Liverpool fans have fallen into meltdown recently over a 24-year-old Armenian midfielder who eventually opted for Borussia Dortmund over the Reds after a long and complicated transfer saga.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, a man many of us had not watched extensively before rumours arose linking him with Liverpool, had fans’ mouths watering with delight as the tantalising prospect of Coutinho, Sturridge, Suarez and Mkhitaryan in a front four briefly seemed like becoming a reality.
Unfortunately he has since been announced as a signing for Champions League runners up Borussia Dortmund, as Henrikh was pictured posing with Jurgen Klopp. This left some bitterly disappointed, particularly those who had gone to the effort of learning how to both pronounce and spell his name.
Kopites shouldn’t lose sleep over us missing out on him though.
Firstly, it is questionable as to whether Mkhitaryan is truly worth the £20-25 million fee that Shakthar Donetsk demanded when you consider that Real Madrid signed Spanish talent Isco for £23 million.
Three years younger than Mkhitaryan, Isco has longer to prove his worth and exemplified his talent amongst his impressive peers at the recent U21 European Championships and also in the Champions League last season, putting in several stand-out displays for Malaga.
Furthermore, other targets much cheaper than Henrikh can possibly be acquired. Liverpool have so far shown that finance is not an issue, especially as our current net spend comes to almost nothing after we received £15 million for Andy Carroll, £6 million for Jonjo Shelvey and have more departures on the way in the form of Jay Spearing and others.
This, therefore, leaves approximately £20-25 million plus any more money made from future sales.
Mkhitaryan has evident ability, scoring 25 goals in one season in the Ukranian Premier League is an example of that, especially considering this was a tally from an attacking midfielder and not a striker.
Some although, have suggested that the Ukranian Premier League is too dissimilar to the challenge of the English Premier League.
Mkhitaryan’s disappointing Champions League tally of two goals and zero assists in 1992 minutes in the UCL overall suggests he may possibly not be up to the task of more competitive, fast-paced European football.
In contrast, Christian Eriksen’s tally of two goals and seven assists in only 1307 Champions League minutes. Eriksen could also arguably be bought for almost half Mkhitaryan’s fee.
Dortmund forked out approximately £24.4 million but we would have reportedly had to pay more (nearer £25m) because of complications with ownership in that Shakhtar Donetsk did not have full ownership of the player with both Oleg Mkrtchyan and Ruben Hayrapetyan owning 25% of his ownership rights.
This ownership split would however be banned in the Premier League. To secure the signature of Eriksen, Liverpool would only have to spend around £12-15 million which would allow for extra funds towards a major central defensive coup.
There are several viable alternatives to Mkhitaryan, with 21-year-old Dane, whom I have already mentioned, one who has been earmarked amongst Liverpool’s social networking fan base.
Eriksen’s contract with Ajax is due to expire next June and the player would therefore be available for slightly reduced terms. Eriksen’s tally last season was impressive as he totalled 33 Eredivisie appearances for Ajax last season, scoring 10 goals and grabbing 17 assists.
A potential makeweight in acquiring Eriksen’s services could be the offering of Oussama Assaidi, who Ajax rivalled for his signature before Liverpool completed a £2.4 million deal with Heerenveen.
Liverpool could sweeten the deal by offering the Moroccan either on loan, or in a swap deal to lower the overall fee needed, however this is an uncertainty and would be unlikely to happen.
Fellow Danish international Daniel Agger could have a role to play in persuading Eriksen to make the move though, should Liverpool choose to follow up any potential interest in him.
Agger recently spoke very highly of Eriksen – the Danish centre-half told Jyllands-Posten: “We want to play attacking football with the ball on the ground and that is exactly what Christian Eriksen is all about.
“That is the kind of player we need.”
Asked if the 21-year-old playmaker could shine in England, Agger added: “It all depends on which team he plays for.
“If he plays for a team who want to keep the ball on the ground, then the answer is yes – due to his passing, his runs and his hard work.”
Eriksen had recently flirted with the idea of joining Dortmund himself, but their €40 million spending on Mkhitaryan, Werder Bremen’s Sokratis and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang seems to have ruled out a move, opening the door for Liverpool to make an offer.
A potential replacement for Mkhitaryan is Jorginho, a Brazilian-born Italian who plays for Verona. Liverpool have reportedly lodged a £7 million bid for the 21-year-old, according to reports.
Like Eriksen, he is technically gifted, and fits into Liverpool’s recent buying policy of investing in young talent. However, in contrast to Eriksen it is unlikely Jorginho would warrant a starting spot immediately as he would need longer to fit into the style of play, whereas Eriksen is less likely to need so long to fit in.
My personal opinion is that Coutinho should operate in the ‘number 10’ role, either as the central attacking midfielder in the front three behind the sole striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation, or as the creative player slightly behind the forward three in a 4-3-3 formation, but also ahead of Lucas and Gerrard in the defensive midfield positions of the midfield three.
He played in a similar position in some games towards the climax of last season and really blossomed, particularly in our 6-0 drubbing of Newcastle. This system can then be adapted so that we can utilise Coutinho as one of our primary creative sources in a game.
The front three ahead of him could then be Sturridge, Suarez (on the condition that he stays) and perhaps Sterling, Borini or even Suso or Jordon Ibe.
Another option could be to use Suso in an attacking midfield role in absence of Coutinho, or if Coutinho was to play on either side of the wings. Whilst Suso is only young and would not provide the overwhelming amount of goals and assists someone like Mkhitaryan or Eriksen could, he has the ability to make up for the overall creative loss as he demonstrated for the U20’s national side recently.
Suso is highly regarded amongst those who keep a keen eye on the Liverpool academy and it is evident he has a lot of talent. Brendan Rodgers’ may look to use him more rather than venture out for more attacking midfielders.
Another many have failed to recognise is our recent signing Luis Alberto who can play in an advanced midfield role, with his impressive tally of assists and goals at Barcelona B last season there is the option to use him in that position.
Anyway, it’s only early days of the transfer market and losing out on Mkhitaryan isn’t the worst scenario imaginable this summer. Ideally, we will still secure an attacking midfielder with goal-scoring threat.
However, should we not sign one, then capturing a central defender should be our priority. Currently, in the situation that Suarez stays then we probably have enough goal threat already. If Suarez leaves, then evidently we will need one or two strikers to replace the threat he possesses in a game.
Let’s be honest, Mkhitaryan opted to join last year’s Champions League finalists who boast a hugely talented squad lead by one of the best managers in the world. He chose them over a team who haven’t even got Europa League football next season. Who can blame him?
If you think he’s made the wrong decision then you probably need to sit back and take a long hard look at the situation. Even so, I’m positive Liverpool will have identified back-up options and in the end it might even turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
See our failure to clinch Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s signatures that lead to us purchasing Daniel Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho as perfect examples.