2DJD09B Florian Neuhaus (BMG) Borussia Monchengladbach - Hertha BSC Berlin 27.10.2020, Fussball; 1. Bundesliga, Saison 2020/21 Foto: Moritz Muller Copyright

The forgotten Liverpool midfield target that could return to the radar

Though Jurgen Klopp has maintained he is happy with the midfield options at his disposal, there is a chance summer target Florian Neuhaus remains on the radar.

As the summer transfer window neared its conclusion, Klopp dismissed suggestions a replacement for Gini Wijnaldum was still required, insisting “there is no gap” in midfield.

The manager had big plans for Harvey Elliott, while Thiago was anticipated to showcase his world-class ability on a more consistent basis, with six other options available.

Elliott, Thiago, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita, James Milner and Curtis Jones; on paper, it is a strong, diverse group capable of challenging for the title.

But as the campaign has unfolded, issues in the middle of the park have developed, with Wijnaldum’s exit to Paris Saint-Germain flagged as an overriding influence.

WATFORD, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 16, 2021: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson before the FA Premier League match between Watford FC and Liverpool FC at Vicarage Road. Liverpool won 5-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A long-term injury for Elliott has combined with ongoing problems for Keita, Milner and Jones, while Henderson has struggled for consistency in the right-sided role that saw Liverpool’s No. 67 shine in the early weeks of the season.

The 19-year-old Tyler Morton has been fast-tracked into the senior setup, but despite Elliott’s return to full training being imminent, the subject of a new arrival in midfield is a popular one among supporters.

Borussia Monchengladbach’s Denis Zakaria has been touted as a target, with the Reds claimed to have made an enquiry into a player whose contract is up on July 1.

But while the Swiss could be an astute signing, the club’s recent pursuit of his team-mate, Neuhaus, suggests he could be a genuine target instead.

2DAEYDM Florian Neuhaus (Deutschland) Deutschland - Tschechien Leipzig, 11.11.2020, Fussball, Saison 2020/21 Foto: Moritz Muller Copyright (nur fur journal

In February, reports in Germany claimed Liverpool scouts had been following Neuhaus’ progress at Gladbach, alerted to a £34.7 million release clause in his contract.

This was then followed up by journalists on Merseyside, but with that clause having since expired, the Reds would have been required to negotiate a fee.

Ultimately, speculation died down and Neuhaus remained at Gladbach, with Liverpool’s concrete interest in the 24-year-old largely forgotten.

Unfortunately for the player, however, the failure to secure a move away saw him head into the new campaign needing to prove himself to a new manager, with Adi Hutter taking over from Dortmund-bound Marco Rose.

And after starting the first five games in the Bundesliga and a DFB-Pokal first-round win over Kaiserslautern, Neuhaus has fallen out of favour under the former Frankfurt boss.

Florian Neuhaus (Image: dpa/Alamy Live News)

In the last 12 league games prior to the winter break, Neuhaus started only twice, coming off the bench five times and finding himself unused in the other five.

Gladbach went into the winter break on a run of five games without a win, losing four in a row including 4-1 losses to FC Koln and RB Leipzig, and a 6-0 thrashing at home to Freiburg.

Neuhaus played just 89 minutes in that period, with Hutter preferring 20-year-old Kouadio Kone as first-choice partner to Zakaria at the base of midfield.

That is despite Zakaria confirming his desire to leave the club on the expiry of his contract, and Neuhaus scoring three goals in his last four outings – each coming when given an hour or more on the pitch.

It is a strange situation for the Germany international, who has been a constant in Hansi Flick’s squad during his struggle at club level.

And that could play into Liverpool’s hands if they are to revisit their interest in a long-standing target.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, September 15, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp after the UEFA Champions League Group B Matchday 1 game between Liverpool FC and AC Milan at Anfield. (Pic by UEFA)

Though Neuhaus’ contract at Gladbach runs until 2024, there is cause to believe that the player would be open to a new challenge – and that his club would consider a transfer.

Back in June, he admitted he “could very well imagine going abroad,” adding that it is “very important” to know “how much you have the feeling that the club really wants you.”

There are certainly question marks over whether Hutter “really wants” Neuhaus, and face-to-face talks with Klopp – who prefers to meet his targets in person before sanctioning any move – could persuade him that he would be more valued at Anfield.

Concerns over his ability should be relieved, too: there is no indication that his form has led to a drop down the pecking order, rather his manager simply prefers other options.

Only 25 in March, Neuhaus is a multi-talented midfielder who operates mainly in a box-to-box role, which could resolve the issue of not replacing Wijnaldum.

SEVILLE, SPAIN - Tuesday, November 17, 2020: Florian Neuhaus of Germany, Mikel Oyarzabal of Spain during the UEFA Nations League match between Spain and Germany at Estadio La Cartuja de Sevilla on november 17, 2020 in Seville, Spain (Photo by Jeroen Meuwsen/Orange Pictures)

He can pass, he can tackle, he can drive the ball forward and, as seen with 19 goals and 20 assists in 130 appearances for Gladbach, he can make a difference in the final third.

His fade into obscurity could present a rare opportunity in the market for Liverpool, whether that be mid-season, with the January transfer window now open, or, more realistically, in the summer.

While he would not be available for a signing-on fee alone like the soon-to-be free agent Zakaria will be, his situation at Borussia-Park could strengthen the Reds’ hand in negotiations.

Neuhaus may well be the type of undervalued asset Klopp is capable of turning into a world-beating gem, and a move would accelerate the regeneration of an ageing midfield group that is arguably one player short.