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What next for Liverpool FC’s No. 6 search? – Setbacks and unknowns

There is a common misconception among Liverpool supporters that the club itself doesn’t recognise the need for an elite-level defensive midfielder.

For many fans, an addition in the holding role has been the biggest requirement of the last two summer windows, and yet a lack of definitive action on that front has only cemented the feeling that it is being overlooked internally.

But that is to ignore that several attempts have, in fact, been made to remedy this issue in recent years – it is just that they haven’t been successful.

For example, Liverpool had fallen in love with the brilliant Aurelien Tchouameni across his two seasons at Monaco and would have pushed hard to sign him in 2022 had the player’s camp not made it clear early on that he only wanted Real Madrid.

Unfortunately for the Reds, that snub was compounded by their mistaken assumption that tweaks in the anchor role could wait until the following summer, a stance proven to be emphatically wrong by Fabinho‘s sudden and unexpected decline.

And to make things worse, any subsequent efforts to correct the problem also fell flat.

 

A setback of their own making

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 25, 2024: Liverpool's Wataru End? (L) and Chelsea's Moisés Caicedo during the Football League Cup Final match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. Liverpool won 1-0 after extra-time. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The most high-profile of these failures was last summer’s swoop for Moises Caicedo, who had been watched since his days with Independiente del Valle and came with rave reviews regarding his quality and character from then-Brighton teammate Adam Lallana.

The uncomfortable truth is that Liverpool deserve their share of the blame for what transpired, having scaled back any contact with the player’s camp in the six months prior to his departure from Brighton due to their belief he would join Chelsea.

This ultimately became a self-fulfilling prophecy when Caicedo turned down a £111 million move to Anfield because he felt that key figures at Stamford Bridge had been more persistent in their desire to sign him.

That setback left Liverpool picking from a defensive midfield market that several recruitment sources described as being short of top-quality, pre-peak options.

And, though social media disagreed with that take, touting the likes of Florentino Luis at Benfica or PSV Eindhoven’s Ibrahim Sangare as the answer, the seasons that pair have just enjoyed are proof enough that the Reds’ judgement was sound.

 

Endo’s impact

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Monday, May 13, 2024: Liverpool's Wataru Endo on the pitch before the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In the end, Wataru Endo was instead settled on as a short-term solution, and his value was underlined by a season that brought several fine performances, a major trophy, and a return to the Champions League.

However, it is also worth noting that the Japanese is now 31 years old and has swelled Liverpool’s options in central midfield without being the peak-age, truly world-class holding midfielder so many desire.

This has led to a numbers issue in the engine room that is best underlined by the fact that Thiago and Stefan Bajcetic managed a combined 102 minutes across all competitions last term and yet were barely missed.

As such, even the departure of one of that pair has not fully alleviated the bloat or solved the problem of the squad being heavy on No. 8s rather than specialist holders – an issue that will be further exacerbated should Arne Slot stick to his preferred 4-2-3-1.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 31, 2024: Liverpool's Wataru End? (L) and Alexis Mac Allister celebrate after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-1. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Arne Slot, Feyenoord (Getty Images, Via UEFA Handout)

It is this squad imbalance allied with uncertainty over what the new coach wants that makes it particularly difficult to predict what happens next in terms of holding midfield.

As they have been for the last few years, the Reds are still clearly monitoring that market, meaning links to the likes of Alan Varela at Porto and Atalanta’s Ederson are not so easily shot down.

But with so much up in the air – and not forgetting that Slot and his sporting director Richard Hughes do not officially start in their roles until June 1 – it remains to be seen whether admiring from afar will turn into a concrete move for a No. 6 this time around.

Either way, Liverpool’s need for a true Fabinho replacement promises to be one of the more intriguing stories of their summer, as has been the case for the last two years.