With Inter Milan’s Mateo Kovacic dubiously linked with a move to Liverpool this week, Jack Lusby runs the rule over the midfielder and highlights why he would be a perfect signing.
The latest player to be linked with a move to Liverpool in the increasingly rapid and dubiously credible summer transfer window rumour mill is an intriguing one: Inter Milan’s Mateo Kovacic.
ITV, of all sources, relayed word from an Italian publication, claiming: “Kovacic will join Liverpool for £22m in May.”
“The Austrian born [Croatian] attacking midfielder has also been attracting interest from Arsenal, but reports in Italy suggest cash-strapped Inter are desperate to sell and the Reds have agreed to meet their asking price.”
As ever, to believe such a questionable source would be foolish, particularly with the assertion that a deal is already sealed.
Either way, Kovacic should be made a priority target for Liverpool this summer.
Kovacic signed for Inter from Dinamo Zagreb in 2013 in a £11 million deal, and has so far made 70 Serie A appearances over three seasons.
Primarily operating as a central midfielder for Inter, Kovacic wears the No. 10 shirt, and the 20-year-old’s strengths suit this position perfectly, combining defence and attack.
While it is not Kovacic’s most enduring attribute, he is a comfortable defensive player, making an average of 1.5 tackles per Serie A game this season, with 0.8 fouls and being dribbled past 0.8 times on average.
While within the Liverpool squad, this would place Kovacic behind Lucas Leiva, Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen and Emre Can in terms of direct tackling efficiency, each makes more fouls per game, with only Can being beaten less times by his man.
Where Kovacic excels in midfield is with his passing game—the Inter man is one of Europe’s most promising creative players.
This season, Kovacic has averaged 1.7 key passes per Serie A game, leaving him behind only Raheem Sterling (2.2) and Steven Gerrard (1.8) in the current Reds squad.
However, Kovacic has a higher passing accuracy (86.3%) than both, and averages more passes (53.6) per game than all but three Liverpool players—Lucas, Henderson and Mamadou Sakho.
Kovacic partners this with a defining quality of his: a remarkable dribbling ability, and tight ball control.
Kovacic has averaged 2.9 dribbles per Serie A game this season, with only Sterling (three) making more for Liverpool; Kovacic is equal to Liverpool’s midfield dribble king, Coutinho.
The 20-year-old is perhaps most akin to Allen in the current Liverpool squad, as part of a modern breed of central midfielders—slight but supremely dynamic, intelligent and graceful.
Of course, Kovacic wouldn’t arrive on Merseyside a fully formed, world-class midfielder—so where would the 20-year-old need to improve, and what would stand in the way of any deal?
Due to Kovacic’s 5’9” frame, one of the main issues that he typically struggles with comes in the form of the physical game—aerially, the Inter man is a near non-existent presence.
Questions can be raised this season over the physical prowess of Liverpool’s midfield, with the domination of Marouane Fellaini in Manchester United’s recent 2-1 away victory over the Reds the perfect example of this.
The likes of Allen and Coutinho are generally able to out-think their more brutish opponents, but Rodgers could do with a slightly more beefed up midfield for some occasions.
Kovacic would be another diminutive midfield addition, but his intelligence, creativity, exceptional footwork and ability to cover ground should alleviate these issues for the most part.
The main pitfall in any deal is that Kovacic recently signed a new, long-term deal with the Lombardy side, tying him to the club until 2019.
At the time, Kovacic declared: “I thank the president and the club for the opportunity. They are beautiful things and we hope to continue on this path. I am very happy for the renewal.”
Whether things have changed, particularly with Inter’s increasingly worrying financial situation, with the club apparently “desperate to sell” remains to be seen.
One would imagine that this would, at least, make any potential deal a tough negotiation.
If Liverpool were able to barter a deal however, where could Rodgers fit Kovacic into his squad?
Where Kovacic Would Fit into the Liverpool Squad
With Gerrard leaving for LA Galaxy this summer, and suggestions that Lucas may follow the captain out of the Merseyside exit door, Rodgers will need reinforcements in midfield this summer.
This definitely opens up a spot for Kovacic, and his attributes would be of much use to Rodgers in a variety of roles.
With his physical and intellectual similarity to Allen, it would be expected that Kovacic could fill the role that the No. 24 currently assumes in Rodgers’ starting line-up—although Allen should remain a key feature in the manager’s first-team plans.
His ability to cover ground and contribute defensively, while also maintaining precision in possession would make him ideal for a central role alongside either Allen or Henderson in Rodgers’ currently 3-4-2-1, or even as a diamond flank in a 4-4-2 or 3-4-3, with experience as a left midfielder.
As Inter’s No. 10 however, and having made nine league appearances in this position, there opens up another prospect for Kovacic at Liverpool, in a role similar to that of Coutinho.
Kovacic definitely has the creative ability to thrive in this role—either alternating with or operating alongside Liverpool’s own No. 10—and also has the dynamism and ability to drive at defences, while pressing from the front.
Rodgers would hope that Kovacic could blossom on Merseyside, just like Liverpool’s other former Inter prospect.
If a £22 million deal is a possibility for Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers would be wise to look into sealing a deal for Inter Milan’s Mateo Kovacic, with the 20-year-old perfectly suiting his current system, and with much potential to develop and become a key player, for now and long into the future.
Should Liverpool target a deal for Mateo Kovacic this summer? Let us know in the comments below.