It is no secret what Liverpool’s top priority will be next summer. With an ageing centre of the pitch, Julian Ward simply has to rejuvenate Jürgen Klopp’s midfield options.
The perfect candidate in Jude Bellingham appears to be obvious. Liverpool appear keen to secure his services and are admirers of the England international.
However, FSG will also be aware that Bellingham will be an extremely sought-after player by every major club next summer when he does becomes available on the market — that could see Liverpool being out-priced for the 18-year-old midfielder.
Liverpool.com have decided to explore just who those alternative candidates may be.
Liverpool like Bellingham because he is a typical box-to-box midfielder. The Borussia Dortmund star is capable of contributing in attack in forward transitions but he is adept at winning the ball back, too, in defensive transitions.
At the same time, Bellingham is also renowned for his composure on the ball and his boisterous energy as well as intelligent positioning. All these traits make him a quintessential Klopp midfielder and any alternative option will have to fulfil a multi-faceted role at Liverpool at the engine of the club’s midfield.
Bellingham is clearly regarded as the successor to one of Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcântara, so the right profile also has to be young and a player who can be part of Liverpool’s midfield plan for the long-term future.
Without further ado, here are the five candidates who could be an alternative solution for Liverpool.
The Croatian international is a midfielder who has attracted plenty of Premier League interest and it comes as no surprise after a promising breakthrough campaign at Red Bull Salzburg where Sučić made 16 goal contributions in 44 games.
A tenacious midfielder, Sučić’s similarity to Bellingham is in his box-to-box ability to control games which was evident in the Champions League last season where the 19-year-old was the linchpin for an impressive Salzburg side who made it out of the group-stages of the competition for the first time in the club’s history.
Where parallels can be drawn with Bellingham is in the pair’s output in terms of energy. Both averaged 21.1 pressures per 90 last season and Sučić’s three tackles and interceptions per 90 was only 0.67 away from Bellingham’s very own return as per FBref.
While creatively, there is little separating the two either. Sučić averaged 1.40 key passes per 90, more than Bellingham’s 1.22, but Bellingham marginally outperformed him on shot-creating-actions per 90 averaging 3.16 as opposed to Sučić’s 2.98.
Liverpool have scheduled a pre-season friendly against Salzburg this summer where they will be able to get a closer look at the teenager, but given the friendly relationship between Red Bull and the Reds, bringing Sučić to Anfield could certainly be more of a feasible possibility in terms of the financial aspect of the deal.
Of course, the jump up will be steeper into the Premier League from the Austrian Bundesliga rather than the German, but some have done it in the past with a impressive level of ease such as the Reds’ former hero, Sadio Mané.
Another player who successfully made the transition from the Austrian Bundesliga to the Premier League is Enock Mwepu. The Zambian international arrived at Brighton last season but he has quickly endeared himself to the Seagulls with his eye catching displays.
Mwepu is in the Bellingham mould in the sense that he can be the engine at the heart of the midfield and he is capable of going forward and contributing defensively, too.
Last season, Mwepu averaged 0.63 goal contributions for Brighton in all competitions which is higher than Bellingham at 0.48 per 90, though when it comes to expected goals and assists, the divide between them actually favours Bellingham who averaged 0.34 as opposed to Mwepu who averaged just 0.29.
Nonetheless, despite having overperformed his expected goals and assists, Mwepu’s first season has been far from a fluke at Brighton. He has delivered some impressive displays including one at Anfield in which he scored a spectacular strike against the Reds.
His best asset is perhaps his reading of the game with the sobriquet ‘computer’ ascribed to him in his homeland. Last season, Mwepu averaged 3.73 tackles and interceptions, again slightly more than Bellingham’s 3.67 but he was also impressive in possession ranking in the 93rd percentile among his positional peers for carries into the penalty area.
His consistency was disrupted by uncharacteristic injuries at times throughout last season, and Mwepu will be looking to kick on even further this time around. If he does, he could just end up on Liverpool’s radar and perhaps even fulfil his lifelong dream of playing for the club.
In the past few months, Liverpool have been quite active in the Portuguese market when it comes to reinforcements. Not only have they signed a Portugal U21 international in Fábio Carvalho but Julian Ward has also brought in Luis Díaz and Darwin Núñez from Porto and Benfica respectively.
Vitinha is another player who has been linked with a move and it is easy to see why.
Like Bellingham, Vitinha is a player who can do it all at both ends of the pitch. He has averaged 5.60 tackles and interceptions per 90 for Porto last season and also made 23.4 pressures which is 2.3 more pressures per 90 than Bellingham.
At the same time, Vitinha also has a commendable return creatively. He averages 2.42 shot-creating-action per 90 which is not far off Bellingham’s 3.16, while he also recorded 1.20 key passes per 90, just 0.02 away from Bellingham’s output.
In terms of goal contributions, his 0.17 per 90 average is certainly the lowest on the list but when it comes to distribution, no one can rival him having completed 52.2 passes per 90 with a completion rate of 83.4 per cent. Not even Bellingham’s 42.8 completed passes per 90 with a success rate on average of 84.3 per cent can rival that.
Given he will only have a year left on his contract next summer, that window could be the perfect time for Julian Ward to strike and secure a favourable deal for the 22-year-old.
Another multi-faceted midfielder, Majer has previously earnt comparisons to Luka Modrić due to his eerily similar hair-cut but he is slightly different to the Real Madrid playmaker in terms of his style.
Majer is a technically sublime player and while it may not seem so based on his physical stature, he is a player who has recorded impressive defensive figures last season in his debut campaign for Rennes.
The Croatian averaged a whopping 23.6 pressures per 90 ranking him in the 81st percentile for midfielders in Ligue 1. He also made 3.80 interceptions and tackles per 90 which is higher than Bellingham’s 3.67 return.
Majer’s ability to regain possession certainly suits Liverpool, but what makes him an attractive candidate is that he is equally creative from midfield.
Last season he averaged 4.27 shot-creating-actions per 90 which is way higher than Bellingham’s 3.16. He also contributed to 0.58 goal contributions per 90 and made 2.06 key passes again exceeding Bellingham’s output.
One of his best assets is the way he is able to slalom past opposition and progress the ball into dangerous areas. Last season, Majer averaged 8.33 progressive carries per 90 which is much higher than Bellingham’s already impressive 5.49 figure.
Elegant in possession and easy on the eye with the tenacity to suit Klopp’s gegenpress, at 24 years of age, Majer could easily become another alternative under the radar solution to Liverpool instead of Bellingham next summer.
Another player who Liverpool could have an easier shot at landing due to the club’s close ties with Red Bull and who Klopp will be taking a closer look at in pre-season when the Reds take on Leipzig this summer.
Szoboszlai has the work rate to suit Klopp’s gegenpress. One only has to look at his long sprint from one end of the pitch to the other to win the ball against Jarrod Bowen in Hungary’s 4-0 victory against England as an example. But the stats also back it up with Szoboszlai averaging 20.6 pressures per 90 on average for RB Leipzig last season.
In terms of goal contributions he is by far the most productive player on this list averaging 0.83 goals and assists last season. But he also leads the list for his creativity with 2.50 key passes per 90 and 4.66 shot-creating actions per 90.
Like Majer and Bellingham, Szoboszlai is adept at progressing the ball averaging 5.85 progressive carries per 90 which wedges himself in between the two players. Although his 2.19 tackles and interceptions per 90 is slightly below the other alternative candidates, that could improve under Klopp.
One of the most alluring facts about him is that the 21-year-old has a knack for scoring important goals. Fifteen of his 22 goal contributions for club and country were made when his side were either trailing or drawing the match, and his match-winning mentality is the kind of trait Liverpool have lacked in the midfield since the departure of Steven Gerrard.
Incidentally, Szoboszlai has a Gerrard quote tattooed on his forearm and he has previously described Klopp as the one manager in the world he would love to work with. If he continues to catch the eye at Leipzig, then that could become a possibility next summer.