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2023.03.21 17:26 GSynaesthesia Which Players Should Liverpool Sign? A (Hopefully) Comprehensive Look at Liverpool's (Belated) Rebuild
With Liverpool's season effectively over at the Bernabeu, many have turned their attention towards the upcoming rebuild instead of our final push in the contention for the CL spot. Journalists, Klopp, and even the players themselves have referenced over and over again the necessity of new signings with departures rumoured if not confirmed. The signs are there for a summer overhaul of the squad; this rebuild will in all likelihood be Klopp's final attempt at building a title-challenging Liverpool.submitted by GSynaesthesia to LiverpoolFC [link] [comments]
Through writing this, I hope that I can illustrate what our rebuild should entail, what kind of players Liverpool should sign in the upcoming transfer window and several candidates that should fit this assessment. For the sake of brevity, I won't be as detailed with the stats as my Mane post, more so due to the scale of a rebuild in comparison with replacing a single player. Also, bear in mind that personally, I see most of the candidates listed here as unrealistic signings. Even if unrealistic, these players should at least paint a picture of the kind of players we should be looking at in the summer.
Having said that, let's take a look at Liverpool's current line-up and assess where we can strengthen the ageing and declining squad.
1. Assessing Liverpool’s Decline
1.1. The AcademyLet’s start with what I consider to be the club’s most important infrastructure: the academy. Our youth intake can now boast another future starter in their most recent graduate: Stefan Bajcetic; a proud moment for the academy, and a tragic one for our midfield. Aside from Bajcetic, plenty of soon-to-be academy graduates are also shaping up their game with Conor Bradley, Leighton Clarkson, Sepp van den Berg, and Tyler Morton all playing a role in their respective loans.
Stefan Bajcetic, Sepp van den Berg, Tyler Morton, Conor Bradley, and Leighton Clarkson
The current academy squad is also no slouch, with Ben Doak and Kaide Gordon leading the way well beyond their age peers. Amongst the current crop of our young talents, I also suggest taking notes on Bobby Clark, Isaac Mabaya, Luke Chambers, Melkamu Frauendorf, Oakley Cannonier, and Trent Kone-Doherty. These are talented youngsters that in all likelihood will feature in the early stages of our annual youth-driven Carabao campaign, and might be sitting on the bench should an injury crisis emerge.
All in all, a pretty healthy youth setup full of promising youngsters with room to grow.
1.2. GoalkeepersNext are our number 1s: Alisson, Kelleher, and Adrian. With that line-up of goalkeepers, right now goalkeeping is the least of Liverpool’s worries. Alisson this season has been one of if not outright the best goalkeeper in the world, with 29 goals conceded out of a post-shot expected goal (PSxG) of 37.2. Outperforming one's PSxG can be explained by either luck or skill, and personally, I do think the latter is a more plausible explanation than the former for Ali. Other websites would illustrate this point through terms such as PSxG-GA or "goals prevented"; in Ali's case, he would have a top 5 league-leading "goals prevented" of 8.2.
Kelleher and Adrian are solid backups and unfortunately, that solidity is one reason why Liverpool should be looking at signing a backup goalkeeper. Kelleher should now have plenty of suitors seeking his services after his cup heroics. With his game time limited by the best keeper in the world, he should now be looking at other clubs as the next step in his career. While Adrian remains a solid 3rd option, his recent cameos leave much to be desired as our first backup. Of course, Harvey Davies from the academy could step up to the occasion as his predecessors had risen for the backup spot: Kelleher and Ward. A safer option though is signing a deputy goalkeeper in the case of Kelleher’s departure.
1.3. DefendersUnlike our excellent goalkeeping situation, the players forming our backline seems to have declined significantly in terms of performance. From a title-challenging backline to conceding 3 more goals in 12 fewer games, the regression of our defence is far too steep to be justified by the midfield’s mediocrity alone. Similarly, placing our woes solely on the backline would mean missing the bigger context of what went wrong with Liverpool’s defence.
Surprisingly, certain players are actually outputting more numbers in their defensive stats this season. This can indicate either an improvement in defensive abilities or failure of defensive duties from the midfield; both are valid interpretations of the data available. Looking at the data within this context, 4 data points jump out as highlights of our declining back-line: Aerial duels along with challenges lost for Gomez, Matip, and Virgil, and carries into the final third along with dispossession for Robertson and Trent.
Long gone are the days of Matip and Virgil clattering every striker competing for long balls. In aerial duels, both are shadows of themselves compared to their title-winning season. As for challenges lost, Gomez and Matip’s erratic charts can be explained by their injury woes; what is far more concerning in my opinion is Virgil’s steady decline since 2021. What started out as scouting a replacement for Matip might end up as the search for Virgil’s successor.
A comparison of Gomez, Matip, and Virgil's aerial duels won and challenges lost in the Premier League in the last 4 years, courtesy of FBRef.com
As for Robertson and Trent, two trends are observable in their charts. The first is that our fullbacks are no longer playing as two pseudo-wingers terrorizing the opposing backline. Trent in particular seemed to have adopted a far more conservative approach in progressing the ball and occupying a deeper space behind Salah. One could argue that Henderson’s decline and a growing reluctance to cover for Trent led to this transition, but another thing to note is that the same trend can be observed with Robertson this year. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that currently, our fullbacks are being held back by a lack of adequate defensive cover in the midfield.
A comparison of Robertson and Trent's carries into final third and dispossessed in the Premier League in the last 4 years, courtesy of FBRef.com
The second observable trend is that our fullbacks are also losing the ball far more often than they had done in our title-winning year. Although that might sound obvious as a result of their predisposition to overlap and deliver dangerous crosses, keep in mind that our fullbacks are becoming more conservative over the years. This means that when they do lose possession, they more often than not lose it in areas closer to our goal than ever before. The lack of defensive midfielders covering for them along with our high defensive line exacerbates this conundrum of frequently conceding possession in dangerous areas.
Within this context, it comes as no surprise that Ramsay lacks Klopp’s trust whilst Milner seems to be playing more often as the deputy right back. Placing the teenager whilst opposing clubs are actively targeting his side of the pitch would be a literal baptism by fire. Milner on the other hand has the experience to stop the opposing team’s quick transition in these areas through a combination of gamesmanship and tactical fouling.
Speaking of deputies, Tsimikas’s excellent showing in cameos should now interest other clubs seeking services. Unfortunately, we now face the same situation as Kelleher with a backup option too good to happily accept a bench role. The sensible thing to do now would be to sell him off at his highest value and sign a backup left back with the potential to Robertson’s place.
All in all, a noticeable drop off in comparison to 2019/2020 for all defenders involved, and unfortunately a steep decline from Matip whose departure might be the best course of action for all parties involved. Should Virgil continue to regress further along the season, signing a successor needs to be a priority in the summer transfer window. In addition, Klopp needs to either trust Ramsay in Trent’s role or sign a new deputy right back alongside a possible replacement for Tsimikas in the summer window.
1.4. MidfieldersAnyone blessed with the gift of sight can clearly see our midfield as the biggest culprit of Liverpool’s recent misery. More specifically, the two stalwarts of Liverpool’s midfield three, Fabinho and Henderson, seem to have fallen off a cliff form-wise. Injuries to Keita, Ox, Thiago and even loanee Arthur make matters worse as Liverpool struggle to field a reliable midfield.
Taking a look at the defensive stats of our number 6s we can clearly see a decline in every facet of their defensive contributions
A comparison of Fabinho and Henderson's aerials won and dribblers tackled in the Premier League in the last 4 years, courtesy of FBRef.com
Aerial duels, ground duels, interceptions; every stat line serve as a testament to the decline we’re seeing in every match of the season. If the charts didn’t convince you that we needed an entire midfield overhaul in the summer, nothing probably could. Signing a replacement for the defensive midfielder role should be the number one priority for the next transfer window, and it probably would be if we didn’t have a circus at our number 8 positions.
A comparison of Fabinho and Henderson's interceptions and tackles in the Premier League in the last 4 years, courtesy of FBRef.com
For our box-to-box midfielders, we have Elliott and Jones who couldn’t contribute much defensively, Keita and Ox leaving in the summer, along with injuries to Arthur and Thiago. This perfect concoction of a shitshow we’re currently facing means that 18 years old Bajcetic and 37 years old Milner are somehow competing as Liverpool’s best midfielder this season; something has clearly gone terribly wrong. Reinforcements for the midfield, especially box-to-box midfielders, are paramount to the success of Liverpool’s final season with Klopp.
1.5. ForwardsLast but not least is our frontline. Thankfully, we’ve already begun the process of rebuilding our declining front line with Mane’s transfer to Bayern and Firmino set to depart at the end of the season. What we’re left with is a still very productive Salah alongside Diaz, Jota, Gakpo, and Nunez as our next generation of forwards. Fabio Carvalho and Harvey Elliott are also available as depth options, and hopefully with enough experience, as competitors for the starting spot.
The only conceivable gap in our front line seemingly stems from rumours of clubs interested in acquiring Jota’s services. Even if he had lost his starting place recently, selling Jota means that Liverpool will lose a talented forward that can cover multiple areas of the pitch. Should Jota prefer to play elsewhere with a guaranteed starting spot, Liverpool should replace him with a forward that can similarly provide tactical flexibility on the pitch. With Diaz, Gakpo, and Nunez more than capable of filling in Jota’s natural position, perhaps Liverpool should look at right-wingers available on the market instead.
2. Profiling the Traits of Liverpool’s Future SigningsAs per our assessment, we need 2-3 starting midfielders, a centre-back, possible replacements for Jota, Kelleher, and Tsimikas should they depart, and a deputy for Trent should Ramsay fail to impress Klopp. Finding candidates for these roles should be an easy enough task, right? We can simply map out the ideal traits of a Klopp player, and seek out suitable talents that perform well statistically in each role. Thus, for each role we need someone with the following traits:
All: Comfortable in possession. GK: Accurate distribution, runs out to clear the ball. CB: Dominant in duels, high-volume ball progression and defensive contribution. FB: Excellent crossing, high-volume ball progression and chance creation. DM: Dominant in duels, high-volume ball progression and defensive contribution. CM: High-volume ball progression, chance creation, and defensive contribution. RW: High volume ball progression and chance creation.
Of course, these traits will filter well-performing players in the scope of their statistically observed performances. Aside from these attributes, we also need to consider several factors outside of the boundaries of each statistic such as:
2.1. Injury RecordThe first priority for our new signings is simple: no reoccurring injuries that could make them unavailable in Liverpool’s gruelling schedule. We’ve all seen the games missed chart with Liverpool at the bottom, a whole quarter ahead of 19th-placed Chelsea. Permanently signing players prone to injuries would be repeating the same mistakes of our previous campaigns.
A pristine injury record is nice to have, but should not prevent us from signing quality players with the occasional unfortunate injuries. The keyword here is “occasional”; any player with an extensive injury record should still be barred from our candidate list.
2.2. Tactical Adaptability and Liverpool’s PlaystyleAnother thing to note is the difference in playstyle between the candidates’ current club and Liverpool. Klopp’s system is especially rigid in practice, making it more difficult for players in clubs with little to no similarity in their tactical setup. Only 4 players have adapted perfectly to Liverpool’s system the moment they play under Klopp: Alisson, Firmino, Salah, and Virgil; three of them are undoubtedly world-class, while the other is a literal incarnation of the system itself.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that players in terrorist-adjacent clubs should be barred entirely. Instead, players who should be more familiar with Klopp’s system are given preference over their similarly well-performing counterparts.
2.3. Preferred Traits vs. Performance-Oriented TraitsThis leads us to another facet of Klopp’s system, the requirement of very specific traits in each positional roles. This can lead to identifying players who performed well in their current roles but are unsuitable for Liverpool. Conversely, this can also lead to missing out on players who could perform well in our setup but are limited to their current unsuitable role.
Let’s look at goalkeepers as an example, on one hand, we require a keeper with a good distribution that plays comfortably in a high defensive line. On the other hand, limiting our candidate pool to players with these traits can lead to missing out on excellent goalkeepers who are unable to display said trait in their club’s tactical setup.
A balanced approach then should consider this collective vs. individual facet of a player. A well-performing candidate should still be considered even if they’re playing in an unsuitable setup. The priority of course remains to seek out suitable traits in our candidates, but exceptions need to be made in the context of a candidate’s performances collectively vis-à-vis individually.
2.4. Difficulties in Acquiring PlayersLast is the sale availability of the players themselves. Liverpool is a historic institution competing against Europe’s most prestigious clubs, but that doesn’t mean acquiring players is a straightforward task. The most oft-told factor is CL spots and while that may be a hindrance in signing certain players, internal club policy dictates that such candidates are eliminated early on. A bigger problem for Liverpool is actually how talented the current players are.
Think for a second that you’re an up-and-coming young player negotiating with Liverpool and other clubs. Your inner fan would obviously accept Liverpool’s offer, but existing players could ensure that your time at Anfield is spent more on the bench rather than the field. If you’re a goalkeeper, are you sure you want to sign with a club with the world’s best in your spot? Or as a right back, can you compete with the most creative player of his generation for game time?
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should limit ourselves to academy graduates and players comfortable on the bench as our backups. Instead, a smarter look at clubs beneath our stature should guarantee more willingness for players to sign for us. For the average top 5 league starting goalkeeper, signing for Liverpool means a drastic reduction of on-field actions. For the same starting goalkeeper recently relegated? The bench at Liverpool might be a more attractive career trajectory even with limited game time.
3.1. GoalkeeperFor our goalkeepers, I limited myself to clubs either well below our stature or likely to be relegated to increase the sensibility of the transfer. Although they’re playing in inferior teams, that does not necessarily translate to being bad goalkeepers themselves. One, in particular, is even leading La Liga in PSxG-GA, though unfortunately, an excellent goalkeeper can only do as much as his teammates allow him to.
Edgar Badia, Gavin Bazunu, Marco Carnesecchi, Emil Audero, and Paul Bernardoni
Edgar Badia. 31. Elche
The first candidate is unironically the worst fit for Liverpool. With a reluctance for rushing out attackers and a similar age profile to Alisson, he is nowhere near the ideal solution for the GK spot. Why is he my first choice you ask? Well, his PSxG-GA figure of 7.0 is top of the charts in La Liga and 3rd in the top 5 European leagues. Additionally, his 3 penalties saved and relatively accurate long pass completion percentage of 45.1% make him an attractive addition to the team.
Gavin Bazunu. 21. Southampton Marco Carnesecchi. 22. Atalanta, on loan at Cremonese
The next two candidates all fit the criteria with asterisks beside their names. In particular, Bazunu PSxG-GA leaves a lot to be desired while Carnesecchi's reluctance to rush out might not fit Liverpool’s high line. What both have in common however is a high ceiling for growth and the occasional moments of brilliance common in rough and unpolished goalkeeping gems. Some highlights include their respective matches against Manchester United and Bologna. Under Alisson’s tutelage (and Taffarel's to boot!), both could very well develop into worthy competition for the starting spot.
Emil Audero. 26. Sampdoria Paul Bernardoni. 25. Angers
Audero and Bernardoni are in ways very similar to Bazunu and Carnesecchi. Like Carnesecchi, Audero’s lack of defensive actions outside the penalty area may limit Liverpool’s high line. Bernardoni is also very similar to Bazunu with a below-standard PSxG-GA and excellent rushing-out numbers. Although the two are inferior in ceiling and statistics wise, both are still performing at an acceptable level for the role of Liverpool’s bench option. In addition, goalkeepers mature differently from other football positions. They might show improvements well into the years to come should they sign for Liverpool.
3.2. Centre BackFor our centre-back position, we need players who can progress the ball as well as Matip without sacrificing any sense of defensive acumen and solidity. As mentioned previously, dominance in aerial duels would be a huge bonus for our candidates due to Virgil’s slight decline and Matip’s fallen form in these stats.
Kim Min-Jae, Edson Alvarez, Ko Itakura, Goncalo Inacio, and Kevin Danso
Kim Min-Jae. 26. Napoli
The monster himself needs no introduction. Helming the defence of the Scudetto’s leading contender, the former Fenerbahce defender established himself amongst Europe’s greatest centre-backs after a successful debut season for Napoli. His presence in this list is for one sole reason: the reports of a vastly undervalued release clause in his Napoli contract. Even if his actual fee were to be higher than reported, Liverpool should do everything in its power to recruit what could very well be Virgil’s replacement when the opportunity presents itself.
Edson Alvarez. 25. Ajax Ko Itakura. 26. Monchengladbach
Edson Alvarez and Ko Itakura are amongst the best ball-playing centre-backs playing right now. What they lack in traditional defensive stats such as clearances and interceptions they more than make up for in other areas more related to Liverpool’s possession-heavy setup. With 88.1% and 91.3% pass completion rates and averaging 78.2 and 72.62 passes attempted per 90, they can without a doubt replicate Matip’s excellent ball distribution.
The similarities to Matip don’t end there. Averaging 1.75 and 1.1 progressive carries per 90 alongside 0.7 and 0.41 successful take-ons per 90, Alvarez and Itakura are more than capable of executing Matip’s signature run. In addition, both of them excel at different areas lacking in Matip’s game. For Alvarez? A tackling rate of 3.04 per 90 compared to Matip’s 1.78. For Itakura? A blocking rate of 1.92 per 90 compared to Matip’s 0.53. As a cherry on top, both are also very capable of playing in the number 6 role should another midfield crisis emerge.
Though the stats do indicate Alvarez as a better player, both would be a very welcome addition to the club.
Goncalo Inacio. 21. Sporting Kevin Danso. 24. Lens
Goncalo Inacio and Kevin Danso are more traditional centre-backs compared to Alvarez and Itakura, but incompetent in possession they are not. They may lack the tactical flexibility provided by the two aforementioned candidates, but what they can provide is excellent ball distribution and the potential of a higher ceiling over the years.
Inacio’s better stats overall, left-footedness, and younger age edge him out as my preference out of the two.
3.3. Right BackTrent’s age makes finding a deputy for him a bit awkward as good senior right-backs wouldn’t want to join in as a bench option, while promising right-backs are almost all at his age bracket. The options then are either younger players with the potential to usurp his position or seasoned players outside of the Champions League.
Vanderson, Jonathan Clauss, Przemyslaw Frankowski, Yukinari Sugawara, and Arnau Martinez
Vanderson. 21. Monaco
A promising full-back perfecting his trade in Ligue 1, Vanderson is a future star in the making. At 21 years old, his stats far exceed his age peers, excelling in progressive passes, take-ons, tackles, interceptions, and blocks. Investing in Vanderson at this stage of Trent’s career would either mean a transition in his position to midfield a la Kimmich, or the best modern right-back pairing in Liverpool’s history.
Jonathan Clauss. 30. Marseille Przemyslaw Frankowski. 27. Lens
Jonathan Clauss and Przemyslaw Frankowski would need some convincing to come to Liverpool, but the effort would be worthwhile should Trent’s form continue to decline. Both players’ origin as wingers in the early days of their careers would suit Liverpool’s playstyle to a tee with the numbers to back them up. The gung-ho nature of our fullbacks, marauding in every transition would see both players flourish under Klopp’s instructions.
Yukinari Sugawara. 22. AZ Alkmaar Arnau Martinez. 19. Girona
Yukinari Sugawara and Arnau Martinez fulfil very contrasting roles at a similar age bracket; and as different as they are, what they’re offering as a rotation option would fill in gaps in Liverpool’s line-up all the same. Sugawara is a right-back shifted from the right-sided midfield position while Martinez is a right-back shifted from the centre-back position, and as a consequence, signing either of them would fill another gap in each respective natural position.
Tactical flexibility isn’t the only reason to sign either of them, both are also very productive numbers-wise. Sugawara is a very good attacking right back with 3 goals, 6 assists, and 10 goal-creating actions in the league to his name. The same can be said with Martinez, who although isn’t as offensively influential as Sugawara, can still produce 2 goals, 2 assists, and 4 goal-creating actions to his name. Conversely, Sugawara lags behind defensively while Martinez is ahead of him in all defensive stats.
Though the two would be astute signings, Sugawara’s offensive productivity alongside a possible role as Salah’s deputy edges him out of the two.
3.4. Left BackAssuming Tsimikas’s departure, a similarly high-output backup for Robertson is essential for two key reasons. One is that in my opinion, the Greek Scouser breathing down Robbo’s neck is an essential part of why he is still one of the world’s best in his position. Another is that Robertson’s age should start slowing him down sooner or later, replacing Tsimikas with an equally talented replacement would ensure a continuity of excellence in our left-back position.
Jose Gaya, David Raum, Adrien Truffert, and Quentin Merlin
Jose Gaya. 27. Valencia
Why on earth is he still playing for Peter Lim’s Valencia? No explanation is needed for Gaya as he remains one of the best left-backs in the world, despite playing for a self-sabotaging owner. Should Valencia be relegated this season, Liverpool would be foolish to not even consider signing him up.
David Raum. 24. RB Leipzig Caio Henrique. 25. Monaco
David Raum and Caio Henrique are two very good attacking left-backs who might even be an upgrade over Tsimikas. Though, by the same logic, acquiring either of them would cost Liverpool a significant amount of capital for a position we’re quite happy with at the present. Although Henrique’s numbers are superior to Raum's, the underlying stats do show the former to be more consistent in creating chances for his teammates. Raum’s higher numbers in defensive stats edge him out as my personal preference between the two.
Adrien Truffert. 21. Rennes Quentin Merlin. 20. Nantes
Adrien Truffert and Quentin Merlin are two promising left-backs currently playing their trade in Ligue 1. Although still very young, both are producing respectable numbers for a full-back, especially at their age bracket. The two will probably sign for another club before blossoming into higher-calibre players, as is the case with Robertson in Hull. Accordingly, a case could be made to sign either one of them as Robertson’s French protégé. Truffert’s higher numbers in both assists and defensive stats lead me to favour him at the early stages of their careers.
3.5. Anchor MidfielderDue to Klopp’s tendency to play a pseudo-back three in possession, the candidates for our number 6 role need to possess similar attributes to our centre-back candidates. Unfortunately, due to the defensive nature of the role, stats used to gauge a player’s ability in possession such as passes attempted, pass completion rate, progressive carries, and progressive passes are all rendered unreliable with plenty of clubs happy to see their number 6 sitting back for the duration of the game. Liverpool though does need to have these traits in our defensive midfielder, so candidates possessing them would gain an advantage over players in more counter-attacking teams.
Declan Rice, Joao Palhinha, Manuel Locatelli, Manuel Ugarte, and Florentino Luis
Declan Rice. 24. West Ham
England stalwart Declan Rice is one of if not the most sought-after players for his position, and with good reasons too. With an excellent eye for interceptions and a terrific success rate for duels won, he would bring comfort and stability wherever he goes. Possession-wise, he is also the leading contender, high volume of passes, an excellent pass completion rate, and very good numbers in ball progression. Overall, the perfect player to fit in the number 6 role.
Joao Palhinha. 27. Fulham Manuel Locatelli. 25. Juventus
With competition to Rice’s signature and his homegrown status driving up his price. Joao Palhinha and Manuel Locatelli are more than capable of emulating what he could achieve at Liverpool. Defensively they perform at a similar level to Rice, and in some aspects are even better suited to Liverpool’s playstyle. An argument can be made for Palhinha as the best in the world in terms of duels, as he is leading the top 5 European leagues in tackles whilst offering higher aerial duels and clearance numbers than Rice. Locatelli is no slouch either, achieving higher numbers than Rice in all defensive stats barring interceptions.
Palhinha’s higher numbers in duels make him the clear choice between the two, though, Locatelli’s much better possession stats do indicate him as the better fit for Liverpool.
Manuel Ugarte. 21. Sporting Florentino Luis. 23. Benfica
Florentino Luis and Manuel Ugarte are far from being the best at their position, however, they should be a wiser long-term investment than the other candidates. The two play a key role in their respective Portuguese clubs, demonstrating excellence at a young age week in and week out. With elite defensive numbers in duels and interceptions, Luis and Ugarte are both without question excellent defensive midfielders only a big transfer away from worldwide recognition.
Albeit inferior to Luis in terms of his ability in the air and with the ball, Ugarte’s younger age profile makes him my preferred choice out of the two.
3.6. Box-to-Box MidfielderAs the main engine of the team, our midfield candidates should be able to progress the ball well while maintaining a high defensive output in part due to Liverpool’s tactical set-up. While Liverpool’s system means that high creative output isn’t vital for our candidates, they should nevertheless be involved in the build-up and transitional phases of a game, whether through progressive passes, progressive carries or taking on opposing players directly.
Jude Bellingham, Mikel Merino, Ismael Bennacer, Manu Kone, and Enzo Le Fee
Jude Bellingham. 19. Dortmund
Currently one of if not outright the best in his position, simple as.
Mikel Merino. 26. Real Sociedad Ismael Bennacer. 25. Milan
Mikel Merino and Ismael Bennacer both fit the bill well for the number 8 role in Klopp’s midfield three. Should either one of them sign for Liverpool, they would add a defensive integrity solely lacking due to Fabinho and Henderson’s decline. Both also offer different defensive traits to their midfield; Merino is excellent in aerial duels and clearance, while Bennacer is better at ground duels and interceptions.
Merino’s dominance in the air edges him out as my preferred choice between the two players.
Manu Kone. 21. Monchengladbach Enzo Le Fee. 23. Lorient
Manu Kone and Enzo Le Fee might cost the least in this category, but acquiring either of them would significantly strengthen Liverpool’s midfield. As are the candidates before them, Kone and Le Fee excel in ball progression. Both are elite in taking on opposing players, with Kone and Le Fee placing in the 99th and 96th percentile in terms of successful take-ons across all midfielders in the top 5 leagues. Similarly, both maintain a good rate of progressive carries and passes, with Le Fee in particular performing at an elite level in terms of carries.
Defensively, they’re no slouch either. Kone and Le Fee are producing more than-average numbers in blocks and interceptions, and very good numbers in tackles. Le Fee’s lack of physical stature seems to not be a hindrance, as his 3.29 rate of tackles per 90 places him in the 95th percentile in terms of tackles. All in all, two very good midfielders who would fit perfectly in Klopp’s midfield three.
3.6.1. Playmaker Midfielder?Liverpool has been rumoured to sign Mason Mount for months and honestly, the thought of him in the squad throws a wrench into my original draft. Initially, I thought that Liverpool needed at least 2 starting box-to-box midfielders to fill in our upcoming departures. Mount though can fill in for this gap alongside other offensive roles should another injury crisis emerge at Anfield. Should he choose to stay at Chelsea, Liverpool can either pursue another no. 8 or an alternative flexible playmaker instead. This section is written with the assumption of the latter, rather than the former.
Mason Mount, Daichi Kamada, Brais Mendez, Lovro Majer, and Aleksandr Golovin
Mason Mount. 24. Chelsea
The team had been linked to numerous playmakers over the years, notably, the consistent Brandt and Gotze rumours before Mane and Salah’s meteoric rise. However, their arrivals see them either adapt as a number 8 (Wijnaldum), play on the wings (Carvalho), or even side-lined entirely to cup games (Minamino). Whichever the case may be for Mount, his brief time in the Premier League shows an excellent hardworking playmaker with the bonus of fulfilling our home-grown quota.
Daichi Kamada. 26. Eintracht Frankfurt Brais Mendez. 26. Real Sociedad
Daichi Kamada and Brais Mendez are both more than adequate alternatives to Mason Mount. Similarly, both play a creative role behind a striker, either centrally or as an inside-winger. Output wise they are currently amongst Europe’s most productive playmakers, with both contributing 7 goals alongside 4 and 3 assists in their respective league.
The two high-pressing playmakers are also more than capable of contributing defensively, with Kamada in particular performing well enough to be placed at the 90th percentile for tackles + interceptions across all midfielders in the top 5 European leagues. His tenacity to win the ball back edges him out between the two as my preferred choice.
Lovro Majer. 25. Rennes Aleksandr Golovin. 26. Monaco
The last candidates for a possible new role in Liverpool’s line-up are Lovro Majer and Aleksandr Golovin. Like Kamada and Mendez, both are creative playmakers with a willingness to press, tackle, and be the first line of their team’s defence. The two players though differ in what they could offer tactically. Lovro Majer’s higher numbers in passing completion, passing volume, progressive passes, and take-ons could see him shift to more of an attacking number 8. Golovin meanwhile with his much higher creative output could play as a deputy for the wingers.
3.7. Right WingerWith Jota rumoured to leave and Klopp refusing to start Elliott in his natural position, a gap remains dormant in Liverpool’s right wing. Candidates should have a respectable creative output, and a consistent ability to progress the ball higher up the field. Additionally, successful take-ons should be a high priority for the candidates. After all, with Sadio Mane’s departure, Luis Diaz is the only remaining player in Liverpool’s frontline with the ability to consistently beat his marker.
Moussa Diaby, David Neres, Marco Asensio, and Tete
Moussa Diaby. 23. Leverkusen David Neres. 27. Napoli
The first two candidates are Leverkusen’s Moussa Diaby and David Neres, both very good players with all the characteristics required for a winger. Attacking output? Check. Diaby’s 8 goals and 4 assists along with Neres’ 6 goals and 5 assists paint a picture of two very productive wingers. Ball progression? Check. Neres’ progressive carries, passes, and take-ons are amongst the best in his league, while Diaby’s progressive carries make up for his average passes and take-ons figures. The only missing part of their game is a lack of respectable defensive numbers, something fixable with enough sessions at Kirkby.
The age profile, numbers, and a harder league to play in making it a clear choice for Diaby. Even so, Neres would be an astute second choice should the cost of acquiring Diaby be too prohibitive.
Marco Asensio. 27. Real Madrid
A class creative playmaker available out of contract; to hell with Marco Asensio’s take-ons stats, refusing to sign a player of his calibre for free is a fool’s errand.
Tete. 23. Lyon, on loan at Leicester City Vaclav Cerny. 25. Twente
While the three wingers mentioned above are all very good in terms of performance, Tete and Vaclav Cerny are excellent in the sense that both are the perfect wingers for Liverpool. In terms of output, both are having the season of their life with 7 goals and 2 assists for Tete, and 9 goals and 4 assists for Cerny. In addition, both are also very good at beating their man with a successful take-on rate of 2.25 and 2.6 per 90. What makes them perfect for Liverpool however is their willingness to win the ball back out of possession. Amongst Liverpool’s frontline, our false 9s Jota and Gakpo are the only ones with comparable defensive figures.
4. ConclusionAt the minimum, Liverpool needs 3-4 signings to remain competitive in Europe. That amount though is an optimistic estimate that implies a return in form for the rest of the squad. Conversely, we are looking at 7-8 signings in the very worst-case scenario of further regressing performances and rumoured departures. Both sit at the extreme end of each side, and realistically speaking we should expect the real amount to be closer to the lower estimate.
Of the highest priority is signing 2-3 starting midfielders to address upcoming departures, and more importantly, the decline of Fabinho and Henderson. Reverting to Klopp’s double pivot is also a possibility with Firmino set to depart in the summer. Replacing Matip with a quality centre-back should also be a priority if Gomez and Virgil were to regress further along the season.
If Jota, Kelleher, and Tsimikas’s rumoured departures turn out to be true, we also need to replace them with adequate rotation options in each respective role. The last possible signing is fully dependent on Ramsay’s future. Once recovered from his injury, will Klopp trust him enough to bench Trent?. Should the answer be untrue, offloading him and acquiring another right back is the sensible thing to do.
The candidates I found most attractive are Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, Kim Min-Jae, and Mason Mount. These are elite players that will not only transform Liverpool’s fortunes but also take shape as Klopp’s Liverpool legacy the same way Shankly’s 1972 rebuild had in footballing history. Of course, more sensible options are also available as well in these areas. Even then, the focus of the rebuild should still be acquiring and fielding the most talented players in these roles. Of lesser importance to Liverpool’s glory are the rotation options for the goalkeeper, right back, left back, and right winger spots. For these positions, Marco Carnesecchi, Yukinari Sugawara, Adrien Truffert, and Tete are all examples of sensible signings for each respective role without breaking the bank.
Credits to FBref.com and Opta as the main source of the stats, Transfermarkt as a source for candidates’ injury records and transfer estimates, and Excel for refusing to print my radar diagrams you useless anti-trust software. A big thank you to Opta especially as they finally added back progressive carries to Fbref.com the tight bastards.
Lastly, I began writing this article 2 weeks before posting it here. If there are any statistical errors or listed players who signed for other clubs since the time of writing, all I can say is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
TL; DR: Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, Kim Min-Jae, and Mason Mount. Skim along the article for suitable alternatives and candidates in other less urgent areas of the squad.
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