita now as well they would arguably be stronger at the end of this window than they were at the start of it, even with the loss of Coutinho.

Dave Usher is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.