Liverpool Problem Positions Part III — backup needed for Sadio Mané?

Sadio Mané arrived at Anfield as Jürgen Klopp’s first marquee signing in the summer of 2016 for a fee of £34m from Southampton. Since then, the No.10 has helped Liverpool to challenge for the Premier League once again, forming part of what is widely considered Europe’s most dangerous front three.

The Senegalese hitman has helped the Reds reclaim their UEFA Champions League crown, win the UEFA Super Cup and emerge victorious in FIFA’s World Club Championship. Moreover, the tricky winger is well on his way to helping the club secure its first Premier League trophy ever and also boasts a host of individual awards.

Since joining Liverpool from the superstar breeding ground that is St. Mary’s, Mané has registered 111 goal involvements, 77 goals and 34 assists in 161 games. These numbers have seen the African winger named in the Premier League team of the year twice, win three Premier League player of the month awards, be crowned Liverpool player of the year once and win the Premier League Golden Boot, among other achievements.

It is undebatable that our starting left-winger is now one of the world’s best players. In fact, if you look throughout Liverpool’s squad, the first XI consists of some of equally high-quality players — in many cases, the Reds’ issues arise when you look at our backups.

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In certain sections of the field, Liverpool is fine regarding squad players. Positions such as central midfield are well stocked, and on both the right-wing and striker positions it can be argued that Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi respectively provide adequate cover.

Regarding Mané’s left-wing berth, however, this is not the case. Thankfully for the past two seasons, Mané has remained relatively injury-free resulting in no true need for a replacement. The times this season where we have seen Mané on the bench was mainly due to Klopp’s decision to give the speedster a rest and in his stead came the aforementioned Origi.

The Belgian is fine, a Liverpool hero by all means. A decent backup striker without a doubt. But a winger he is not.

Yes, he has done an adequate job deputising when needed. However, it is unarguable that he is far more effective in a central role and, given Liverpool’s current standing, the club needs more than ‘adequate’ when looking at squad players.

It feels somewhat inevitable that this upcoming summer transfer window will see Liverpool dip into the transfer market for some attacking cover. Timo Werner has been heavily linked and, although he has the ability to play out wide, he too is primarily a striker and it would also be boring to talk about him again — so we have identified a range of out-and-out wingers that could bring something extra to the Reds’ attack.

Leon Bailey — Bayer 04 Leverkusen

Leon Bailey celebrates his goal for the lead during a Bundesliga match between Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen. Photo: Jörg Schüler/Getty Images

Jamaica international Leon Bailey has been dubbed ‘the next big thing’ for years. Plying his trade in the Bundesliga since January 2017, Bailey is a rapid winger who, prior to joining Leverkusen, was heavily linked with both Manchester United and Chelsea.

Despite having been around seemingly forever, Bailey remains young and full of potential at only 22 years of age.

The winger, who has both UEFA Champions League and Europa League experience, has 37 goal involvements, 24 goals and 13 assists in 105 appearances for Die Werkself and resembles Mané during his time with Southampton.

Undoubtedly with more ability yet to be unlocked and given his style of play, Bailey could easily slot into this Liverpool side and is not yet at a level where he would definitely refuse a rotational role at Anfield. Moreover, as Mané’s understudy, the Jamaican could learn from watching and training with one of the very best with a view to potentially replacing our No.10 in the future.

Thorgan Hazard — Borussia Dortmund

Thorgan Hazard celebrates after scoring his side’s third goal during the Bundesliga match between Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke 04 at Signal Iduna Park on May 16. Photo: Martin Meissner/Pool via Getty Images

Belgian international Thorgan Hazard, brother of Real Madrid man Eden, again fits the same mould as Bailey in the sense that he may accept a rotational role at Liverpool, with a view to more regular playing time in the future.

He is an ideal candidate to play backup to the Liverpool wingers. Not blessed with great pace like Mané or Bailey, Hazard is a great technician who likes to drift inside and roam freely in attack.

The Belgian, formerly of Borussia Mönchengladbach until earlier this season where he signed a five-year deal with Dortmund,  is having a better season than his brother and has racked up six goals and 12 assists for BVB this campaign as they look to challenge Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga title.

Due to the recency regarding his move to Signal Iduna Park, it is unlikely that a deal to bring him to Anfield will be cheap — here’s hoping for a somewhat reasonable release clause.

Aside from his ability, Hazard is one of many young prospects signed and then sold by Chelsea. If fellow rejects Mohamed Salah, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne are anything to go by, then Thorgan Hazard could make for a quality player to have in any squad.

Iker Muniain — Athletic Bilbao

Iker Muniain celebrates after scoring a during the league match between Athletic Club and Levante at San Mamés on November 10. Photo: Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Similarly to Thorgan Hazard, Muniain is a far from a speedster and is already 27. A technician and a dribbler, the Bilbao captain was made in a similar mould to a Philippe Coutinho. However the Spaniard, who can play in an advanced midfield role, is far more at home playing on the left wing.

Aside from being a Liverpool fan, I myself am an avid Bilbao supporter and to see our captain sold would be far from ideal, but, looking at this objectively, the move would make sense for both Liverpool and the player himself.

A Bilbao player for his entire professional career, Muniain has 101 goal involvements, 59 goals and 42 assists, in 413 appearances for the Basque outfit. The little Spaniard also brings experience of European football and the ability to lead a team, something arguably lacking within Liverpool’s reserve ranks.

There are two caveats with this potential deal however. Liverpool are unlike most clubs in world football, there is something different about Anfield and the club in general, whether it be the history, the aura or the fans, something makes Liverpool stand out. The same can be said for Athletic Bilbao.

Only signing players from the Basque area, budding footballers in the region grow up with the goal of playing for Bilbao knowing full well it is likely they wont win much in the process. However, the honour of playing for the club can be seen as a trophy in of itself.

Not only has Muniain accomplished that dream, he is now the captain of his hometown side, much like Steven Gerrard was to Liverpool. Yes, there are many examples of players that leave Bilbao for pastures new, but there is also a long list of players who stay at the San Mamés.

Aside from the possibility that Muniain might not want to leave Los Leones, there is the non-negotiable issue that is Athletic Bilbao and the selling of their players. Plain and simple, the club doesn’t budge — it doesn’t need to. Bilbao are well run and in no financial trouble whatsoever, giving the club the high ground regarding negotiations.

They set a price and either you match it or you leave. Depending on the price they set for their captain — which wont be cheap — factors into whether or not Muniain even has a decision to make.

Milot Rashica — Werder Bremen

Milot Rashica celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal during the Bundesliga match between Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen at Allianz Arena on December 14, 2019. Photo: TF-Images/Getty Images

Here’s a player we’ve heard so much about already.

We’ve heard that he’s joining, we’ve heard of cooled interest and we’ve also heard that we are front runners for his signature. It’s impossible to know what to believe anymore, but what we do know is that Rashica, much like Bailey, could be an ideal backup to Mané who at some point could take over his starting birth.

The 23-year-old Kosovo international, who has also represented Albania, joined Werder Bremen in January 2018 and has gone from strength to strength during his time in the Bundesliga.

Small and rapid, the tricky winger has the ability to play as a ‘No.9’ but is far more comfortable on the left in a front three — ideal for how Liverpool generally play under Jürgen Klopp.

A tally of 23 goals and 11 assists in 64 games for the German outfit has seen the 23-year-old register a goal involvement every other game. Depsite his clear superstar potential, he could be available on a cut price at the end of the season due to the threat of Bremen being relegated.

Similarly to Bailey, Rashica may well be open to a rotational role at Anfield, and could use his time under Klopp to learn and develop his game as was done with both Mané and Mohamed Salah.

Moreover, Klopp has shown a unique ability to transform relegated players into world-beaters, so this would definitely fit his criteria.

Allan Saint-Maximin — Newcastle United

Allan Saint-Maximin celebrates his goal during the Premier League match between Southampton and Newcastle United at St Mary’s on March 7. Photo: Jon Bromley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This is potentially the most unlikely of the lot given Newcastle’s latest investment and the project that will no doubt be built around pacy hitman Saint-Maximin. However, this is the one basket I would put all my eggs into despite him being in the Premier League for less than a season.

He is chaos. He gets the ball and you can see any opposition player around him get visibly scared. He’s rapid, tricky and unpredictable, so much so I’m pretty certain even he doesn’t know what he is going to do next.

If I had to describe him in one word other than chaos it would be ‘raw’. Above I stated that Bailey resembles Mané at Southampton — Saint-Maximin looks to be a young carbon copy of our Senegalese winger.

Signed by Newcastle back in August for a fee of £16.2m, the Frenchman, who has had his injury troubles, has scored three and assisted four in 21 appearances for the Geordie outfit. Hardly outstanding numbers, but you need to look in between the stats to realise his brilliance.

He is a scary player to defend against due to a deadly combination of pace, dribbling ability and unpredictability. Unlike most players however, Saint-Maximin doesn’t need just speed to utilise his tools — the tricky winger is adept at working in tight spaces which could prove to be more than useful given the fact that more and more teams are cutting off space and lining up in a low block against the Reds.

Saint-Maximin would more than likely agree to a rotational role under Mané and I can confidently say that, with a few seasons under his belt learning from both Klopp and our No.10, he could potentially be the future of Liverpool’s left-wing for years to come.

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Matthew Ramirez

Podcast regular and match reporter. Gibraltarian of many opinions and defender of Jordan Henderson.

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