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Liverpool were ridiculed after transfer saga but £60m snub has been blessing in disguise

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Liverpool did make a major summer play for Romeo Lavia, whose move to Chelsea has been wrecked by injury.

When Liverpool started the Premier League season at Chelsea back in August, their midfield overhaul was far from complete.

Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister both made their Reds debuts in the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, but the pair were unleashed in unfamiliar positions with the Hungarian at number eight and the Argentine at number six.

While Szoboszlai was always set up to make such a transition following his £60m switch from RB Leipzig, Mac Allister’s change of role was more through necessity after the unexpected exits of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho following big-money interest from Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Cody Gakpo completed the engine-room trio as he was forced to play in a deeper role as opposed to his favourite position in the front three. Unsurprisingly, it ended up being a far from convincing display from Klopp’s men.

Trent-Alexander Arnold and Curtis Jones had both played at number six throughout pre-season, but a back injury suffered by Conor Bradley prompted the former to be needed back at right-back. Meanwhile, the latter headed into the season carrying an ankle injury, while Thiago Alcantara and Stefan Bajcetic were still sidelined after long-term absences.

Consequently, Jurgen Klopp ultimately had very few alternatives other than his makeshift selection as Liverpool started the campaign lacking midfield numbers. And ahead of facing Chelsea, he had admitted any solutions would only be short-term.

“In the next six days we have to find a formation for Chelsea and not for the whole season,” he said after a 3-1 victory over Darmstadt in his side’s pre-season friendly.

Of course, while left without a natural number six, it wasn’t through lack of trying. Liverpool had seen a third bid of around £46m rejected by Southampton for Romeo Lavia prior to facing the German outfit. Meanwhile, their clash with Chelsea was accompanied by the two sides also fighting out for the record signing of Moises Caicedo from Brighton.

While the Reds were the first side to have their bid accepted, offering £111m, the Ecuadorian’s insistence that he only wanted to move to Chelsea ensured they agreed a deal worth up to £115m. Consequently, Liverpool were growing resigned to missing out as the two sides locked horns in a bitter case of, ‘here’s what you could have won.’

Such frustrations prompted the Reds to turn attention back to Lavia, despite privately insisting that the then-teenager not to be worth Southampton’s £50m asking price, given his age and limited top-flight experience. That stance said it all, even after their hand was reluctantly forced to offer £60m, courtesy of Chelsea having a £55m offer accepted.

Like Caicedo, the Belgian would snub Liverpool in favour of moving to Stamford Bridge to rub salt in their wounds further.

Meanwhile, it later emerged that they would also be rebuffed in efforts to sign Andre Trindade from Fluminense.

Eyebrows were raised when the Reds next turned to Wataru Endo from VfB Stuttgart, signing the then-30-year-old in a £16.2m deal. A slow start to Anfield life did not help matters, as Kopites waited anxiously for Bajcetic and Thiago to return from injury with Mac Allister also unconvincing in the deeper role.

Little did we know last August that the Spanish pair would boast just 77 minutes of combined action across the campaign come the end of March. Nor would anyone have foreseen how soon Liverpool’s midfield fortunes would change.

Come November, with Bajcetic and Thiago again ruled out indefinitely, Mac Allister’s transformation into a number six was complete. But when he suffered an injury against Sheffield United in December, it became Endo’s time to shine. The two are now both firm fan-favourites, and have made a mockery of any doubts critics had about their abilities to play that deeper role for Liverpool.

Of course, with Endo now fully settled into life in England, Mac Allister has been freed up to play in a more advanced role over the past month. And boy, has he shone with four goals and four assists from his last seven starts. With Jones and Alexander-Arnold closing in on a return from injury, and the likes of Harvey Elliott, Ryan Gravenberch and Bobby Clark, even without Bajcetic and Thiago, Klopp’s engine-room is looking remarkably strong.

Such a prospect would have been inconceivable during last season’s struggles as the Reds failed to qualify for the Champions League with an ageing squad and broken midfield, during the close season as they waved off Henderson, Fabinho, James Milner, Naby Keita and Alex Oxalde-Chamberlain, and at the start of the campaign as they stumbled through the aforementioned messy transfer sagas before settling on a far from ideal solution.

Endo has since admitted he is well-aware that he only ended up at Anfield because of Liverpool’s failed transfer pursuits elsewhere.

“If I were to get a chance (to play in England), I had a feeling I would be headed to Liverpool because Liverpool had many outbound players,” he recently told Japanese streaming service Abema. “Henderson, Fabinho, both midfielders.

“I thought Caicedo would sign (for Liverpool). I remember seeing in the news that a deal was close (with Liverpool). I thought that I would lose out, and then he went to Chelsea.

“A player like me, I would only get an opportunity in a situation like this. The ideal situation would be to get a hold of young, talented players, but not every club can sign their ideal target.

“So the plan B would be to sign an older, experienced player, someone who can be immediately effective. Liverpool were looking for that in signing me. It feels like I’ve been waiting for this chance my whole life.”

Over the course of the campaign, Kopites have certainly enjoyed their success against Chelsea’s struggles even more as a result of last summer’s transfer battles.

While Liverpool sit second in the table on goal difference alone as they pursue a second Premier League title, Chelsea are 25 points behind them in 11th. Meanwhile, it has not gone unnoticed how Caicedo is yet to live up to that £115m price tag, and ended up second-best to Endo and Mac Allister when the Reds beat the Londoners in last month’s League Cup final.

And Klopp has enjoyed the contrast too, based on what he told the crowd at an Anfield Road test event back in December. “In the summer, the summer we had when a few strange things happened in the transfer market,” he said. “But here between us, I can say my God were we lucky, eh?

“We didn’t know that in the moment, it didn’t feel like it in that moment. But, meh. I’m really happy that it worked out like that… We obviously realised other central defensive midfielders don’t want to join Liverpool (laughs). You see what happens!”

Such comments were tongue-in-cheek, said specifically to entertain the crowd, with Caicedo perceived as the main subject – given that he had been initially suggested he was open to a move to Anfield before refusing to attend a medical.

But in hindsight, in the context of this season, it is the desperately unfortunate Lavia that Liverpool have enjoyed the luckiest of escapes on.

In his maiden season at Stamford Bridge, he has been limited to just 32 minutes of action because of injury. He had to wait until December to make his Chelsea debut after suffering an ankle injury, only to then suffer a serious thigh injury when making his debut off the bench against Crystal Palace.

And now he has suffered a further setback in his rehabilitation, with Chelsea confirming he will miss the rest of the season as a result.

“Midfielder Romeo Lavia is to unfortunately miss the remainder of our 2023-24 campaign following a setback in his recovery,” the Londoners confirmed in an official statement. “Recent medical assessments have confirmed that Lavia, who sustained a significant thigh injury against Crystal Palace back in December, will not feature again this season.”

While eyebrows were raised at Lava snubbing Liverpool’s advances for Chelsea, considering he had a £221.7m midfield partnership ahead of him at Stamford Bridge in Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez, but no-one at Anfield would have wished such an injury-plagued season on the 20-year-old.

Yet that snub certainly proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Reds. You can already imagine the backlash and frustration if Liverpool had parted with £60m to sign the holding midfielder, only for him to be ruled out for four months, make his debut, and then miss the rest of the campaign.

Part of the reason for the Reds’ reluctance to spend big on the Belgium international was their faith in the 19-year-old Bajcetic, who has at least already featured for 72 minutes this season and is closing in on his own return to training. That faith has ultimately paid off, be it through more luck or judgement, and prevented them from making a costly mistake.

It doesn’t matter how Liverpool got here. As clumsy as their exploits looked at times during a rather frustrating summer, they wiped out a problem position in a way no-one saw coming, with their left-field solutions both proving to be masterstrokes that have been instrumental to their success so far this season.

Would they be pursuing a possible treble if they had signed the would-be Chelsea midfielder for £60m at the expense of Endo? Everything happens for a reason.

Their gut-instinct regarding Lavia proved to be well-founded. It stopped them wrapping up a deal quickly last summer, and while they were ridiculed at the time for a succession of rejected bids rather than just meeting the asking price, it ultimately ended up working in their favour.

So when it comes to Lavia, when you think how differently things could have turned out had the Reds actually won the race for his signature, Klopp has already said it best.

“My God we were lucky, eh?”

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