Liverpool’s Defensive Midfield: How Will It Look After the Saudi Departures?

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“In Klopp we trust”.

Jurgen Klopp walked through Anfield’s hallowed gates in 2015. This has been the short sentence on every Liverpool fan’s lips ever since, and with good reason.

The German uber-manager has brought the club forward in leaps and bounds since taking over from Brendan Rodgers. He’s managed to form a bond with the Liverpool faithful on both a personal and managerial level. Even though last season was hardly one to write home about, it was merely a blip… Klopp’s well-publicised eighth-season urban legend.

The current off-season started with signs that all would be good again in 2023/24. Real Madrid scuppered the rumours of a marquee signing in Jude Bellingham, but two top-class midfielders did arrive.

World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister came from Brighton, while 22-year-old Hungary captain and playmaker Dominik Szoboszlai joined from RB Leipzig. Both are players of proven international class and quality – Klopp-style players.

“Captain Courageous” Jordan Henderson, and the consistent Fabinho, were shoring up the defensive midfield. England Under-21 European Championship winners Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott were back in training and more experienced. Liverpool’s midfield was looking a lot more capable of competing in the new season.

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Then Saudi Arabia’s invasion of clubs in Europe suddenly intensified. Within a few weeks, marauding big-money Saudi sides had decimated Liverpool’s defensive midfield.

After almost 500 club appearances, Henderson – fondly remembered as the last Liverpool captain to lift the coveted Premier League trophy – was gone. Al-Ettifaq, managed by Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, whisked the captain away in an initial £12m transfer.

Worse was to follow. Brazil international Fabinho, a mainstay of Liverpool’s defensive midfield with more than 200 club appearances, joined Al-Ittihad in the Saudi Pro League. The £40m deal was an off-again-on-again affair, reportedly because of the player’s two French bulldogs. After an initial delay, the parties found a resolution and both Fabinho and his bulldogs left for Saudi Arabia.

The sudden defensive midfield departures haven’t affected Liverpool’s odds with bookmakers yet. The feeling is that this could change if Klopp doesn’t bring in reinforcements soon, though. The Reds rank as third favourites for this season’s Premier League with most of the listed sites in, with odds of between 15/2 and 9/1.

But where do the sudden Saudi departures of two stalwarts really leave Liverpool’s defensive midfield?

The reliable but ageing James Milner has already left for the Brighton coast. Midfield general Thiago Alcantara has spent more time in the medic’s tent than on the battlefield recently. Besides, he isn’t exactly suited to the role. Young midfield prodigy Stefan Bajcetic was promising in the position last season but may need more time to become a full-time option.

Semi-converted defensive midfielder and Reds vice-captain Trent Alexander-Arnold looks the most likely current player to fill the role. This would leave Liverpool lacking on the right flank, though. The general feeling is that Klopp needs to find a replacement from outside of the club.

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Liverpool has reportedly already made a £40m+ offer for 19-year-old Belgian Roméo Lavia. As things stand, Southampton continue to hold out for more money. Other names on the rumour mill include Man City’s Kalvin Phillips and Benfica’s Florentino Luis. There’s been mention of Sofyan Amrabat from Fiorentina and FC Bayern’s Ryan Gravenberch too.

In May, Atalanta midfielder Teun Koopmeiners was a name connected to Liverpool in the press. With the Saudi departures, the Dutchman has re-emerged as a candidate to replace Fabinho. Apparently, the club see his ability to play in central defence as an added string to his bow.

The latest rumours see Liverpool joining the hunt for Brighton’s midfielder, Moises Caicedo. It would likely need a bid of more than £80m to pry him away from Chelsea’s waiting arms, though. As such, it’ll take a lot to secure the signature of the coveted 21-year-old Ecuadorian .

Klopp will be making some big calls soon. He and his newly-appointed Liverpool director of football Jorg Schmadtke are sure to be putting their heads together now. With the club’s Premier League season kicking off away at Chelsea next Sunday, time is now short to find midfield replacements.

Without a doubt, Liverpool’s brains trust won’t be panicking. There’ll now be extra money in the transfer kitty after the Saudi transfers. For Klopp and Schmadtke, finding the best suitable defensive midfield replacement will be a priority. We can expect some big news sooner rather than later.

“In Klopp we trust.”

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