Brendan Rodgers has been spotted on a trip to Italy this week, and Jack Lusby selects Roma’s Miralem Pjanic among the players he should be looking at bringing to Anfield.
It could well just be an early Valentine’s Day trip for the Liverpool manager, spotted at the Vatican in Rome, but Pascoe’s suggestion that it was a “club matter” allows us room to speculate.
If Rodgers is in Italy to scout or hold talks with players or their representatives, there are plenty of names that would improve the Liverpool squad.
Roma playmaker Miralem Pjanic rounds off the list, but who else makes our five Serie A stars that Rodgers should be scouting on his February trip?
Mattia Perin (Genoa)
Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin has been long linked with a move to Liverpool, particularly during Simon Mignolet’s pre-2015 dip in form, and the 22-year-old would make an ideal challenger for the improving Belgian.
An admittedly raw prospect, this season Perin has shown glimpses of the talent that has drawn comparisons with the legendary Gianluca Buffon, whom he serves as deputy to for Italy.
Furthermore, with a higher claim success rate of 95 percent to Mignolet 91 percent, Perin represents a more consistently confident commander in terms of dealing with crosses and lofted balls.
Perin has kept six clean sheets in 21 games this season, three less than Mignolet’s total in 23 games.
Paolo Dybala (Palermo)
At the other end of the pitch, Rodgers also needs to add quality and depth to his attacking ranks, and Palermo hotshot Paolo Dybala represents an exceptional young option to support first-choice striker Daniel Sturridge.
Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini has bizarrely touted his young talent out throughout the season, and most recently claimed: “I will sell him, I am almost certain of this.”
Zamparini continued that “I’ve had so many offers for Dybala from half of the teams in Europe. Chelsea, PSG and other English and Spanish clubs,” perhaps suggesting why Rodgers may be moving so early.
Dybala is a busy, clinical 21-year-old centre-forward, who boasts some of the pure tenacity that hallmarks the best strikers in world football.
The striker has made an average of three dribbles per Serie A game this season, with only Raheem Sterling (3.1) making more in the Liverpool squad, and his 1.4 key passes per game would make him Liverpool’s joint-fourth most prolific creative player, alongside Philippe Coutinho.
With 11 goals and six assists in 21 games this season, Dybala’s combined goal output is second in Serie A, behind only Juventus’ sublime Carlos Tevez.
Radja Nainggolan (Roma)
Perhaps the area that Liverpool most desperately need strengthening in the summer, with the departure of Steven Gerrard, and questions over the long-term stability of Lucas Leiva in Rodgers’ first team.
Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan has exactly the type of disciplined aggression that Rodgers should be targeting, as he has shown prowling ahead of the title-challengers’ defence this season.
An energetic defensive midfielder, Nainggolan would fit well into Rodgers’ high-intensity system, and has made an average of 2.8 tackles per game, more than all but two Liverpool players this term.
Nainggolan often keeps his passing simple, as with Lucas, preferring to offload onto a nearby playmaker—such as Pjanic, of course—and resume his own duties, but with an average of 1.2 key passes on average per game he is more than capable of spotting a creative opportunity.
In Nainggolan’s 20 Serie A games so far this season, Roma have conceded just 16 goals—a supreme rate, underlining the importance of an established defensive midfielder.
There are clear similarities between Nainggolan and former Liverpool destroyer Javier Mascherano.
Mateo Kovacic (Inter Milan)
Under Rodgers and FSG, Liverpool have shown proclivity towards signing high-potential young players for the first team, and there are few better in Europe than Inter Milan midfielder Mateo Kovacic—although his signing would be a big ask, given his recent contract renewal.
The Inter No. 10 has impressed throughout 2014/15 in an Inter side that has truly struggled, with four goals and an assist in 21 Serie A appearances.
A renowned talent in Europe after a promising spell as a 17-year-old in the Dimano Zagreb first team, Kovacic is an all-round midfielder, particularly with an assured passing style.
Kovacic’s defining quality, however, is perhaps his remarkable dribbling ability, with three dribbles on average per Serie A game this season again behind only Sterling (3.1), and his quick feet tight ball control suggests he would thrive in the fast-paced Premier League.
Kovacic could operate from a deeper position than Liverpool’s current virtuoso, Coutinho, alongside a defensive midfielder, and would provide even more creative zeal to the side.
A Coutinho-Kovacic tandem would promise some delectable football on Merseyside.
Miralem Pjanic (Roma)
Back to Roma and onto Pjanic, the 24-year-old playmaker is threatening to become one of the best in his position in the near future, and has been linked with a move to Liverpool since January.
At the time, Roma president James Pallotta acknowledged this interest, and suggested that a big-money offer would tempt him to sell: “If someone comes in with a stupid number for a player, you have to listen to it. You can’t just say no, no matter what.”
With Gerrard leaving in the summer, perhaps Liverpool have decided to go big for established quality.
Incredibly for a midfielder, Pjanic boasts an average passing accuracy of 91.2 percent in Serie A this season, which would place him joint-first alongside Martin Skrtel in the Liverpool squad—Jordon Ibe does have an average accuracy of 91.5 percent, but has made just two starts.
Furthermore, his rate of an assist every 330 minutes this season, with five in total, is better than any Liverpool player this season.
Like Kovacic, Pjanic could be the central midfield playmaker Liverpool target to replace Gerrard.
Which Serie A stars should Brendan Rodgers be targeting? Let us know in the comments below.