Manuel Ugarte during the UEFA Champions League match between Sporting Lisbon and Manchester City at Estadio Jose Alvalade, Lisbon, February 2022.

Forget Bellingham; Manuel Ugarte is Liverpool’s must-sign midfielder

We’ve all been there; pining after an unattainable individual only to find the answer to our mortal hopes and dreams is infinitely more suitable.

Think of the quiet neek staring longingly across the classroom at the popular girl he was once best friends with at infant school, only to blossom at university when surrounded by people on his own wavelength.

Or Liverpool fans making shrines and compilation videos about Jude Bellingham. Or Liverpool fans squealing with delight whenever Bellingham spoke to Jordan Henderson or Trent Alexander-Arnold at the World Cup.

Or Steven Gerrard needing a cold shower after interviewing Bellingham during Channel 4’s coverage of a European Championship qualifier.

But, at least officially, Liverpool have realised that the Borussia Dortmund midfielder is out of their league and have trained their sights on a more realistic solution to their midfield woes.

Manuel Ugarte, the 22-year-old Sporting Lisbon and Uruguay midfielder, employs man-marking so tight that’ll stand outside the opposition dressing room while their playmaker goes to the toilet.

Ugarte will break up opposition attacks with the relish of a parent returning from holiday and catching their daughter in the act of throwing a house party.

And the guy that helped knock Arsenal out of this season’s Europa League is able to manoeuvre himself out of tighter positions than Indiana Jones in a mousehole.

After a season of watching the lifesize mannequins of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson in their midfield, Liverpool fans would surely regard Ugarte as a breath of fresh air. And we’ve found the two-minute clip to render any disagreement as pure folly.

Ugarte has made his name across Europe as a no-nonsense defensive midfielder who excels in destroying any semblance of joy in the opposition and recycling play with efficiency.

As per FBref, he ranks among the top 1% of positional peers outside Europe’s five main leagues for tackles per 90 over the past year (4.65 per game), also featuring among the top 3% for interceptions (2.13 per match) and top 10% for blocks (1.66 per game).

None of Liverpool’s regular first-teamers can match his averages for any of those statistics, so he would undoubtedly give the Reds’ midfield more resistance than the wet paper tissue masquerading as the 22-23 version.

The Uruguay international is no mere destroyer; he features in the 99th percentile for the aforementioned category for pass completion, with a success rate of 91.3%, so he doesn’t cheaply surrender the ball after winning it back.

Newcastle and Tottenham have been tracking Ugarte this season, with scouts from both clubs visiting Lisbon so often that they’re being treated for Pastel de Nata addiction, but Liverpool have reportedly been in talks with the player’s agent over a move to Anfield this summer.

Part of the reason the club cancelled their pursuit of Bellingham was the spiralling cost; there’s an acknowledgement that Liverpool need more than one midfield arrival this summer having neglected the position for years.

The names of Mason Mount and Alexis Mac Allister continued to be bandied about as individuals ripe for Klopp’s gegenpressing system.

But Ugarte’s signing is almost in no-brainer territory; his persistence and relentless pursual of opponents would allow Liverpool’s more creative players greater freedom to express their own talents.

Forget Bellingham; Ugarte is the player Liverpool should sign this summer.

By Michael Lee

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