Europe's next great defensive midfielder?

5 rising stars that would be perfect signings for Xabi Alonso at Liverpool: Zubimendi, Wirtz…

The summer of 2024 will be huge for Liverpool. The club are set to name a new sporting director, while Reds legend Xabi Alonso has been strongly-tipped to succeed Jurgen Klopp in the dugout.

While Klopp will leave a young and hungry squad to his potential successor, there are notable differences in the style of play favoured by the two coaches – and the new boss would surely look to bring in some new faces that fit his ethos of dynamic possession play.

We’ve identified five potential signings that would be a good fit for Alonso at Liverpool.

Martin Zubimendi

Liverpool did remarkably well last summer to totally rebuild their midfield following the departures of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson.

Wataru Endo has been a solid addition to Klopp’s squad and Alexis Mac Allister has shown signs of growing into the role, but the recent 3-1 defeat to Arsenal strengthened the argument that Liverpool are still in need of a world-class, specialised No.6 – just as they were before Fabinho’s transformative impact in 2018.

Real Sociedad’s Zubimendi can be that player. He’s been talked up as Europe’s next great defensive midfielder, and his ability to control games and dictate the tempo would make him a natural fit for the style favoured by Alonso.

Better yet, Arsenal have reportedly identified the 25-year-old as their top midfield target, but Zubimendi’s Basque kinship with Alonso could give Liverpool the edge over their title rivals when it comes to his signature.

“With him, I learned to recognise and differentiate [types of] presses, overcoming them,” Zubimendi told The Guardian of Alonso’s influence in Real Sociedad’s youth set-up.

“Before then, I played the way that more or less came naturally. With him I started to truly understand concepts for bringing the ball out, building play. He insisted a lot on the analysis. We would walk it through, inflatables positioned where the opposition would be.”

READ: ‘A fighter that demands 100%’: Xabi Alonso’s players explain what makes him a special coach

Tijjani Reijnders

Granit Xhaka has been absolutely outstanding at the heart of Leverkusen’s midfield this season. The former Arsenal man has played a pivotal role in Alonso’s side sitting pretty at the top of the Bundesliga, unbeaten in all competitions.

That gave us the idea of identifying midfielders that could do that same midfield engine room job for Alonso’s Liverpool. According to FBref’s statistical algorithm, the player most similar to Xhaka in Europe’s major leagues is Milan’s Reijnders.

This wouldn’t necessarily be an easy one to get over the line. The Netherlands international only joined Milan from AZ Alkmaar last summer and he’s contracted at the San Siro until 2028. But it could be worth exploring.

Piero Hincapie

With Joel Matip expected to leave Anfield when his contract expires in the summer, Liverpool will surely look to bolster their defence – and going for an option that’s proven for Alonso would make a lot of sense.

“I think he’s a very modern defender,” says Alonso of the Ecuador international, who has helped keep four clean sheets in his last six outings for Leverkusen.

“He can play in different positions. He’s served us as a [left] full-back in recent games but has also been the left centre-back when we’ve played with a back three.

“He’s aggressive, is making better decisions when he has the ball, backs himself more to play diagonal passes and get in behind. It motivates me to have a player with his potential and desire because he helps you and you help him. He’s a great player.”

Florian Wirtz

It only seems a matter of time before the Leverkusen wonderkid will join one of Europe’s elite clubs.

He’s been among the best players in his position across Europe in 2023-24, notching five goals and eight assists in the Bundesliga club’s surprise title charge.

“I think the midfield balance is getting better. They will probably get a world-class defensive midfield player. All it needs is someone to come in,” Owen Hargreaves recently told Premier League productions.

“If Xabi comes in with Florian Wirtz, who is a brilliant young German player at Leverkusen, and they had a defensive midfield player, I think this Liverpool team could compete.”

Leverkusen's Florian Wirtz, center, celebrates with team mates after scoring a goal that was seconds later disallowed by a VAR decision during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund at the BayArena in Leverkusen, Germany, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023

READ: Europe’s best XI of 2023-24, according to WhoScored: Two Leverkusen stars feature…

Leny Yoro

Unlike the aforementioned Hincapie, Liverpool-linked Yoro is a right-sided centre-back.

While there was a lot of tabloid chatter linking Yoro to Merseyside in January, the 18-year-old ended up staying put at his boyhood club Lille.

But he’ll be into the final 23 months of his current deal in the summer and you’d expect this to be one that rumbles on.

The highly-rated France Under-18 international would look a natural fit for the right side of Alonso’s preferred 3-4-2-1 formation, offering an alternative to fellow youngster Jarell Quansah.

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