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But in reality—and this will come as a huge dose of that after the previous weekend’s 4-1 hammering of West Bromwich Albion—this was another display, after the loss to Southampton a couple of months ago, that highlighted the deficiencies in the current Liverpool setup.
Besides the sheer class and quality in the Arsenal midfield ranks (with Mesut Ozil providing a premium addition to the likes of Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky and the ever-improving Aaron Ramsey), we saw at the Emirates Stadium the clear lack of steel, poise and presence in the Liverpool midfield.
So, in coming up with a January transfer wish list for Liverpool, we consider the midfield issue and have drawn up a list of eight midfielders that Brendan Rodgers et al should be looking at. Let us know your comments and suggestions in the comments below.
The Essential: Maxime Gonalons
Back in July, Maxime Gonalons decided to stay at Olympique Lyonnais after being linked with a £10 million move to Arsenal, according to the Daily Mail.
If Arsene Wenger’s storied record of successful signings from France weren’t a good enough reason in itself already, there’s also the fact that as Lyon captain, Gonalons has established himself as one of the best and brightest young players in French football.
A product of Lyon’s academy, Gonalons rose to the first team in impressive fashion. He possesses tactical and positional intelligence, as well as tidy passing, tackling and box-to-box stamina. In short: a much-needed presence in the Liverpool midfield.
It’s no surprise that, according to Goal.com, Napoli are interested in the anchorman. At £10 million, Gonalons seems too good a deal to pass up on (just like Tottenham Hotspur’s £9.8 million capture of Etienne Capoue this summer).
All of this makes Maxime Gonalons the essential target for Brendan Rodgers.
The Premium: Nemanja Matic
The defensive midfield name doing the rounds in recent headlines is Benfica’s midfield general Nemanja Matic, most recently linked with Liverpool by Ben Jefferson of the Express.
The former Chelsea starlet, signed aged 21, sent on loan to Vitesse Arnhem and then to Benfica as part of a £21 million swap deal for center back David Luiz, has developed impressively at his current club, winning the Portuguese Primeira Liga Player of the Year award for the 2012/13 season.
The physically formidable midfield destroyer is quick and accurate in the tackle and would add steel to the Reds’ spine.
The Alternative: Blaise Matuidi
£38 million Matic too expensive? Not to worry, for Brendan Rodgers has two great alternative options staring right at him.
The first is Paris St. Germain’s Blaise Matuidi, who has dominated opposing midfields in a PSG shirt for two brilliant seasons. A deep-lying midfielder, Matuidi is an all-round defensive midfielder with strong tackling ability and a creative knack going forward.
His performances in France have attracted interest from abroad, and this has only been exacerbated by his contract situation at the French capital club: His contract runs out in the summer of 2014, and according to the Independent, Premier League powerhouses Chelsea and Manchester City are already preparing pre-contract offers for Matuidi in January.
But with a little ambition and nothing to lose, Rodgers could, and should, enter the fray and change the landscape by opening the bidding with a transfer fee in January. It wouldn’t be the worst decision he’s ever made.
The Steal: Fernando Reges
The second alternative option also has a contract that runs out next summer and is also a powerful defensive midfielder.
The man in question is FC Porto’s Fernando Reges, who incidentally was linked with a move to Liverpool back in 2011 for a fee of £17 million, according to the Daily Mail.
He’s slightly slipped off the radar since but was strongly linked with a move to Liverpool’s cross-town rivals, Everton, toward the very end of the summer transfer window this year, according to the Mirror.
The deal eventually fell through, leaving his club with a tricky contract situation on its hands—and potentially opening the door for Rodgers to swoop in for a cut-price fee in January for what would certainly be a top-class addition to his first-team squad.
The Rough Diamond: Yann M’Vila
By the time January rolls around, it will be a year since Yann M’Vila, previously one of French football’s very finest prospects, surprised all onlookers with a move to Russian club Rubin Kazan.
Blessed with passing ability and superb vision, M’Vila also has stamina, work rate and a mean tackle to boot, making him an ideal defensive midfielder in the Premier League. Indeed, if this BBC Sport report is accurate, M’Vila was close to signing for Everton last January and was also targeted by Queens Park Rangers, then still fighting for survival in the Premier League.
According to a report on the FIFA website, then-club manager Frederic Antonetti had this to say about him back in 2011: “He reads the game like Claude Makelele, has the presence of Patrick Vieira and can pass the ball like Yaya Toure.”
Unfortunately, he’s courted controversy with his antics off the field—his period in the national team ended after an unauthorized night out while with the U21 squad—and has been criticized for his outspokenness and attitude.
But with news that Everton are again in the frame, according to Ben Jefferson’s article in the Express, Liverpool would do well to fend off interest from their Merseyside rivals and bring M’Vila in. Given Rodgers’ man-management ability, this would be a good chance for a young prospect to fulfill his undoubted potential.
The Prospect: Will Hughes
Moving away from the defensive midfield (finally) and onto more attacking players, we come across that name on everyone’s lips when it comes to Liverpool and January signings: Derby County’s Will Hughes.
A central midfielder who is technically proficient, adept at dribbling and has an eye for a pass, Hughes has, according to this Telegraph report by John Percy, attracted the attentions of many a top Premier League club, including Liverpool.
Such is the air of resignation that Hughes will eventually leave Derby that manager Steve McClaren conceded that he will eventually “be too good,” but the Rams are still looking to keep him at Pride Park for the rest of the season.
Rodgers may well put that to the test with a bid in January for England’s next midfield hope, but would in all probability need to beat tough competition to succeed.
The Luxury: Javier Pastore
As Brendan Rodgers tries to solve his midfield conundrum and fit Philippe Coutinho into an advanced midfield duo—a system that worked well against West Brom—instead of a solitary No. 10—Coutinho’s customary position—a rumor has arisen that would represent a luxurious addition to the Reds first team.
Javier Pastore was the marquee signing to show that the new owners at PSG meant business: His £30 million capture from Italian club Palermo sent shockwaves around Europe and suggested that PSG might be a new player in the super-club class.
After scoring 17 goals in 66 Ligue 1 matches, Pastore finds himself out of the weekly starting XI as PSG’s revolution continues, and he has duly been linked with a £17 million move to Anfield, according to the Metro‘s Jamie Sanderson.
An attacking midfielder with an eye for goal and exciting creativity, Pastore would be the big-name signing craved at Anfield—but not the final piece in the Liverpool puzzle.
The Dream: Juan Mata
Nothing can excite the Liverpool crowd enough at the moment, however, than the mouthwatering prospect of Juan Mata at Anfield, far-fetched though it may be.
Sitting out of Jose Mourinho’s first team in Chelsea’s first few games this season was enough to see Mata heavily linked with a shock loan move to Liverpool this summer, as reported by the Express, but it was enough to send minds and imaginations soaring.
As long as headlines like this from the Daily Star continue to do the rounds, Liverpool fans won’t stop dreaming of a Mata arrival at Anfield.
And who could blame them? Mata wouldn’t solve the central midfield problems at Liverpool, but he could be the Reds’ own Mesut Ozil-esque ground-shaker.
This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.