Gini Wijnaldum, despite his undeniable importance at Liverpool, is due to leave on the expiry of his contract in July, leaving a big task in signing his replacement.
The role Wijnaldum plays in Jurgen Klopp‘s midfield is subtle in its brilliance, but perhaps the most crucial aspect of his game during his time at Anfield has been his endurance.
Only three Liverpool players currently reside in the top 10 in terms of appearances throughout Klopp’s career as a manager, with James Milner and Roberto Firmino joining Wijnaldum among the throng of Dortmund stalwarts.
That Wijnaldum is invariably up there when it comes to minutes played every season highlights the blow it will be to the Reds when he departs.
But he and the club he has called home since 2016 find themselves at an impasse in their talks over a new deal – the player after the salary and contract length deserving of his stature, but Liverpool wary of ceding to the latter as he turns 31 this year.
At this point, Wijnaldum is expected to depart on a free transfer at the end of the campaign, with Barcelona the favourites to seal one of the best Bosman deals in recent memory, and the Reds are in need of a replacement.
So who could they look to? Here are 10 midfielders who could be targeted as Wijnaldum’s successor.
Liverpool’s regard for Bissouma has been well-documented, and back in December the midfielder’s agent even claimed they – along with Man United, Monaco and two clubs from LaLiga – held “significant interest” in his client.
Brighton manager Graham Potter has himself conceded that “the best Bissouma can play in the Champions League” which, while not an indication that he is heading for the exit, is an admission that his No. 8 belongs in a tier above the Seagulls.
Bissouma is a roving, aggressive midfielder with the ability to dribble past challenges and a preference for give-and-goes in the middle of the park, and while he is not particularly influential in attack, he performs a key role.
It remains to be seen how Brighton will value the Malian, but this summer will see him into the final two years of his contract and this could put Liverpool in a strong position in negotiations.
On to the first of the alternatives from back in 2016, and a player who appeared destined for Merseyside until Udinese rejected a £12 million offer to allow Napoli to swoop in.
Zielinski was long-courted by the Reds during a two-season loan at Empoli, and has built on his impressive displays as a youngster in Serie A to become a key player for Napoli and Poland.
A potent dribbler and a creative, clinical passer, Zielinski serves as a driving force in midfield, and five years on from Liverpool’s initial interest, he has honed his pressing game at Stadio San Paolo.
The Pole signed a new long-term deal with Napoli in 2020, which may complicate negotiations, but it will be interesting to see if Klopp returns for a former target.
Club: Borussia Monchengladbach
A natural all-rounder in midfield, Zakaria is nearing the end of his time with Gladbach and has been persistently linked with Liverpool, with the majority of those reports coming from Germany.
It is easy to see why the Reds would be interested, as having only turned 24 in November, the Swiss has already played 186 senior games at club level and another 28 for his country, and is capable in a variety of roles in the middle of the park.
Well-built and standing at 6’2″, Zakaria would add a physical presence to the Liverpool midfield, and while possibly taking up Wijnaldum’s duties could also cover in the No. 6 role and even centre-back if required.
Zakaria is a tough tackler, a strong dribbler and is safe but progressive with his use of the ball, and entering the final year of his contract this summer may be available for a bargain fee.
Ruiz is an interesting option, and while like Zielinski is in a strong position at Napoli, the fact he is within two years of the end of his contract by this season’s end could see the Spain international consider his options.
Previously a winger, Ruiz has adapted to a central midfield role in Naples, but is able to utilise his attacking instincts in a more all-round approach.
Another 6’2″ midfielder, the 24-year-old is press-resistant and is able to dribble his way out of danger, and while he is not as defensive-minded as Wijnaldum at Liverpool, has an element of snide to his game that could suit the position.
The Reds have been linked in the past and it is understandable why, as Ruiz has the technical and physical quality to adapt to the Premier League and, in particular, Klopp’s system.
Sanches is one of the more interesting names touted with a move to Merseyside as Wijnaldum’s time draws to an end, with the Portuguese’s career having been a curious one so far.
But he is now much-changed from the player who floundered on loan at Swansea in 2017/18, and now 23 is a hardworking, dynamic, possession-hungry option in midfield.
There are many ways in which Sanches’ game resembles that of Wijnaldum, such as his ability to shield the ball and work for the team, but he is arguably more effective than the Dutchman moving into the final third.
Lille’s fragile financial situation could aid Liverpool’s pursuit if they do opt for Sanches, and given his youth and experience he would be a fine addition to the squad.
While unlikely in its execution, a Liverpool move for Tielemans would be a sensational one, with the Belgian one of the top performers in the Premier League.
Tielemans has developed into a metronomic presence in midfield, capable of setting the tempo for Leicester and driving them from box-to-box, while being a threat outside the area in particular too.
Brendan Rodgers has already entrusted the young midfielder with the captain’s armband this season, and though the Foxes are undoubtedly a top-eight side now, it could be argued that a step up is now warranted.
Leicester are currently in talks with their No. 8 regarding a new contract, though, which would price Liverpool out of any move if he commits his future to the King Power.
Like Zielinski, Dahoud was on the Reds’ radar as they weighed up midfield targets prior to Wijnaldum’s arrival, but unlike the Pole, it has been a frustrating spell with the club he joined instead.
Since joining Dortmund from Gladbach in 2017, Dahoud has played just 81 times for the Bundesliga club, of which only 44 have come as a starter, despite being largely available throughout.
There is still a promising talent in the 25-year-old, however, as a game-changer when on form, and a player who can carry the ball through midfield in the blink of an eye.
But he would represent something of a project for Klopp, five years after spurning Liverpool, with work to be done on his decision-making and positional play if he were to belatedly arrive at Anfield.
Aouar is a player who has been reported as a long-term target for Liverpool’s recruitment staff, owing to his immense potential and the fact he operates below the top echelon of European clubs.
It has been an on-and-off season for the young Frenchman so far, but he has still produced three goals and three assists in 19 games in Ligue 1, remaining a key player for Lyon as a No. 8 or No. 10.
His profile is not quite the same as Wijnaldum’s, but Aouar is adept at dribbling and shielding the ball and making an impact further forward, while there is clear scope to nurture his game.
There are likely to be a number of clubs pursuing Aouar’s signature if he does leave Lyon in the summer, but he is a midfield gem worth tracking as a potential successor to Wijnaldum.
Club: West Ham
A solid defensive midfielder who is also comfortable at centre-back, Rice is underutilised in terms of moving the ball out from the engine room, and can develop beyond his current safety-first approach while stepping in as an immediate replacement for Wijnaldum.
Like Tielemans, it could take a blockbuster fee to snatch him from another Premier League club, particularly as the Hammers have an option to extend his contract by a further year to 2025.
But with it likely that the 22-year-old pushes for an exit if his ambitions are not met in east London, Liverpool could be a platform for the England international to reach his potential.
A number of other candidates popped up during the search, including three from Ligue 1 in Maxime Lopez (Marseille), Eduardo Camavinga (Rennes) and Rafinha (PSG), but another possibility has emerged closer to home.
Jones’ rise through the academy ranks at Liverpool came with him largely being deployed either on the wing or as an advanced midfielder, but as he has settled into the first team he has displayed qualities more akin to an all-rounder.
Most notably he is the Reds’ safest passer, completing 93 percent of his attempts in the Premier League so far this season, while he also ranks highly in terms of tackles, interceptions, dribbles and presses.
Furthermore, his durability has seen him as the only player named in every matchday squad across all competitions, and he has featured in a variety of roles, namely as both No. 6 and No. 8.
Liverpool signed Wijnaldum as a 25-year-old attacking midfielder and converted him into one of world football’s most press-resistant box-to-box players – perhaps the same could be applied to Jones, who has scope to be an even more expansive option too.