With Lazar Markovic set to return to Liverpool at the end of the his loan spell with Fenerbahce, Jurgen Klopp will be welcoming back a real talent.
Markovic joined the Turkish Super Lig side on a season-long loan in August, but after returning to Melwood as part of his recovery from a groin injury, held positive talks with Klopp.
The German explored the possibility of recalling Markovic in January, but the terms of his agreement saw him remain in Istanbul for the rest of 2015/16.
Now, Klopp has resolved to make a place for the 22-year-old in his Liverpool squad for the future, revealing: “I will say at the start of pre-season, ‘Welcome, and then it’s up to you’.”
Markovic’s Liverpool career seemed all but over before Klopp’s arrival, but his fortunes have since changed.
If Markovic decides his future lies on Merseyside, the pacy attacker will be a useful addition to Klopp’s first-team squad.
Lazar Markovic, 2014/15
Signed for a £20 million fee at the beginning of the 2014/15 campaign, Markovic arrived from Benfica boasting a reputation as one of Europe’s finest young talents.
While this sizeable outlay represented something of a risk by the Reds, the winger could be considered a coup signing.
With four leagues titles—three with Partizan Belgrade, one with Benfica—and a Europa League runners-up medal to his name, Markovic had gained invaluable experience as a proven winner.
At the age of 20, Markovic had already made 114 first-team appearances, scoring 21 goals and making 21 assists, and was confident of making his mark.
“I hope that I will fulfil the expectations of the supporters, coaches, players and all connected to the club,” he said on his arrival.
“I have seen what the players are like, I have seen what the supporters are like, and I cannot wait to start playing here.”
Unfortunately, the Serbian spent much of his first campaign on Merseyside in an unfamiliar wing-back role, with Rodgers moulding his post-Suarez side into a functional 3-4-2-1 formation.
Markovic did impress in fits and starts, however, particularly with a match-winning display away to Sunderland last January.
Scoring his first league goal for the club on the way to a 1-0 win, Markovic posed a threat to the Black Cats defence throughout, going close to adding a goal-of-the-season contender with an acrobatic volley from outside the area.
At the Stadium of Light, Markovic showed his potential—but crucially, this came from an advanced attacking role.
Markovic made 34 appearances for the Reds in 2014/15, scoring two goals and registering a single assist.
This wasn’t enough to convince Rodgers of his worth, though Markovic’s choice of destination last summer further strengthened his reputation.
Markovic at Fenerbahce
Finishing second in the Turkish Super Lig in 2014/15, Fenerbahce once again fell short of their title rivals, Galatasaray, but through their league placing secured progress to the Champions League‘s third qualifying round.
Losing 3-0 on aggregate in that two-legged tie against Shakhtar Donetsk, Fenerbahce dropped down into the Europa League, joining the Reds in Europe’s second-tier competition.
Under Vitor Pereira, the Istanbul side are well placed to seal the Turkish Super Lig title in 2015/16, and have reached the Europe League’s round of 16, where a clash with S.C. Braga awaits.
After disappointment last season, Pereira has collected a hugely talented group of attackers at Fenerbahce.
This has seen the experience of Fernandao, Robin Van Persie and Nani complemented by the youthful energy of Markovic and Alper Potuk, among others.
His performance against the Scottish champions once again served to underline his ability, with a goalscoring display in a 1-1 draw at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium particularly impressive.
What is perhaps most telling about Markovic’s time at Fenerbahce is that he has invariably operated as a right winger, with Pereira utilising his pace and powerful running to great effect.
Unfortunately, however, as March’s trip to Melwood points to, Markovic’s 2015/16 campaign has been hampered by injury, and next season will be something of a new start for the 22-year-old.
Markovic’s Role Under Klopp
“We are short on wingers,” Klopp continued to explain as he laid down the gauntlet for Markovic for this summer’s pre-season, succinctly acknowledging the Serbian’s future role.
Klopp’s enthusiasm when it comes to Markovic is no doubt inspired by his current lack of wide options at Liverpool.
Shortly after his arrival at Liverpool, the 48-year-old will have assessed the players available to him, and as the mass recalling of loan players in January proved, will have been shocked at some of those out on loan.
Though injuries have stunted his consistency, Markovic’s performance for Fenerbahce this season prove that he would have been a useful option for the German at Liverpool in 2015/16.
But for 2016/17 and beyond, Markovic can still play a major role on Merseyside.
Primarily, this will be due to his skill set as a pacy, dynamic forward, capable of operating in a number of roles in the attacking line.
James Milner is Klopp’s regular option on the right at this stage, but while he has contributed to some of Liverpool’s best performances this season, he lacks the pace that Markovic provides.
Importantly, Markovic has also showcased his willingness to defend from the front this season with Fenerbahce—a factor that will be crucial to Klopp’s planning for the future.
The prospect of Markovic driving at defences, both on the counter and on the front foot, interchanging with the likes of Coutinho, Firmino and Adam Lallana behind the centre-forward, will be an intriguing one to Klopp.
Klopp may continue his search for wingers in the transfer market this summer, but in Markovic he is able to welcome back a readymade solution who, at 22, can continue his development at Liverpool.