Considered by many a club legend, Georginio Wijnaldum has left Liverpool after five years at the club on a free transfer to French giants Paris Saint-Germain.
The former Newcastle man has had a big impact at Liverpool including big goals in huge games – like his brace in the Champions League semi final against Barcelona – and his leadership in the dressing room.
Nobody made more appearances than Wijnaldum in the Premier League for Liverpool last season. With that in mind, many fans will be wondering how the Reds are going to fill that Gini-shaped void.
Here are three potential midfield replacements that Liverpool could be potentially targeting to replace the Dutchman.
Manuel LocatelliEmbed from Getty Images
Manuel Locatelli is an Italian international midfielder who plays for Sassuolo. The Italian has come to International attention after his excellent performances in Italy’s opening matches at Euro 2020. Fans of Italian football, however, know that these performances happen frequently for Sassuolo with Locatelli being one of the stand out midfield performers under Roberto De Zerbi this season.
The Lombardy-born midfielder started in Atalanta’s youth academy before he moved to boyhood club AC Milan at the age of 11. He made his professional debut with the Rossoneri against Carpi in 2016 as an 87th minute substitute and played with the five-time European champions for a further two seasons.
Locatelli joined Sassuolo on loan in the 2018/19 season, before later making the switch permanent in the summer of 2019 for a €14m fee. His impressive performances for the Neroverdi earned him his first international call up for Italy in September 2020.
How does he fit Liverpool’s needs?
One of Wijnaldum’s biggest assets was his ability to stay fit and play a part in long periods of the season becoming one of Jürgen Klopp’s most important men across his time at the club. Locatelli has been able to build up this same longevity in his time at Sassuolo – he played 34 times in Serie A last season and clocked 2,833 minutes of playing time, just 108 minutes fewer than Wijnaldum.
Sassuolo are a team very quick in transition, moving the ball from back to front quickly in attack; Locatelli is instrumental to this. One of the best progressive passers in Europe, the Italian averages 7.58 progressive passers per 90 minutes which ranks in the top 2pc of midfielders in Europe.
Passing is the 23-year-old’s key asset. He attempts 84.75 passes per 90 and completes 74.49 per 90 – both numbers which are in the top 3pc of midfielders in Europe, and all of which outweigh Wijnaldum’s passing numbers.
Watching Liverpool weekly, fans of the club know that teams normally set up against Klopp’s men with a defensive low block to constrict space and prevent balls being played in behind. Locatelli’s passing ability would be a vital asset in order to be able to play splitting passes from his preferred deeper position to break teams down who will largely operate within their defensive third.
Wijnaldum was often renowned for opting for a more reserved position in Liverpool’s midfield allowing for Robertson to get up and down the left flank with his job being to fill in any spaces which may be left by the Scotsman’s marauding runs forward. Locatelli’s tendency to play deep, operating as a defensive midfielder at club level, could mean that he would be an ideal fit to play this role whilst adding further ability to break teams down in transition and attacking phases.
Locatelli also has a higher defensive output than Wijnaldum but this is expected in a team that spends less time in possession and more time in defensive phases of play. It’s a positive attribute to have nonetheless.
Locatelli has come into the spotlight in recent weeks due to his performances for Italy at Euro 2020, notably against Switzerland when the Sassuolo man scored a brace in a 3-0 win. This goalscoring ability has also been noted with his club form this season, scoring four goals from defensive midfield – an attribute Liverpool lack with Wijnaldum being the club’s biggest source of goals in midfield.
With reports stating that the Italian could be available for just £26m and with an impressive skillset that seems to fit the mould Liverpool are desiring in midfield, Locatelli appears to be an ideal buy for Liverpool’s midfield.
Houssem AouarEmbed from Getty Images
Olympique Lyonnais’ Houssem Aouar has been known as one of the most sought after midfielders in Europe, ever since he made his Lyon debut against AZ Alkmaar in 2017.
His impressive performances across his five seasons at OL, making 127 league appearances, have seen him rumoured with Europe’s elite including Liverpool in recent years. The Frenchman has been one of the best watches Ligue 1 has had to offer in recent seasons.
Lyon born, Aouar came through the academy at his boyhood club as one of the most exciting products from an academy which has modelled names like Karim Benzema and former Liverpool target Nabil Fékir. The 22-year-old has been a regular feature in Les Bleus’ u21 squad, earning 15 caps and scoring four goals. The Frenchman’s stellar performances couldn’t escape the attentions of Didier Deschamps for much longer and Aouar was rewarded with his first cap for France against Ukraine, assisting twice in a 7-1 victory.
How does he fit Liverpool’s needs?
Put simply, he would add a different dimension to Liverpool’s midfield. An element of Aouar’s game has always been goals – shown with his expected goals reaching 10 this season. His actual tally amounted to seven which shows there’s improvement to be made in the finishing department on what is already an impressive total from midfield.
Aouar’s goalscoring record has been presented throughout his Lyon career scoring 32 times playing in the white of Les Gones. His eye for goal hasn’t prevented him being a creative force either, assisting a further 31 times in his time at Groupama Stadium – totalling an impressive 63 goal contributions from midfield in 170 appearances.
He is hard to compare with Wijnaldum as the two play different roles and Aouar’s acquisition would likely see him play in a more advanced role than what Wijnaldum played in Liverpool’s midfield. However, the Lyon man has the ability to fill a number of roles in midfield despite his transition into a more advanced role in recent years which may convince Klopp that his versatility could be a valuable asset for his midfield arsenal.
Lyon have operated in large spells this season with two attack-minded midfielders ahead of a more reserved defensive minded midfield player or with a double pivot in midfield and an attacking midfielder joining a front four. Aouar has played as an attacking midfielder, in a box-to-box role and in a wide left midfield role this season, showing his versatility. This shuffling of positions and systems hasn’t stopped him influencing things.
Aouar is one of the best midfielders in Europe at progression in midfield with his dribbling ability, something Liverpool would benefit from on the counter. The Lyon midfielder ranks in the top 1pc of midfielders in Europe for dribbles completed per 90 with 2.81 per 90 and in the top 5pc progressive carries with 8.08 per 90 – both stats that rank higher than anyone in Liverpool’s midfield apart from Naby Keïta.
This dribbling ability and willingness to get forward into advanced positions, with Aouar having 6.45 touches in the attacking penalty area per 90 – the highest number from a midfielder in Europe – could be a great tool to add to Klopp’s midfield with attack-minded players and ball carriers lacking in this area.
Aouar has had a disrupted season this season, spending spells on the sidelines with Covid-19 and injuries whilst being embroiled in constant transfer speculation which meant he wasn’t a consistent feature across the season under Rudi Garcia. Given some consistency and time away from the negotiation table, Aouar could perform at a higher level with Lyon fans believing this hasn’t been his best season despite scoring seven goals and assisting a further three.
With L’Équipe reporting Aouar could be available for €30 million this summer due to financial troubles in Ligue 1 and a need for OL to sell, Lyon’s No.8 could be the new dimension to Klopp’s midfield for a bargain price.
Renato SanchesEmbed from Getty Images
Portuguese international midfielder Renato Sanches plays for Lille. Known by many for his performances at Euro 2016 and his rather disappointing loan spell at Swansea in the Premier League, Sanches has had an excellent season in France this year as he helped Les Dogues to their first Ligue 1 title in 10 years.
The 23-year-old came through at the academy of his boyhood club Benfica and quickly became a first team regular. His impressive start saw him called up to Euro 2016 where he lit up the tournament on the way to Portugal lifting the trophy. His impressive performances saw him named young player of the tournament and land a big move to Bayern Munich. After a tricky spell in Bavaria and a loan spell in Wales, Sanches made the move to northern France and looks a player reborn.
How does he fit Liverpool’s needs?
Sanches was one of the key cogs in Christophe Galtier’s side this season which saw Lille win an unlikely league title. Despite a struggle with injuries preventing him from playing a part in the full season, his impact on the side was not limited – boasting some of the most impressive midfield stats among Europe this season.
In his 23 league appearances for Lille this season he amounted 1,270 minutes of playing time. When compared with Wijnaldum’s ability to play throughout a season this may be a cause for concern for Liverpool fans.
However, given a positive bedding-in period into the side and allowing him to grasp the style of play, Sanches could be a key asset for Liverpool’s midfield with his excellent skillset and array of abilities even if he’s not guaranteed to play every game due to fitness.
Like Aouar, Sanches is one of the best midfielders when it comes to dribbling and ball progression in midfield meaning he could be vital to Liverpool’s efforts in transition on the counter attack and against teams who like to operate in the defensive third against the Reds. The Portuguese international averages 7.75 progressive carries per 90 and is completing 2.54 dribbles per 90, numbers which put among the best in Europe and show why he is such a valuable asset to Lille’s midfield.
The former Bayern Munich man isn’t just effective at carrying the ball forward as he is also impressive at moving the ball forward too. Averaging 6.65 progressive passes per 90 and 7.28 into the final third. This overall ability to move the ball forwards is something that all teams in Europe would benefit from in transition, and the Reds are no different. Long balls are a key part of Liverpool’s game to with the blessing of pace in the forward line at their disposal. Sanches has that in his locker, completing 11.5 long balls per 90.
Chance creation is another asset of the Euro 2016 winner, and this is shown with his three assists for Lille last season. His ability to create shot openings is very impressive also, creating 2.89 shot creating actions per 90 which means his actions on the pitch result in nearly three opportunities at goal per 90 which is very impressive and his goal creating actions are even more so. The Lille midfielder is creating 0.52 goal scoring actions per 90 meaning his play is resulting in over a goal every two matches which is an incredible luxury to have on the pitch.
Concerns may arise at the defensive side of Sanches’ game with that not being his strong point, but when paired with an out-and-out defensive midfielder like Benjamin André at Lille he thrives. At Liverpool if he were to be paired with two midfielders like Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Considering Wijnaldum’s role for Liverpool, Sanches may not be the obvious choice but he would add a completely new dimension into the Reds’ midfield. Given his market value of £27m, Sanches could be a great purchase for Klopp and Liverpool to replace the Dutchman.
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