The sales of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho were unexpected, and despite the importance of both players at Anfield, their departures should be seen as a positive. Henderson may have been an important leader, but the 33-year-old had certainly lost a step. Despite his workout regime and new-look physique, Henderson may have seen his minutes curbed in 2023-24.
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Fabinho was coming off his worst season in a Liverpool shirt. Getting £40 million for the defensive midfielder should be seen as an unexpected stroke of good fortune. Fabinho fetched Liverpool’s largest transfer sale price since Philippe Coutinho was sold to Barcelona in 2018 for £142m.
Getting £52 million for the ageing pair of midfielders was a brilliant piece of business. Now, Liverpool need to reinvest the money to acquire a new defensive midfielder, a specialist No 6.
Does Liverpool really need another midfielder?
On the surface, the Reds need to add to their corps of midfield players. This offseason has seen five midfielders leave the club on a free transfer or transfer sale. Liverpool saw the departures of Naby Keita, James Milner, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to go along with Fabinho and Henderson.
Official, confirmed. Fabinho to Al Ittihad, deal completed until June 2026 🟡⚫️🇸🇦 pic.twitter.com/ovM9giODsU
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) July 31, 2023
The club has added Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister already, and another midfielder could be added. Liverpool need another centre-back but that position may have to wait for next summer – or January at the earliest.
Jurgen Klopp’s current midfield options include the two new signings along with Thiago, Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott, and Stefan Bajcetic. Cody Gakpo has slotted into midfield in preseason at times to fill the void and can play there if push comes to shove.
Midfielder Tyler Morton was expected to fight for a place in the team this season, but so far, he has spent the summer rehabbing an injury. There is the possibility of Trent Alexander-Arnold playing in midfield. The new Liverpool vice-captain has played as a No 6 in preseason, but his future in the position may depend on whether Conor Bradley or Joe Gomez can adequately play right-back.
With just six midfielders currently fit, Klopp’s options are limited. Thiago’s poor fitness record for Liverpool should worry the club. Thiago appeared in just 18 Premier League matches last season. He missed the final six fixtures in a stop-start campaign due to a leg injury. Another midfielder is paramount for Klopp if the team is going to fight for a top-four place.
Which midfielder could Liverpool sign?
Liverpool have already had two transfer bids rejected by Southampton for teenager Romeo Lavia. The Reds initially offered £34m plus £4 in add-ons. Lavia has four years left on his contract, meaning Southampton do not need to sell him. The Saints are currently holding out for £50m, which would wipe out nearly all the money Liverpool earned from the sales of Henderson and Fabinho.
Jordan Henderson joins Al Ettifaq on 3 year contract — official, confirmed 🇸🇦 pic.twitter.com/UlQyxIrbGn
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) July 27, 2023
The biggest knock on the former Manchester City academy player is his lack of first-team experience. Lavia has made just 36 senior appearances. Last season, he had a breakout campaign, playing 29 Premier League matches for the Saints.
Lavia averaged 2.43 tackles, 1.34 interceptions, an 86.2% pass success rate, and 1.13 successful take-ons per 90 minutes. Signing the 19-year-old would help Liverpool transform the squad into a younger side. Szboszlai and McAllister have already helped the squad get younger combined with the exits of Milner, Fabinho, and Henderson.
By the end of last season, Liverpool’s starting XI had an average age of 27.3 years old. It was the fourth oldest starting XI in the Premier League.
Lavia isn’t the only midfield option for Liverpool. He ticks many of the boxes Liverpool look for and would fit in well with Klopp’s style of play. But alternatives exist and one could be at Elland Road.
A case for Tyler Adams
Leeds United midfielder Tyler Adams will surely seek a move away from Elland Road after the club’s relegation last season. Chelsea and Newcastle are rumoured as possible destinations for the United States international. While Adams showed some weaknesses in the Premier League, he was still Leeds’ best player by a country mile. Signed for just £20m from RB Leipzig, Adams excelled early and often for a team that struggled in nearly all areas on the pitch.
Adams averaged 3.72 tackles, 1.46 interceptions, 1.21 clearances, and 1.04 aerials won per 90 minutes. He also averaged an 82.5% pass success rate per game. Adams was a hunter in midfield, capable of tracking down the ball and winning possession.
Despite an injury cutting Adams’ season short, he still appeared in 24 matches for the Whites. He compares favourably to Lavia in several categories, including tackles and interceptions. At Liverpool, both players would be tasked with winning the ball and starting attacks, playing at the base of the midfield three and protecting the back four.
Adams has been labelled as “bright” and a “tackling machine”. With Chelsea and Newcastle seeking his signature, the Reds may need to act fast. Adams would come at a fraction of the price of Lavia and could be the ideal alternative.
Liverpool must avoid another Arthur Melo mistake
The Reds were linked with Cheick Doucoure until Crystal Palace asked for £70m for the defensive midfielder. Doucoure, like Lavia, ticks a lot of the attributes Liverpool look for in a defensive midfielder. Crystal Palace know just how important Doucoure is to holding their midfield together and weren’t willing to let him go for cheap.
Liverpool will start the Premier League season away to Chelsea on August 13. With just six fit midfielders available right now, the Reds look extremely light in the middle of the park. A loss on opening day to Chelsea would be a major setback for a team with high expectations for 2023-24.
Liverpool were forced to sign Arthur Melo on loan near the end of the transfer window 12 months ago. Klopp will hope to avoid a similar situation this summer after Arthur failed to make an impact at Anfield. The young talent in the Liverpool midfield is strong, but one injury to the corps of midfielders could force Klopp to play Gakpo in midfield rather than in attack. It could also force further shake ups or inexperienced kids being thrust into the team. It worked for Bajcetic last season but it may not work with another academy player this time around.
The departures of Henderson and Fabinho could work out for the club in the long run. But trying to sign the ideal defensive midfielder this summer looks complicated. There are players available, but it will depend on how much Liverpool can afford and if they are willing to pivot from Lavia.