Alan Pardew has warned his Crystal Palace team that Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho is one of the finest players they will come up against in the Premier League.
The Brazilian playmaker has been consistently influential since his arrival at Anfield in January 2013 but since the departures of Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling – and Daniel Sturridge’s struggles for fitness – he has become even more important.
He inspired an impressive comeback with two goals at Chelsea last weekend when Liverpool came from behind to win 3-1, and after being rested during Thursday’s 1-0 Europa League win at Rubin Kazan he is expected to return to their starting XI against Palace.
“Coutinho is probably, at the moment, their best player, in terms of the level he’s at,” Pardew said.
“And I don’t think anyone in the Premier League would disagree that he’s been in the top five players offensively this year, so he’s somebody we need to take care of.
“Whenever you go to Liverpool they’ve got world-class players, and you’re going to have to look after them and make sure that you defend very, very well.
“Kevin Keegan, John Toshack, Kenny Dalglish, they’ve always had these players.
“(But) it’s not as simplistic as (stopping Coutinho to stop Liverpool); the two full-backs are problems for the opposition with Liverpool because they push high, and they’ve got great pace in the team. I don’t think it’s a single threat.”
The Palace manager, who revealed that Dwight Gayle will face a late fitness test on a hamstring problem before he selects his team to start at Anfield, also denied reports that goalkeeper Julian Speroni could join his former club Newcastle as a replacement for the injured Tim Krul.
“I saw that in the paper, but we’ve had no phone calls, and no contact, with any other club for our goalies,” he said.
“We are always going to be in the frame for other clubs because we’ve got three great goalies, they are a real asset for us, and an asset that I would be reluctant to weaken, because it’s nice to have all three of them here.
“We are blessed, at this club, to have the goalies that we’ve got.”