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Steven Gerrard sidesteps speculation over ‘special footballer’ Philippe Coutinho

The Brazilian playmaker looks set to leave Barcelona this month.

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Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard, left, has described former Liverpool team-mate Philippe Coutinho, right, as a “special player” amid speculation linking him to Villa Park (Peter Byrne/PA)

Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard, left, has described former Liverpool team-mate Philippe Coutinho, right, as a “special player” amid speculation linking him to Villa Park (Peter Byrne/PA)

Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard, left, has described former Liverpool team-mate Philippe Coutinho, right, as a “special player” amid speculation linking him to Villa Park (Peter Byrne/PA)

Steven Gerrard has described former Liverpool team-mate Philippe Coutinho as a “special footballer” while refusing to comment on speculation linking him with a January move to Aston Villa.

The Brazilian playmaker looks destined to leave Barcelona this month, with the Catalan giants keen to reduce their wage bill after signing Ferran Torres from Manchester City for £55million.

Gerrard and Coutinho were Liverpool team-mates for two-and-a-half years – the pair coming close to winning the Premier League title at Anfield in 2014 – and Villa have been strongly linked with the 29-year-old amid reported interest from other English clubs.

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Philippe Coutinho, left, celebrates with Lionel Messi after scoring for Barcelona (Mike Egerton/PA)

Philippe Coutinho, left, celebrates with Lionel Messi after scoring for Barcelona (Mike Egerton/PA)

Philippe Coutinho, left, celebrates with Lionel Messi after scoring for Barcelona (Mike Egerton/PA)

Asked if he understood such interest in Coutinho, who left Liverpool for Barcelona in a £142m move in January 2018, Gerrard said: “He’s won two league titles at Barcelona, two Copa del Reys.

“If you go and have a look at his Wiki page you’ll see a serial winner wherever he goes.

“He’s won 63 caps for Brazil, played for Barcelona and was incredible at Liverpool.

“So I can understand why he’s linked to a lot of football clubs. 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 of ‘The Magician’ if you’re not a special footballer.”

Gerrard says he understands transfer speculation around Villa as “it is that time of the season”.

But, speaking to reporters ahead of Villa’s FA Cup third-round trip to Manchester United on Monday, Gerrard added: “He (Coutinho) is someone I’ve got an incredible amount of respect for, but I don’t want to add to any speculation because he belongs to Barcelona.

“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. But if you’re trying to link it to any speculation or catch me out you’re in for a long afternoon.

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“A lot of names are bandied around and, for the sake of our supporters, when there’s something concrete they’ll be the first to know.”

Villa are seeking to strengthening their squad in the January transfer window with a left-back understood to be high on the agenda.

Bologna’s former Hearts full-back Aaron Hickey has been among those linked following some impressive performances in Serie A.

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Former Hearts full-back Aaron Hickey has been linked with Villa (Jeff Holmes/PA)

Former Hearts full-back Aaron Hickey has been linked with Villa (Jeff Holmes/PA)

Former Hearts full-back Aaron Hickey has been linked with Villa (Jeff Holmes/PA)

Gerrard said: “We’re anaylsing a few different positions in our team and squad where we can look to strengthen.

“That is happening behind the scenes and we’ll be respectful when there is something to speak about.

“In terms of transfers and additions, I can’t really add anything.”

Gerrard intends to field a strong line-up at Old Trafford against opponents who are likely to rotate.

Villa’s Covid-19 and injury situation has eased with England striker Ollie Watkins set to rejoin the group on Saturday.

Tyrone Mings is available again after suspension and fellow centre-half Kortney Hause trained on Thursday after reporting some “tightness” following Sunday’s 2-1 league defeat at Brentford.

Former Manchester United captain Ashley Young has an “outside chance” of returning to Old Trafford after fracturing his toe.

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