Liverpool’s midfield rebuild is set to happen more rapidly than perhaps anyone expected, with a defensive midfielder now a must for the Reds before the closure of the transfer window.
Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai have arrived to upgrade options in the advanced roles, but offers from The Saudi Pro League for Fabinho and Jordan Henderson mean Liverpool now require more numbers and more steel.
Jurgen Klopp will want at least one defensive midfielder, perhaps even two, before the transfer deadline should both Fabinho and Henderson leave, as Liverpool prepare to wave goodbye to two stalwarts of the Klopp era.
Here are six defensive midfielders Liverpool could target.
Romeo Lavia – Southampton
Romeo Lavia is perhaps the name that has been linked most intensely with Liverpool, who are among a clutch of Premier League teams interested in the Southampton teenager.
Lavia impressed during his first season at senior level with the Saints, having signed for the club from Manchester City last summer. The 19-year-old was a standout despite Southampton’s relegation to the second tier, emerging as a real talent with his ability to resist the press and carry the ball forward progressively.
That mobility in screening the back four and evasive work with the ball at his feet have turned the heads of recruiters at the Premier League’s top teams, but Southampton are demanding a fee of £50m for the midfielder. Lavia – who made his debut for Belgium in March – is a player rich in potential, but if signed as the sole reinforcement would represent risk for the Reds.
Lavia will need to physically develop in order to reach his ceiling, while Thiago Alcantara aside, Liverpool’s current midfield contingent have an average age of 21. Can Liverpool afford to add another teenager to the mix and compete immediately at the top end of the division?
Manu Kone – Borussia Monchengladbach
Manu Kone is another name who has been regularly linked with Liverpool this summer and the Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder’s appeal is clear.
The Frenchman has a growing reputation after two excellent seasons in the Bundesliga, where the 22-year-old has forged a reputation as an all-action defensive presence.
Kone bettered Fabinho for tackles per 90 (2.55 to 2.19) last season and is also far more proactive in possession. Kone’s 2.04 progressive carries and 5.73 progressive passes per game were higher than Fabinho (0.51 carries and 5.49 passes), with the Brazilian having shown signs of decline last season.
The arrival of the France u21 international could complement Liverpool’s fellow new arrivals in a rejuvenated and youthful-looking engine room, one which combines tenacity, technique and energy. Kone’s comfortability on the ball also saw him rank in the 96th percentile of midfielders in Europe’s top leagues for successful take-ons last season.
Ibrahim Sangare – PSV Eindhoven
Liverpool could look to rival Premier League interest in Ibrahim Sangare, who could be on the move after three seasons at PSV Eindhoven.
The towering Ivorian would add physical power to an otherwise diminutive engine room and Sangare’s mix of presence and poise could make him an ideal solution in the number six role.
Last season Sangare averaged more tackles, clearances and blocks per game than Fabinho and while the Premier League would represent a step up from Dutch football, the raw numbers are encouraging.
The 25-year-old is also excellent in the air, an often overlooked aspect of Fabinho’s defensive game, and comfortable stepping forward in possession with high numbers for progressive passes (7.58) and successful take-ons (1.33) per 90 minutes. With a reported £32.5 million release clause, Sangare could provide value in comparison to other names on this list.
Joao Palhinha – Fulham
Joao Palhinha made a major impression during his debut Premier League season, leading the league for duels won (274) and tackles made (144) as Fulham secured a top-half finish.
The Portugal international was signed for a fee of £20m last summer, but Fulham will demand close to three times that figure from interested clubs.
West Ham have already seen an opening offer of £45m turned down for Palhinha, whose work-ethic and bite could provide the perfect platform for Liverpool’s attacking midfield additions to flourish.
Palhinha turned 28 earlier this month and would represent a shorter-term option than others on Liverpool’s radar, but with Premier League and international experience would be a readymade replacement for the Reds’ departing names.
Cheick Doucouré – Crystal Palace
Cheick Doucouré has emerged as a surprise option for Liverpool, whose recruitment team are said to have been impressed with the midfielder’s debut campaign at Crystal Palace.
Signed from Lens in a £21m move, Doucoure was named as Crystal Palace Player of the Season after a campaign which saw the Frenchman become the Eagles’ engine.
The 23-year-old impressed off the ball with only Declan Rice making more interceptions in the Premier League last season, while he ranked in the 88th percentile of midfielder’s in Europe for combined tackles and interceptions.
However, improvements are required in possession if Doucoure is to take the next step in his career. His pass completion rate of 83.2% ranked Doucoure only in the top 48% of midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues last season.
Aurélien Tchouaméni – Real Madrid
Perhaps the dream addition for Jurgen Klopp, who chased a deal to sign Tchouaméni before his move to Real Madrid in 2022.
The Frenchman signed for Real Madrid in a deal worth an initial €80m last summer and started brightly at the Bernabeu, but lost his place in the side during the second half of the campaign amid a mixed run of form.
Tchouaméni failed to start in any of Real Madrid’s six knockout round games in the Champions League and the arrival of Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund has only increased competition for a midfield berth.
Real Madrid’s interest in Kylian Mbappe could also aid a potential pursuit from Liverpool, as the Spaniards look to raise funds to sign the wantaway PSG forward.
Tchouaméni ranked in the 89th percentile or higher of midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues last season for aerials won, clearances, interceptions, attempted passes and pass completion per 90 minutes last season. It is a series of underlying numbers that should place the 23-year-old top of Liverpool’s wish list.