Liverpool have done some serious work in rebuilding their midfield this summer, but one key cog remains missing – as their failed pursuits of Romeo Lavia and Moises Caicedo have proven.
Jurgen Klopp’s side desperately struggled in the centre of the pitch last season and have addressed that by waving goodbye to Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita and James Milner and freshening things up by signing Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai.
However, they’re still seriously short of a traditional No.6 type – an out-and-out defensive midfielder. Caicedo rejected them before joining Chelsea for a Premier League transfer record, while Mauricio Pochettino’s Blues have also reportedly gazumped them to sign long-running target Lavia.
We’ve identified five defensive midfielders that Liverpool can target after missing out on Caicedo and Lavia.
Xabi Alonso arguably remains Liverpool’s standard-bearer when it comes to the defensive midfield role, and the oh-so-cultured former Spain international has actually coached his anointed successor in Real Sociedad’s reserves.
Zubimendi since progressed into their first team and has blossomed into one of La Liga’s best players.
“Zubimendi is an extraordinary pivot. He dominates the game, the moments with and without the ball. He wins duels, he is an extraordinary player in that position. He understands the model we like at Barca,” Xavi said last season.
The Barcelona boss couldn’t have made it any more clear that he fancied Zubimendi as Sergio Busquets’ successor.
However, the La Liga champions’ financial difficulties meant they were priced out of that move for the 24-year-old and had to make do with bringing back Oriol Romeu for a cut-price €3million fee.
Liverpool evidently have no such worries about cash, having launched a £115million bid to sign Caicedo from Brighton. Zubimendi would cost half that and wouldn’t cause Liverpool too many negotiation headaches – like Mac Allister and Szoboszlai, it’s believed that he has a release clause.
Earlier this year it was reported that Arsenal were weighing up triggering it at €60million (about £52.8million).
One issue is that Zubimendi offers a different kind of profile to Lavia and Caicedo, and before him Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum.
He arguably lacks the relentless engine of a classic Klopp midfielder, but he’d offer a lot for a side looking to recycle possession – a style that Liverpool flirted with transitioning to when they brought in Thiago Alcantara.
Another potential problem is that the player appears happy and settled with his boyhood club, who will compete in the Champions League in 2023-24. He’s made no noises about ambitions of moving to the Premier League and signed a contract extension last October.
Liverpool may be able to tempt him with the offer of a significant salary bump, but the last thing they need right now is more rejection.
Martín Zubimendi is who we should be going after. pic.twitter.com/CnYzF5VhvK
— ⒿⒶⓂⒺⓈ (@SublimeSalahLFC) August 14, 2023
After their years of knife-edge title tussles, the idea of Man City and Liverpool doing direct business would have seemed fanciful. But Klopp’s Reds finished 22 points behind last term and City have been all too happy to sell to Arsenal in recent times.
You also imagine that Pep Guardiola would be happy to offload a player he’s had very little use for.
Phillips’ stock has fallen considerably over the course of his year on the sidelines at City. He wasn’t entrusted to start a Premier League game until after they wrapped up the league title.
But it shouldn’t be forgotten that the midfielder had shown enough with Leeds and England to sign for Guardiola’s juggernaut in the first place.
It remains to be seen whether he’ll step up to play more of a squad role in year two, but it’s unthinkable that he’ll ever dislodge Rodri in Guardiola’s favoured XI. Liverpool can offer him a fresh start, a regular starting berth and a real chance to prove himself after failing to convince his boss at City.
He’s struggled with injuries over the past couple of seasons, but when fit and firing he was like a one-man double-pivot for Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds, able to press relentlessly, hoover up ground and force turnovers while possessing the ability to build attacks from deep.
He was also one of England’s key players as they made it to the Euro 2020 final two years ago.
At the age of 27, Phillips is considerably older than Lavia and Caicedo. He wouldn’t have anywhere near the same resale value or represent a long-term investment, but the club are arguably lacking midfielders of that peak-years age profile.
Unlike Zubmimendi and Phillips, Liverpool have actively been linked with little-known Brazilian midfielder Andre.
But the 22-year-old is quickly making a name for himself in South America. He earned his first Brazil cap earlier this year and has been outstanding for Fluminense.
The major snag with Andre is that Fluminense are reportedly determined to keep their key player as long as they remain in the Copa Libertadores.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, they’re through to the quarter-finals – the second leg of which takes place on September 1st, transfer deadline day. Not ideal.
Fulham are said to have slapped on a staggering £90million price tag on Palhinha after West Ham came sniffing around, searching for their Declan Rice replacement.
That’s a mammoth asking price for a 28-year-old that has little European experience – a player that they signed for just £20million last summer.
David Moyes’ Hammers did the prudent thing and walked away, and it would be wild for Liverpool to get involved. But they’ve shown their hand with the Caicedo bid and are evidently willing to spend big for the right player.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and the 1-1 draw at Chelsea showed that Liverpool have a gaping chasm to fill in their midfield.
Palhinha was arguably the best defensive midfielder not named Rodri in the Premier League last season. The Portugal international registered 147 tackles in 2022-23 – 47 more than any other player and more than double any Liverpool player.
He’s a picture-perfect modern-day midfield destroyer and it would be loads of fun seeing him snap into the opposition at the base of Klopp’s midfield. If only he were five years younger.
João Palhinha being João Palhinha. pic.twitter.com/UntXrNvjdX
— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) May 11, 2023
Malian midfielder Doucoure has also only spent one season in the Premier League but has already made a big impression.
The 23-year-old enjoyed an exceptional debut campaign with Crystal Palace, earning him links to some of Europe’s top clubs.
Named the Eagles’ Player of the Season, Doucoure is one of the first names on Roy Hodgson’s teamsheet and remains contracted at Selhurst Park until 2027. So it would require considerable work to get done.
There were some tenuous reports linking Liverpool with Doucoure back in July, but his name may pop back up again as Liverpool’s defensive midfielder search goes on.
Eye-catchingly athletic and adept at recovering the ball, Doucoure looks an obvious fit for Klopp’s midfield in more ways than one.