Liverpool’s midfield rebuild is well underway.
Alexis Mac Allister arrived from Brighton for a fee believed to be in the region of £35m and the Reds followed this up with a £60m move for RB Leipzig star Dominik Szoboszlai. The Merseysiders moved quickly to get both players through the door before pre-season was even underway.
A third midfielder is expected. For a period of time, it appeared as though it would be Khephren Thuram. Multiple outlets claimed Liverpool were keen on the Frenchman and that a deal could well be concluded once his involvement at the Under-21 European Championships came to a conclusion.
Yet just days after France crashed out at the quarter-final stage in a shock defeat to Ukraine, multiple reports have emerged claiming the Nice middle man is no longer a target for the 2019/20 Premier League champions.
Instead, it has been stated the Reds have pivoted their interest and made Southampton’s Romeo Lavia a prime target. James Pearce of The Athletic published a piece recently in which he said the 19-year-old is admired by the club but a move isn’t close. However, the situation could change if another midfielder departs.
Thiago could well be on the move this summer but his future shouldn’t impact the club’s decision. They have lost James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita on free transfers, while Arthur Melo’s loan spell came to an end and Fabio Carvalho has since joined RB Leipzig on loan.
That makes five midfield options that Liverpool have lost this summer, while they have brought in just two. Tyler Morton might be an option this season after returning from a campaign with Blackburn Rovers but Jurgen Klopp is still two players down on where he was last season. Furthermore, Thiago, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho all struggled last season and given they’re all now a year older, it is unlikely their form is going to make a miraculous recovery.
Given the Reds have already added two attack-minded midfielders to their ranks in Szoboszlai and Mac Allister coupled with the fact Harvey Elliott and Stefan Bajcetic look much more comfortable on the right side and the left side respectively, there is a gap in the squad for a defensive-minded addition.
Lavia would certainly fit the bill.
The Belgian midfielder made the surprise move to Southampton last summer from Manchester City in a deal worth up to £14m. It was a fairly hefty fee for a player with just two senior first-team appearances for the Manchester club.
He was thrown straight into the starting XI by then-Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl. Lavia didn’t lose his place in the team following the appointment of Nathan Jones and Ruben Selles kept him in his XI after he took over as interim boss.
In total, he made 26 starts and racked up 2,230 minutes in the Premier League, despite suffering an injury in late August that kept him out for eight matches.
Southampton struggled throughout the campaign but Lavia regularly impressed. It is why he’s now being courted by Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. The Saints are believed to want £50m for the former Anderlecht youngster. It is a steep fee for a player with just one season of Premier League football under his belt but City have a buyback option for the summer of 2024, reportedly set at £45m. They also have a reported 20% sell-on clause. All of this will factor into the valuation.
So why is the 19-year-old in such high demand?
One of the key reasons is something Southampton supporter Lucy Highnett mentioned recently when speaking to The Anfield Wrap.
“So I think what he’s very good at and what appeals to clubs at the top of the table and perhaps marks him out from the typical relegation teams is that he’s very good at playing through the press. He doesn’t do that typically with passing, his passing is quite short and simple, but he does that mainly with ball carrying and press evasion. So he’s quite happy to drop very deep and attract a lot of attention from high-pressing teams. We all know that the Premier League is full of high-pressing teams now and he does very well with that.”
Lavia is the sort of player to relieve the pressure on a team. A good example of this can be seen below.
Southampton look hemmed in by Bournemouth with Lavia being the only real obvious pass for the man in possession. The away side are set up to press the number 45 and if they win the ball back, they’re in the final third and in a threatening position.
Upon receiving the pass, Lavia turns away from pressure and opens up the pitch before he starts to carry the ball forward into the space.
He is eventually brought down and Southampton win a free-kick. In a matter of seconds, he’s taken Southampton up the pitch and nullified the Bournemouth threat at that time. Per FBref, Lavia ranked in the top 75th percentile for successful dribbles last season.
Having a midfielder who can create space in such a way is invaluable, especially for a team like Liverpool who regularly come up against well-organised, rigid teams.
Last season, the Reds struggled to prevent counter-attacks. They were exposed in transition in countless matches and it was one of the biggest factors in why they finished outside of the top four.
Lavia would go some way to fixing that problem.
The Opta Comparison Tool paints a picture of a player by putting their output into a radar. This is very accurate for Lavia. He doesn’t impact the final third much but defensively, he’s a bit of a monster. He was in the 88th percentile for possessions won and in the 54th percentile for defensive actions per 90.
He has a knack for picking the pocket of a player and starting a counter-attack, similar to peak Fabinho. Lavia wouldn’t be as busy for Liverpool as the Reds dominate the ball more than Southampton, but his contribution when not in possession could be even more important.
Transition killers in football, who are also good enough with the ball, are hard to come by. Lavia has all of the ability and an abundance of potential to develop into one of the best in the world.