Liverpool are in need of a midfield revamp with their Champions League hopes at risk – and one suitable target has just been made available in Italy.
Calls for Liverpool to strengthen their midfield have only increased since the restart following the World Cup.
While the Reds admittedly struggled prior to the break, injuries were partly to blame for such woes. Get through to a mid-season training camp in Dubai, welcome players back from lay-offs, and re-group in 2023 – for months that had been their contingency plan as the risk of failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League grew.
Yet this reset button has proven to be anything but in recent weeks. Even with some players back from injury, Jurgen Klopp’s side continue to struggle with their midfield looking more vulnerable than ever.
It’s well-documented that the Reds plan to revamp their engine room this year in the face of ageing stars and expiring contracts, akin to their overhaul in attack over the past 12 months. Yet, for now, it seems such plans could be on hold until the summer.
As things stand, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner, and Arthur Melo are not contracted to the club beyond the end of the season. It’s clear they need more than one new arrival as part of this planned revamp.
With such a target currently not obtainable, the Reds have shown in the past how they favour waiting for the right player over bringing in any old player right now just to fill a void. As a result, with one eye on the summer, it’s understandable why Klopp has admitted that he doesn’t expect to “splash the cash” in this month’s transfer window.
Of course, Liverpool have already brought in Cody Gakpo this winter with the Dutchman joining from PSV Eindhoven for an initial £37m. Klopp confessed after the signing that the deal could impact any future Reds business in January.
As a result, the Reds are hardly going to be breaking their transfer record this month if the desired target is not currently for sale. However, they could still find a way to strengthen for a more meagre fee if the right player became available.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic could be one such player. Out of contract in 2024, reports in Italy claim Lazio have grown frustrated over the lack of movement over a new contract, with the Serbian so far refusing to agree a renewal, and would be willing to let him leave as a result.
According to Il Messagero, via Tutto Juve, the Serie A outfit would even be willing to sanction a loan exit for the 27-year-old this month, carrying an £8.8m fee, with a further £35.3m then required to make the deal permanent in the summer. Arsenal and Juventus have been credited with interest with the player’s agent, former Chelsea striker Mateja Kezman, said to have held talks with the Old Lady.
Meanwhile, Corriere dello Sport claim that Arsenal had scouts present during Lazio’s 2-0 win over Verona in September, with Chelsea and Manchester United also said to be interested in the midfielder. In truth, the Red Devils have repeatedly been linked with Milinkovic-Savic over the years.
Liverpool’s name has been somewhat lacking when it comes to speculation regarding the Serbian, but on paper he would tick their midfield boxes. After all, when Klopp was defending his current midfield options in the summer, when detailing the type of midfielder his squad is lacking he essentially described the 27-year-old’s profile.
“I don’t understand. I do not understand,” the German said. “People told me about this discussion, but the last thing that would have crossed my mind is that we have to [sign a midfielder].
“I know all these things, that we don’t score enough goals from midfield, this and that, but what do we want? This ‘Golden Cow’ that is producing absolutely everything, milk as well!
“We can go through it. Where do you want to start? So, Fabinho, Henderson, Thiago, Milner, Keita, Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott, Fabio Carvalho, Oxlade-Chamberlain.
“Now you tell me what kind of player are we missing? One who is offensive, 1.95m and arrives into the box to head balls in? OK, apart from that!
“We have three players in the squad who can easily play as a number six – Fabinho, of course, but Hendo and Milly played it fine. Creativity? If we bring in a player just for that, we immediately make it more difficult for Harvey, Curtis and Fabio. They can all play different positions as well of course, Curtis can play a line higher and Harvey and Fabio can play there too. Fine.
“We can play a different system as well, where we might only need two midfielders, but then all these guys can play as a number 10 in the new system. So where is the need for a midfielder? The day when somebody comes to me and tells me why exactly.”
Of course, since those comments, Klopp has brought in Arthur Melo on loan while Elliott is the only one of his 10 options not to have missed games through injury so far this season. When you consider the majority of those players are also out of form and not at their peak, with accusations that ageing players are on the decline while youngsters are too inexperienced and raw, it has become widely accepted that Liverpool need change now.
This is where Milinkovic-Savic could tick such boxes. Standing at 6ft 4, he is this dominant midfield presence, capable of winning headers in both boxes. Boasting 60 goals and 57 assists for Lazio over the past six-and-a-half seasons, including five goals and seven assists from 22 outings this year and previous career highs of 14 goals and 12 assists, he is an offensive midfielder that Klopp’s squad is lacking.
Yet the Serbian is far more than that. Nicknamed ‘il Sergente’, the 27-year-old is a versatile player, capable of playing as a number six, number eight or 10. Blending attacking attributes with the height and physicality of a defensive midfielder, he has earned comparisons with Zinedine Zidane and Yaya Toure as a result, while he is also a leader having captained Lazio on occasions.
While not the quickest player, he possesses excellent defensive work-rate which enables him to win back possession, carry the ball forward, and start attacks. A good passer of the ball, he is capable of scoring goals with his head and both feet, and is a threat when making late runs into the box or striking from distance.
Set to turn 28 next month, Milinkovic-Savic is not going to be a long-term solution in midfield for the next decade, as Bellingham would be. Yet he is currently enjoying his peak years, something that is a rare commodity in the engine room at Anfield with only the out-of-contract Keita falling in such a bracket. Meanwhile, he has registered more than 30 appearances in Serie A every year since 2016/17, with his overall total of 39 appearances in all competitions the only time his overall total has dropped below 40 since then.
A quoted £35m fee won’t break the bank and is in line with the initial deal agreed for Gakpo. Meanwhile, that £8.8m loan fee is less than the £9.7m Chelsea have just paid to sign Joao Felix for the second half of the season, while also committing to paying his £250k+ weekly wages.
With a deal reportedly agreed with RB Leipzig to Christopher Nkunku in the summer, Chelsea consider the Portuguese the perfect stop-gap in attack as they look to resurrect their season, with the Londoners also facing an uphill battle to qualify for the Champions League.
When you consider Liverpool also have their sights set on a target from the Bundesliga in the summer, Milinkovic-Savic could be their own ideal stop-gap for the remainder of the season as they look to finish in the top four. A genuine all-round midfielder with an impeccable availability record and at the peak of his powers, he might not have played in England before or be a signing for the future but he’s arguably exactly what they need right now. A suitable alternative in midfielder, he would be comfortable covering for Fabinho as the holding option while also bringing an attacking threat that none of the Reds’ current options possess.
Liverpool admittedly don’t have the best record when it comes to making knee-jerk transfers, but if they don’t sign a midfielder this month, they risk failing to qualify for the Champions League and missing out on Bellingham as a result. If really available, the Serbian is a gamble worth taking.
At the very least, he would be better-placed to make more of an impact at Anfield than Steven Caulker, Ozan Kabak, Ben Davies, and Arthur Melo ever managed.