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Ryan Baldi: Five signings that could rescue Liverpool’s title challenge

January 6, 2022January 18th, 2022

Last weekend’s thrilling 2-2 draw between Chelsea and Liverpool produced some of the most entertaining football of the 2021-22 season so far, but it ultimately did little for the title hopes of either side.

The Stamford Bridge stalemate left Liverpool 11 points adrift of league leaders Manchester City – albeit with a game in hand – and without a win in their last three fixtures.

The signs were there in December’s draw with Tottenham and defeat to Leicester, but the costliness of Liverpool’s inability to control games in midfield was laid bare against Chelsea as they surrendered a 2-0 lead in the first half.

Injuries and Covid have hit the Reds hard of late, depleting Jurgen Klopp’s options. Thiago Alcantara is currently ruled out, Fabinho is working his way back to form and fitness and captain Jordan Henderson has been off the pace.

Liverpool have been relatively frugal in recent transfer windows, but if they are looking to address their midfield misgivings this month, here are five suitable targets.

TRANSFER MARKETS

Denis Zakaria

Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and Paulo Dybala headline a list of superstars who are set to be out of contract come summer, but it is the expiring deal of Borussia Monchengladbach’s Denis Zakaria that is catching the eye of clubs around Europe this month.

The Swiss international is in his fifth season with Gladbach – after joining from Young Boys in his homeland – and the midfielder has steadily developed into one of the Bundesliga’s best in his position.

Zakaria is an outstanding ball-winner who recovers possession more through his well-honed anticipation and positioning than with tough tackling, ranking in the 87th percentile among all central midfielders in Europe’s five major leagues for interceptions per 90 minutes (2.19) and the 89th percentile for blocks per 90 (2.12), according to FBref.com.

At a towering 6ft 3, he is robust and imposing, but he doesn’t lack for technical skill, possessing a reliable short-passing game and the ability to dribble out of pressure when necessary.

German publication SportBild suggest Zakaria’s dwindling contract could mean he’s available for as little as £6 million in the January window.

Amadou Haidara

RB Leipzig midfielder Amadou Haidara is believed to be Manchester United’s top January target, owing to temporary Old Trafford boss Ralf Rangnick’s connection to the German side. But the gifted young Malian has the ideal skillset to complement the midfield options already at Klopp’s disposal, should Liverpool fancy swooping for their rivals’ wanted man.

Haidara joined Red Bull Salzburg as a teen and, after impressing in Austria, was moved on to the drinks manufacturers’ Bundesliga outfit in 2019. He has the pedigree of Champions League experience and three seasons in the upper echelons of Germany’s top flight, while still having his best years ahead of him.

Comfortable either in a box-to-box role or as a defence-shielding No.6, Haidara reliably provides energy, discipline and technical quality in the middle of the park. It’s easy to envisage the 23-year-old augmenting the ballast of Fabinho in Liverpool’s middle third and complementing the grace and cunning of Thiago.

And, with a £33 million release clause in his RB Leipzig contract, Haidara wouldn’t break the bank.

Ibrahim Sangare

Previously a reported target for Arsenal and Tottenham, Ivory Coast international Ibrahim Sangare has been shining in the Eredivisie with PSV this season.

The 6ft 3 midfielder rose to prominence with Toulouse, playing three full seasons in the French side’s first team and standing out for his ball-winning skills and composure.

Since moving to PSV in the summer of 2020, the 23-year-old has improved his ball retention and become more confident in possession, posting career-best per-90 averages this season for dribbles completed (2.1), while the three goals he has notched already this term represents a single-season high.

He was recently named Eredivisie Player of the Month for November, ranking highest among the Dutch league’s midfielders in that period with successful passes.

“Ibrahim is a top midfielder, because he is good without the ball and on the ball,” said PSV boss Roger Schmidt. “He is also reliable, strong in duels. He has everything a central midfielder needs.”

With his youth, further development potential and the benefit of having steadily progressed throughout his career to date in terms of responsibility and level of play, Sangare ticks the boxes as a realistic and attainable January target for Liverpool.

KESSIE NEXT CLUB

Franck Kessie

AC Milan’s Franck Kessie, an Ivory Coast colleague of Sangare’s, is the subject of transfer speculation this month owing to the fact his contract at the San Siro is set to expire at the end of the season.

Having broken though at Atalanta – one of Italy’s most prolific developers of talent – as a teenager, Kessie has the experience of six full Serie A seasons under his belt, despite still being just 25 years old. He has long been regarded as one of the Italian top flight’s most formidable midfielders for his physicality and driving quality on the ball.

At his best as a box-to-box operator, Kessie’s precision from the penalty spot and ability to break forward into the opposition’s box brought a career-high return of 14 goals last term.

A likely bargain option due to his contract status, Kessie has the quality and experience to bolster Klopp’s midfield options.

Mohamed Camara

Red Bull Salzburg youngster Mohamed Camara has been one of the standout performers in the Austrian side’s stellar Champions League campaign this season.

The 21-year-old defensive midfielder showed a positional awareness beyond his tender years in helping Salzburg escape a group containing Sevilla, Wolfsburg and French champions Lille to set up a last-16 tie with Bayern Munich next month.

He was especially impressive in September’s 1-1 draw in Seville, making six ball recoveries to keep the La Liga side at bay, as well as displaying impressive composure and an ability to play through pressure, completing two dribbles and finishing with a 91 per cent pass accuracy.

Camara could serve as the ideal apprentice and back-up to Fabinho in the deepest role within Liverpool’s midfield, or even play alongside the Brazilian in games Klopp earmarks for extra defensive security.