In Focus: How Liverpool can replace Wijnaldum
There’s still a Gini Wijnaldum-shaped void in the Liverpool squad and the Reds’ pre-season gets underway on Monday.
Jurgen Klopp’s men have been linked with a host of midfielders in recent weeks but are yet to bring one in and defender Ibrahima Konate remains their only summer addition.
With the European Championship and Copa America coming to an end this week, the transfer market is about to pick up.
Ahead of what is sure to be a busy period for signings, we take a look at five of the names reportedly on the Merseysiders’ hit list.
Almost four years ago to the day, Saul Niguez penned a nine-year contract with Atletico Madrid in a bid to fend off interest from Manchester United, Chelsea and Barcelona.
A lot has changed since then.
The 26-year-old has fallen down the pecking order and started just 22 times last season as Atleti claimed the LaLiga title.
On the surface, Saul does not seem like a Liverpool signing.
He is already into his prime years, he has never played in England and he would cost a small fortune, with his price tag believed to be north of £50million.
However, it is rare to find a player as versatile as Saul. That is what may make him an attractive option to those at Anfield.
Klopp prefers to work with a smaller squad and multifunctional players like the Spain international are integral to that.
While £50m for a midfielder may seem steep, paying that fee for a man capable of playing practically everywhere is not.
Renato Sanches caught the eye for Portugal after replacing Bruno Fernandes in the starting line-up for a vital clash against France at Euro 2020.
The Lille maestro has rebuilt his career after a disappointing spell with Bayern Munich and is believed to be available for around the £35m mark this summer, with the Ligue 1 champions set to cash in on their success.
On his day, the 23-year-old is a whirlwind in the middle third.
He is in the 90th percentile for midfielders across Europe’s top five leagues for progressive passes (6.65), progressive carries (7.75) and dribbles completed (2.54) per 90 minutes.
The one-time Benfica youngster also ranks in the 85th percentile for non-penalty expected goals and assists (0.24), shot-creating actions (2.89) and passes attempted (67.34) per 90.
There is, of course, a sizeable elephant in the room when it comes to discussing Sanches — his injury record.
He started just 14 games last season in Ligue 1 and has missed 26 matches across the two seasons he has been with Lille.
A standout performer for Italy at the European Championship, Nicolo Barella was also a key cog in Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan side last season.
The Nerazzurri won the Scudetto, ending Juventus’ monopoly in Italy and the 24-year-old appeared in 36 of the 38 matches in Serie A, catching the eye with his high work rate.
According to reports in Italy, Liverpool are keeping tabs on the diminutive dynamo.
He would not be a direct replacement for Wijnaldum, with Barella being a lot more ball-orientated.
His actions tend to be quantifiable whereas the Dutchman did a lot of his best work as a facilitator for others. Though, as shown in the radar above, some areas of their output are similar.
Wijnaldum was not a midfielder when he signed for Liverpool.
He had been deployed as an attacking player throughout his career prior to the switch to Merseyside, with the recruitment team at Anfield realising he had the ideal profile to play in the middle third in a Klopp team.
Maybe his replacement will go through a similar transformation. This is where Christoph Baumgartner comes in.
The versatile Austrian has played a number of roles for Hoffenheim, even filling in at centre midfield on occasion.
The 21-year-old is a goal threat, racking up a non-penalty expected goal average of 0.21 in the Bundesliga last season.
However, the 14-cap international really excels when it comes to defensive numbers. He is in the 85th percentile for pressures (21.52), tackles (1.97), blocks (1.68) and aerial duels won (2.45) per 90.
John McGinn ticks a lot of boxes for Liverpool — the Aston Villa man is proven in the Premier League, fairly robust and a grafter.
Back in June, it was revealed Klopp was an admirer of the Scotland international. But it is believed Aston Villa are in no rush to sell the 26-year-old.
If Liverpool want him, they will have to pay up and £50m is the mooted fee.
The former Hibernian man is a more attacking version of Wijnaldum and ranks well when it comes to dribbles and shot-creating actions.
He could be the ideal signing to fill Liverpool’s midfield hole.