Sunday, June 26, 2022

Liverpool can fulfil prophecy from Sadio Mané transfer expert as Jürgen Klopp a’massive fan’

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NOT TRUE. That was the emphatic initial verdict of Christian Falk on the Sadio Mané to Bayern Munich rumors.

In a now-deleted tweet, the Bild journalist quoted a post from Florian Plettenberg, a reporter at Sky Sports Germany, rubbishing his claim that Mané would be swapping Liverpool for Bavaria. Fast-forward a little over a month, and the 30-year -old is in Munich to complete his transfer away from Jürgen Klopp’s side.

Journalists get things wrong all the time, especially in the fast-moving world of the transfer market. But Plettenberg has certainly emerged from the whole affair with credit. And while Liverpool fans will be disappointed he was right about this one, they might hope that a prediction he made last summer proves to be similarly accurate.

Liverpool had just secured Champions League football, but they had done it the hard way. Engulfed by an injury crisis, Klopp was forced to play Fabinho as a center-back at times, before even the Brazilian succumbed to setbacks. As a result, the lack of depth in a deeper midfield role was exposed for all to see.

READ MORE: Luis Suárez and Philippe Coutinho prove Jürgen Klopp is set to get Liverpool goalscoring boost

READ MORE: Arsenal may just have pinpointed next big Liverpool transfer with intriguing £ 50m signing

Meanwhile, Georginio Wijnaldum was allowed to leave for PSG on a free transfer. All in all, there was a strong feeling that Liverpool needed to reinforce the midfield. This never happened, with Klopp preferring to trust his existing options, and a heroic push for an unprecedented quadruple provided all the vindication necessary.

FSG know that they cannot delay midfield reinforcements forever. The feeling around the club is that 2023 will be the year when Liverpool go big in that department. Klopp is known to be a huge admirer of Jude Bellingham, and a massive move could be on the cards next summer.

But it is not unthinkable that Liverpool act before then. Writing for the National News, David Lynch confirmed that the club would have moved early for Aurélien Tchouaméni had his wage demands not precluded a transfer. If the right player becomes available, FSG will rethink their plans. And there is one midfielder whom Klopp is known to admire greatly, dating back to the Great Midfield Panic of last summer.

The name Florian Neuhaus will likely mean something to most Liverpool fans. For a time in 2021, you could hardly move for mention of the Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder. And Plettenberg, speaking to FanNation, confirmed that Klopp is a’massive fan’.

However, despite the whirring transfer rumour mill, Plettenberg took a firm line. He predicted that a move was more likely in the following summer — in other words, right now.

“Klopp is a massive fan. Neuhaus is also aware of Liverpool’s interest. It’s likely that he will stay in’Gladbach this summer and next summer there could be talks with Liverpool as well as FC Bayern again.

“Klopp wants him but right now there are too many players for the central midfield in the squad of Liverpool.”

In one sense, nothing has changed. Liverpool are yet to trim their midfield — and in fact they have arguably added to it, with Fábio Carvalho capable of playing that role. James Milner has signed a one-year extension. It now even looks like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may stay put for another season, although a good offer could always change that.

On the other hand, the first-choice midfield is growing older. With each passing campaign, it gets less realistic to rely too heavily on Milner, Thiago and Jordan Henderson. Even Fabinho, who is a fair bit younger at 28, has played the amount of games that would typically be expected of a 34-year-old, and injuries are starting to creep up as a result.

If Klopp is truly such a big fan of Neuhaus, there is little sense in waiting. Among the top 10 most similar players to Bellingham on FBRef, the Mönchengladbach man would be a far cheaper alternative, and comes with the added benefit of having extensive experience A quality he shares with Tchouaméni, it would allow him to cover for Fabinho while also becoming the long-term Henderson heir.

There is plenty of reason to think that Plettenberg was right when he spoke of Klopp’s admiration for his compatriot. His basic goals and assists figures have dropped slightly in the intervening year, but his underlying performance has — if anything — improved. Over the last 365 days, Neuhaus ranks in the 95th percentile of midfielders around Europe in terms of expected goals per 90. He is in the 87th percentile for (actual) assists.

The 25-year-old would offer the kind of creative, goalscoring streak that Liverpool’s core is currently somewhat lacking. But at the same time, he would provide the work rate and defensive solidity that Klopp demands. He ranks in the 92nd percentile for blocks A somewhat loose pass accuracy can be attributed to his desire to progress the ball: the Trent Alexander-Arnold factor.

Ultimately, the question for Klopp and for the Liverpool hierarchy is whether they would rather wait for Bellingham, who has the advantage of being some seven years younger. The higher price tag would reflect the amount of time the Borussia Dortmund starlet is likely to have at the very top, as well as his buckets of further potential. If this is the FSG plan, it is fair enough.

But a budget alternative who can also cover for Fabinho certainly has its appeal. Plettenberg was spot on about Mané: if he is right again, then Liverpool may not be done in the transfer window after all.

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