Do any of the linked defensive midfielders actually make sense for Liverpool?

Sam McGuire
10 months ago

In the blink of an eye, Liverpool went from looking well set for the 2023/24 campaign to having to scramble to potentially replace two key players within their squad. 

The Reds moved swiftly to bring in Alexis Mac Allister from Brighton and Dominik Szoboszlai from RB Leipzig for a combined outlay of £95m. The duo went some way to replacing the departed James Milner, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

There had been talk that Thiago may be on the move but that has dissipated more recently. Then, out of nowhere, a Saudi Arabian raid on the Reds.

Al-Ittihad offered £40m for Fabinho and the Brazilian didn’t travel with the rest of the squad for their pre-season tour, which suggests a move is imminent. In truth, it was too good of a deal to turn down. Liverpool break even on a player coming off the back of his worst season with the club.

READ MORE: Fabinho — The rise and decline of Liverpool's quiet superstar

Al-Ettifaq are in for  Jordan Henderson and, though reports suggest a deal has been agreed with the player, there is still a stalemate between the clubs. For some reason, the Saudi side believed they could sign the Liverpool captain on a free transfer, while the Reds reportedly want £20m for the England international.

Unlike Fabinho, Henderson travelled with the rest of the team, though negotiations between the two teams are believed to still be underway.

With the Fabinho deal much further along, we’re going to focus on him today.

According to multiple reports, Liverpool’s shortlist of potential replacements includes Romeo Lavia, Kalvin Phillips, Sofyan Amrabat and Ryan Gravenberch. The list is a little underwhelming when you consider Declan Rice and Moises Caicedo were both up for grabs this summer. Aurelien Tchouameni didn’t exactly have the best debut season with Real Madrid either and given Los Blancos are believed to be in the market for Kylian Mbappe, a decent enough bid might’ve tempted them into parting ways with the former Monaco man, but that doesn’t appear to be on the cards.

Not only is the list underwhelming, but it is also a little confusing.

On his day, Fabinho was one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. He had a difficult 2022/23 season but a lot of the issues could be tied to his role within the system rather than just the player. Liverpool exposed his weaknesses and limited his strengths for large parts of the campaign. He looked much more like his old self towards the end of the season in the 3-2-2-3 shape with legs around him.

© Proshots - Fabinho

If you are losing one of the best in the world, you ideally want to bring in someone close to that level. I’m not necessarily sure you can do that with the aforementioned list of players.

For example, Lavia, as good as he is, has just one season of senior football under his belt. He racked up a little over 2,200 minutes during his debut campaign for a struggling Southampton side. When looking at Premier League and Champions League minutes, Fabinho averaged 3,000 minutes per season for the Reds. You would be asking the 19-year-old to scale his volume of minutes and the frequency of games, all while trying to maintain consistency.

Push too hard and he could start picking up muscle injuries due to being overused.

That is just one of the concerns. Something else to consider is just how raw he is. He impressed in a disappointing Saints team. He was the best of the worst and signing that player isn’t always the smartest move. The talent is there but, right now, the £50m valuation is no doubt tied to his potential. There are no guarantees he fulfils it.

Amrabat is another with a few question marks.

The 26-year-old impressed for Morocco in the World Cup and caught the eye for Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final. Liverpool were believed to be interested in him in January but a move didn’t materialise.

He is decent enough on the ball and likes to get involved in the build-up phase. He’s also deceptively useful defensively when not in possession, often putting in a good shift. But he turns 27 in August, is there more to come from him or is this the best version of the midfielder?

If it is the latter then he isn’t close to Fabinho’s all-conquering level, so Liverpool will be worse off with him anchoring the midfield. He’s also nowhere near the Brazilian in the air. It is regularly overlooked how good the Liverpool number three is in aerial duels, often winning over 60%. By comparison, Amrabat wins just 37% of his aerial duels. The Reds would be losing dominance in the central third.

It doesn’t really match up with what you expect to see from a Jurgen Klopp team, does it?

Gravenberch is one big unknown right now after a season on the bench with Bayern Munich. He was even shifted about the pitch during his time with Ajax, playing a variety of roles and rarely claiming a set position to call home.

The 21-year-old hasn’t really played much football as a defensive midfielder so would need time to adapt. Again, there are no guarantees and Liverpool really aren’t in a position right now to take such risks, are they? For most of his time here, Fabinho was as consistent as they come. You ideally need someone similar to that to ensure there’s no severe drop-off.

Finally on the list is Phillips.

© Proshots - Kalvin Phillips

At his best, the former Leeds United man does have the ability to carry out that role. He did it at Elland Road and he impressed for England. However, there are two issues. The first is that he plays for Manchester City and the chances of them selling to Liverpool are fairly slim.

Furthermore, if they agreed, they would likely want to make a profit on the £45m they spent to sign him last summer. It would take a hefty fee to sign the 27-year-old.

He’s also fairly injury-prone too. Over the last three seasons, the England international has missed a combined 42 matches. For comparison here, Fabinho has missed just 29 games across five seasons.

If these are the options, Liverpool head into the 2023/24 campaign weaker in a key area. They must have something else planned.

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