**THIS WAS POSTED IN DECEMBER 2013**

It’s that time of year again:  the snow is falling, family and friends are curled up next to ornamented Christmas trees, and Liverpool Football Club is linked with a mountain of players from across the world. While it can be difficult to parse the ludicrous links (Stephen El Shaaraway) from the likely hits (Derby’s Will Hughes and FC Basel’s Mohamed Salah), I’ll offer my top twelve players who I think would add real quality to the Reds come this January.

Yann M’Vila, Defensive Midfielder, Rubin Kazan, 23 (£12-19m)

Yann M’Vila

Yann M’Vila

Though I’ve already written an article on “Five Defensive Midfielders Liverpool Could Sign in January”, one glaring omission remains from my old list:  Yann M’Vila or Ruben Kazan.

M’Vila, hyped as one of the major up-and-coming European footballers just a few years ago during his time at Rennes, has underwent somewhat of a fall from grace in recent years. Following an unauthorized night of partying while on duty with the French U-21 side in November, 2012, which resulted in an eight month ban from international football, M’Vila became more known for his disciplinary issues than his footballing ability. Subsequently, M’Vila, who had been courted by clubs such as Arsenal (who offered 28 million euros for the player in August 2011) and Tottenham, moved to Rubin Kazan in January 2013 a player with a much-diminished reputation.

A year later, and the metaphorical (and literal) time in the Russian cold (as well as the growth of his young daughter) has seemed to transform M’Vila from a happy-go-lucky hotshot to a more disciplined and determined football player. M’Vila has been a standout performer for Kazan this season, amassing 23 total appearances for the club. He averages 58.6 passes per game with an 86.7% success rate, while contributing 1.6 tackles, 1.6 interceptions, and 2 clearances per game. These statistics illustrate M’Vila’s diversity of talents. From sliding in on a hard tackle, to wining an aerial duel, to passing through the midfield, the young Frenchman marries vision, reading of the game, and robust physical strength to form an athletic and technically gifted modern midfielder. Liverpool would do very well to acquire his services in January.

Ricardo Rodriguez, Left Back, VfL Wolfsburg, 21 (£15-25m)

Ricardo Rodriguez

Ricardo Rodriguez

One player whose exemplary play has gone somewhat unnoticed in England is Wolfsburg’s 21-year-old Swiss left back, Ricardo Rodriguez (not to be confused with the WWE wrestler of the same name). Despite his youth, Rodriguez has put forward a series of remarkable performances from the left back position, and ranks as whoscrored.com’s best left back in Europe, and its fifth highest overall performer this season (behind the usual suspects of Luis Suarez, Franck Ribery, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo), with an average whoscored.com rating of 8.09.

In many ways, Rodriguez typifies the ideal modern fullback:  he is quick, powerful, and attacking-oriented. At nearly 5’11” tall, Rodriguez bombs down Wolfsburg’s left wing with purpose, offering excellent crosses and taking on defenders a la a young Gareth Bale. This ability to get forward is demonstrated by his 3 goals and 3 assists from his 17 appearances, while his 3.1 tackles, 1.9 interceptions, and 3.3 clearances per game highlight his defensive contributions. Despite his high price tag and likely competition from other clubs, Liverpool could sign no better left back than Ricardo Rodriguez.

Antoine Griezmann, Attacking Midfielder/Left Winger, Real Sociedad, 22 (£20-25m)

Antoine Griezmann

Antoine Griezmann

If Liverpool intends to sign an attacking left-sided winger, they could do no better than Real Sociedad’s youthful Frenchman. In his 15 La Liga appearances so far this campaign, Griezmann has scored 11 goals and provided 2 assists, putting him below only Diego Costa and Cristiano Ronaldo in the league’s scoring charts and bettering his total of 10 goals from 32 La Liga appearances last term. From a stylistic perspective, Griezmann could add pace, incisiveness, and dribbling skills to the left side of Liverpool’s attack. He has added consistency with age, distilling his natural pace and skill into increased chance creation for his team, having generated 16 clear chances so far this campaign. Despite competition from other clubs, such as Arsenal, Liverpool would do well to pursue Griezmann. A front three of Griezmann, Suarez, and Sterling (with Coutinho providing passes from behind) would possess the movement, speed, and technical ability to outplay virtually any defense in the Premier League.

Christoph Kramer, Defensive Midfielder, Borussia Monchengladbach, 22 (£10-18m)

Christoph Kramer

Christoph Kramer

Borussia Monchengladbach have been one of the surprise packages of this season’s Bundesliga, sitting in third place at Christmas, and owe their two central midfielders a lot of the credit. One of these players, Granit Xhaka, has been linked with Liverpool intermittently over the past few months, and for good reason:  he is a combative, strong, and young (21 years old) midfielder who would prove an excellent addition to the team. In my opinion, however, his midfield partner, Christoph Kramer, would be an even better buy for the Reds.

Kramer, who is currently in the first year of a two year loan stint at Monchengladbach from Bayer Leverkusen, typifies the modern defensive midfielder. On the one hand, he is tall, standing 6’3”, strong, and is unafraid to lay into a tough tackle (averaging 3.4 per game). On the other, he is graceful with the ball, averaging 2 dribbles per game, and possesses an incredible range of passing, with a pass success rate of nearly 91%, with an incredible long pass success rate of 88.9%. Most importantly, considering Leverkusen’s current stable of talented defensive midfielders – including Lars Bender, Simon Rolfes, Gonzalo Castro, Stefan Reinarts, and Emre Can – Liverpool could end Kramer’s loan spell at Monchengladbach for the right price.

Juan Mata, Attacking Midfielder, Chelsea, 25 (£40-50m)

Juan Mata

Juan Mata

Of Chelsea’s star-studded bench, no player shines brighter than Juan Mata. Following Jose Mourinho’s return to the Blues, Mata has often found himself relegated to the bench this term – playing a full game in only 2 of his 12 league appearances – despite being Chelsea’s best player last season. Over the course of the 2012-13 Premier League season, Mata compiled 35 appearances, contributing 12 goals and 12 assists (more than any other player on his team), and creating a remarkable 95 chances with an 85% overall pass accuracy.

Simply put, Mata was a star last season:  his set pieces were fantastic, his passing sublime, and his vision remarkable. His exclusion from the Chelsea team so far this season has left many observers of the Premier League scratching their heads. Mata could seamlessly fit into almost any midfield in world football, and would prove a massive coup if Liverpool were able to acquire his services. Unfortunately for Liverpool, Chelsea will probably be unwilling to sell a major, if unused, asset to a rival club, especially the club which sold Torres to them for £50m and signed Daniel Sturridge for £12m. Ultimately, even if Mata’s capture may be a pipe dream, he would certainly warrant a cheeky £40 million bid. If they were in the same team, Suarez and Mata would be the Premiership’s version of Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta.

Julian Draxler, Attacking Midfielder, Schalke 04, 20 (£40-45m)

Julian Draxler

Julian Draxler

Another (somewhat unrealistic) marquee signing in the same vein to Juan Mata, signing Schalke’s Julian Draxler would be a real show of intent from Liverpool. A member of the current crop of seemingly endless talented young German players, the 6-feet-tall 20-year-old has been lighting up the Bundesliga this season. Blessed with the uncommon combination of size and technical ability, Draxler demonstrates strong dribbling (averaging 5.1 dribbles per game in the Bundesliga), passing (83.6% pass accuracy across all competitions with 5 total assists), and shooting (4 goals in all competitions) abilities, coupled with physical stamina and strength (winning 69% of his duels this season, including a tackle success rate of 84%, and a take on success rate of 77%, according to squawka.com). Taking Draxler’s age into account when considering these statistics, it is clear why he is one of Europe’s most sought after talents. Though Liverpool will face a fight for him, Brendan Rodger’s personal scouting of the player at Schalke’s game against FC Basel earlier this month suggests that the Reds are willing to do battle for the talented young German’s signature.

Fábio Coentrão, Left Back, Real Madrid, 25 (£14-19m)

Fábio Coentrão

Fábio Coentrão

Fábio Coentrão was once touted as one of the best young left backs in world football, which was realized when the player moved to Real Madrid from Benfica in the summer of 2011 for €30 million. Since his move, however, Coentrão has seen his opportunities at the Santiago Bernabeu limited, making 17 La Liga appearances last season and only 4 so far this season. The fact remains, however, that he is a top-quality left back, in a market devoid of left backs, who would start at most teams in Europe (he was linked with a season-long loan to Manchester United on deadline day of this season, only to see the move fail to materialize before the transfer window closed). Coentrão is a pacey defender with strong tackling skills and good interchange with left-sided attackers. It would be good business for Liverpool to make a move for the player, even if it was just a loan deal until the end of the season which would work in the interest of both the game-starved Coentrão and and left back-lacking LFC.

Ivan Rakitic, Central Midfielder, Sevilla, 25 (£7-15m)

Ivan Rakitic

Ivan Rakitic

Ivan Rakitic is a player whose name Reds have heard over the past month, and for good reason. The Croatian midfielder has enjoyed a fantastic start to the season, amassing 7 goals and 6 assists in his 15 La Liga appearances for Sevilla so far this campaign. These performances have also warranted Rakitic a whoscored.com rating of 7.94, placing Rakitic as the ninth best performing player in Europe this season, 0.01 points in front of Barcelona’s Neymar.

Rakitic’s style of play is would be well-suited to Brendan Rodgers’ free-flowing system, since the player has demonstrated a diversity of skills in the middle of Sevilla’s midfield. So far, he has 8 appearances as a central attacking midfielder (1 goal, 6 assists), 5 appearances as a defensive midfielder (3 goals), 5 appearances as a box-to-box central midfielder (3 goals), and 2 appearances from the substitute’s bench. Rakitic has contributed 2.6 tackles and 2.4 interceptions per game as well, showing the player’s work ethic and ability to break up play in the middle of the park. Two of Rakitic’s skills, furthermore, must stand out to Rodgers, specifically his excellent range of passing and excellent set-piece delivery. Taken together, does this player – a cagey and versatile box-to-box midfielder who can score, assist, whip long balls down field, and deliver an outstanding ball from a set-piece – sound familiar? If you answered “Steven Gerrard,” you would be correct. Rakitic could slot directly into Steven Gerrard’s role in Liverpool’s midfield and, with a rumored buy-out clause of £7m, could be brought in quite cheaply.

Roberto Firmino, Attacking Midfielder, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, 22 (£12-16m)

Roberto Firmino

Roberto Firmino

While Brazilians tend to receive a lot of hype in the football world, one exemplary young player whose name is rarely mentioned in the English media is Hoffenheim’s Roberto Firmino. Still, Firmino is a highly talented player, and is very much an FSG-type signing:  he is young, relatively unknown, and plies his trade for a team with a small budget that could welcome the funds of a major English team.

Roberto Firmino has been in inspired form so far this season, scoring 8 goals and providing 6 assists from 26 created chances (more than any other player on Hoffenheim) from a total of 16 appearances. Firmino is a hard-working midfielder, who defends high up the pitch, chasing down balls and pressing effectively when not in possession. He is quick, possesses a bagful of tricks, and readily drifts across the midfield. His 3.9 dribbles and 1.6 key passes per game demonstrate his incisiveness, and his nearly 6 foot frame affords him physical strength and exceptional vision. In many ways, he is a more physically-imposing version of Coutinho who has begun to blossom this season at the Rhein-Neckar Arena. A pairing of Coutinho and Roberto Firmino in behind Suarez and Sturridge could prove deadly to opposition defenses if Liverpool move for the young Brazilian this January.

 

Sidney Sam, Right Winger, Bayer Leverkusen 04, 25 (£2.5-10m)

Sidney Sam

Sidney Sam

Sidney Sam has enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career so far this term with Sami Hyypia’s Bayer Leverkusen. Though reports have linked Sam (and his alleged £2.5 million buy-out clause) with a move to Schalke, Liverpool should consider making a late bid for the right-sided winger.

Sam plays as an inverted right winger, liking to cut in on his favored left foot to beat defenders with a well-weighted pass or a cool finish (exemplified by his 8 goals and 5 assists from 17 appearances so far this season). He is an incredibly fast and direct runner with the ball, averaging 4 dribbles per game in the Bundesliga. Sam is also surprisingly accurate with the ball considering his rapid pace, with an average pass accuracy of 82%, an average of 2.9 key passes per game, and an impressive shot accuracy of 57%. If Liverpool could activate Sam’s disproportionately small release clause, he would prove an absolute bargain for the Merseyside club.

Alexandre Song, Defensive Midfielder, FC Barcelona, 26, (£8-15m)

Alexandre Song

Alexandre Song

Much like Fábio Coentrão, Alexandre Song made a high-profile transfer to one of the world’s leading clubs, fell down the pecking order behind world class stars, and is currently wasted warming the bench. Before his much-vaunted transfer to Barcelona, Alex Song was considered one of the best defensive midfielders in the premier league. While he lacks the physical size of some defensive midfield players, Song makes up for it with excellent reading of the game, composed tackling ability, and highly accurate passing (in his 9 appearances for Barcelona this season, Song holds a staggering 91.2% pass accuracy). The Cameroonian, moreover, can also contribute offensively, as he provided 14 assists in his final season with Arsenal in 2011-12. Though he is not in the mold of muscular, aggressive defensive midfielders like Javier Mascherano or Yann M’Vila, Song’s technical skills could fit well with Brendan Rodger’s pass-and-move style of high pressure football. If Song is interested in securing more consistent game time, a move to the resurgent Liverpool would suit both parties excellently.

Jay Rodriguez, Striker, Southampton FC, 24 (£7-13m)

Jay Rodriguez

Jay Rodriguez

I’ll admit, this last spot on my list was a tossup between Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez, Burnley’s Danny Ings, and West Bromwich Albion’s Shane Long. At this point, Liverpool needs a dependable and Premiership-proven backup striker who can come on late in games and make an impact when other players are tiring or underperforming. Shane Long has a decent goal-scoring record in the top flight, is an exceedingly hard working player and, as demonstrated by both of his goals against Aston Villa earlier this season, possesses decent technical skills. For a club of Liverpool’s standing, however, there are better players available than Long with better goal-scoring records. Danny Ings, for his part, has enjoyed an excellent season at Burnley this year, scoring 13 goals and adding 2 assists in 21 appearances. These numbers are quite impressive, yet this commentator is concerned that he would need consistent game time to adjust to the standards of the Premier League, which would be unavailable sitting behind Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. I also believe that Fabio Borini still has a future at Liverpool, and signing another striker who is one year his junior might seal the young Italian’s fate and force him to return to Italy in order to progress his career. For these reasons, I think that the best possible backup striker, who might ultimately challenge for a place in the Reds’ starting eleven, is Jay Rodriguez.

Jay Rodriguez, fresh off his best performance for Southampton with two goals and an assist against Cardiff, is very much a player on the rise. Compared to last season, when he made 35 appearances, scored 6 goals (with a shot accuracy of 48%), made 5 assists (from 18 total chances created), and exhibited a 74% pass accuracy, Rodriguez’s current season has witnessed marked improvement. Over the course of this season, in half as many appearances, Rodriguez has scored 8 goals (with 52% shot accuracy), generated 2 assists (from 11 created chances), and passed with 78% accuracy. What is perhaps most impressive about Rodriguez, however, is his flexibility. Much like Jordan Henderson, Jay Rodriguez can play in a variety of positions:  according to whoscored.com, he has filled in as a right-sided forward, a left-sided forward, a right-sided midfielder, a right-sided attacking midfielder, a left-sided attacking midfielder, and as a central attacking midfielder. Talks about inclusion in the English World Cup side now surround the player, and his stock looks to be going nowhere but up. While he may need assurance of relatively consistent playing time if he is to join LFC, the Reds would benefit from his surprisingly good technical ability and increasingly acute nose for goal.

The Twelve Players of Christmas: A Holiday Transfer Extravaganza – Alex Beck



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About The Author

Alex Beck

is an American student at the University of Wisconsin, studying political science and history. Though he has only followed Liverpool since the 2011 season, he has become a die-hard fan of the Reds. He has a penchant for scouting reports, and loves all things Kolo Toure. He hopes to one day have hair as good as Jordan Henderson.

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