Reports in Italian daily La Nazione, cited in the Metro this evening, suggest that we might be closing in on Empoli’s Italian attacking midfielder Riccardo Saponara, but who is he? Is he actually any good? And most importantly, who makes way?
“Good” is a subjective term in football. Reds fans need to look no further than Mamadou Sakho for a case-in-point – Brendan Rodgers didn’t rate him, while Klopp (and most of us fans) think he’s the best thing since sliced bread (or at least since Sami Hyypia).
Similar opinions swirl around 23-year-old Saponara. For those who don’t know, he began his career at lowly Ravenna in the regional “Eccellenza Emilia-Romagna” league – one tier below Serie D. After just three outings for the club he was snapped up by Empoli, going on to play 83 games and score 14 goals between 2009 and 2013.
The stats don’t sound particularly impressive, but for much of that period he was deployed on the wing and Empoli were bouncing along near the foot of Serie B, narrowly avoiding relegation to Serie C in 2011/12.
In 2012/13 then-boss Maurizio Sarri moved him into an central attacking position. In a dramatic turnaround, Saponara scored 13 goals and Empoli finished fourth. His performances were impressive enough to convince Serie A big-boys AC Milan to shell out €4m for the player, but once again he found himself marginalised, playing just 218 minutes of first-team football all season.
He went back to Empoli, and his devastating goal-scoring form returned. So far this season he has 10 goals in 23 outings.
So, where would he fit in? Well – it’ll be very difficult for him to play in his favoured no.10 position at Anfield. Klopp has so far used Coutinho, Adam Lallana or Roberto Firmino from the pivotal attacking midfield spot – and all three would be furious should a relatively unknown Italian come in and knock them down the pecking order. For this reason, we can’t see it happening. Daniel Sturridge is returning to fitness which gives us another option in the final third, and with Jordon Ibe itching for game time as well, we’re pretty well covered. For these reasons, we can’t see this one happening.