Liverpool’s interest in AS Monaco midfielder Thomas Lemar has intensified since the exit of Philippe Coutinho, but where would the Frenchman fit in?
Coutinho’s £142 million switch to Barcelona has left the Reds in need of a replacement, with the Brazilian one of the club’s most important players since joining from Inter Milan in 2013.
Wearing the No. 10 shirt, Coutinho provided Liverpool with their creative zeal, and more so than any other player in Jurgen Klopp‘s squad he was perfectly equipped to break down rigid defences.
As with a plethora of stars to have left Anfield in the past, the Reds will move on without their former talisman, but it will be a tough task.
In the immediate push for a replacement, Lemar has emerged as the most likely target, with Klopp having already seen a big-money bid for the 22-year-old rejected last summer.
Whether he arrives in January or ahead of next season remains to be seen, but if Liverpool are successful in signing Lemar, what can he bring to Merseyside?
Who is Thomas Lemar?
Born in Baie-Mahault, in the France’s overseas region of Guadeloupe, Lemar stayed in his hometown until he was 15, turning out for local side Solidarite-Scolaire.
From there, he joined Caen as a teenager in 2010, initially playing at academy level before moving up to the first team for the start of 2013/14, debuting in a 3-1 win at home to FC Dijon.
That day at the Michel-d’Ornano Stadium saw Lemar replace Jerome Rothen to take up a midfield role alongside N’Golo Kante.
And just as the diminutive midfielder made his defining move to Leicester City in 2015, Lemar left Caen for Monaco in the same summer, after two years on the senior stage in the north west.
Monaco paid just £3.5 million to sign a 19-year-old Lemar, who joined alongside the likes of Fabinho and Rony Lopes as Leonardo Jardim oversaw another overhaul in the principality.
Among those to leave Monaco ahead of 2015/16 were Layvin Kurzawa, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Anthony Martial, who made a record £58 million move to Man United.
Lemar was not Martial’s replacement, instead largely operating in attacking midfield and out wide while his countryman had played as a No. 9, but he soon commanded a similar influence.
After scoring five goals and laying on five assists in 34 games in his first campaign with Monaco, Lemar truly broke through last season.
Alongside Fabinho, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Bernardo Silva, Kylian Mbappe and the veteran Radamel Falcao, and with Benjamin Mendy providing further width on the left flank, he thrived.
In 2016/17, Lemar scored 14 and assisted 17 in 55 appearances in all competitions as Monaco finished eight points clear of Paris Saint-Germain to win the Ligue 1 title, as well as reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League.
It was a landmark season for an ever-changing Monaco side, but while it earned stars like Bakayoko (Chelsea), Mbappe (PSG), Mendy and Silva (both Man City) moves elsewhere, Lemar was one of few to remain.
That doesn’t seem likely for long, however, as the 22-year-old has all the attributes required to perform at the very top.
What Could He Bring to Liverpool?
Lemar is a difficult player to place as he is so positionally versatile: at Caen, he often performed deeper in a midfield three, and for Monaco he’s largely served on the left wing or as No. 10.
The 22-year-old is also able to play on the right flank, while his sole appearance at left-back for Monaco, in 2016’s 10-2 win at home to JS Saint-Jean Beaulieu in the Coupe de France, saw him tally two assists.
He is a quick, nimble dribbler with a fine appreciation of space and the ability to pick up the ball and jink through defences with skill and close ball control.
A strong, creative midfielder, Lemar is adept at beating his man and lay the ball off into dangerous areas, and his crossing ability can split defences from both deep and towards the byline.
He complements this with a genuine goal threat, possessing a cannon of a left foot that is an invaluable asset from long range both in open play and from set-pieces.
Lemar is an ace in the pack, with his first touch, dribbling ability and eye for goal allowing him to turn a game on its head within the space of seconds.
But an under-appreciated area of his game that has developed swiftly under Jardim is his off-ball work, performing with an intensity and industry that perfectly suits a high-pressing system.
Furthermore, his average of 2.3 key passes per 90 is higher than all but Coutinho (3.2) of the Reds’ first-choice attacking midfielders in the first half of the season.
This blend of hard work and productivity make him an ideal candidate for an expansive attacking side, and could be exactly what Liverpool need moving forward.
Could He Replace Coutinho?
Klopp has a variety of options to consider in the wake of Coutinho’s departure.
He could opt to change formation to navigate his absence, with the use of a 4-4-2 in recent months relying more heavily on the stability of a two-man base to give his wingers more freedom.
Or he could place further responsibility on the shoulders of another player, with Oxlade-Chamberlain’s upturn in form suggesting he is capable of relieving the creative burden.
The long-term solution should, invariably, be replacing Coutinho with another high-calibre talent, and Lemar is arguably the ideal candidate.
His ability to operate on the left, in the No. 10 role and in a deeper midfield duty is a clear similarity with the Brazilian.
He is similarly built, both standing at 5’7″, and similarly programmed, most notably in his creativity and long-range goal threat.
And his diligent work out of possession would allow him to adapt quickly within Klopp’s system, though there may be an adjustment period in terms of the physical demands of the English top flight.
It may be a difficult deal to broker, as though they are willing sellers Monaco will be aware of both the demand for their No. 27 and the Reds’ swollen coffers following Coutinho’s exit.
But Lemar would be worth every penny to Liverpool, as at just 22 he is one of the closest like-for-like Coutinho replacements they could identify.