Liverpool, Man Utd must fight Bayern for the Premier League’s leading defensive midfielder

Will Ford
Joao Palhinha Man Utd Liverpool Bayern
Bayern still want Joao Palhinha, but Liverpool and Manchester United should too.

Joao Palhinha might just be the Premier League’s best defensive midfielder; Liverpool and Manchester United both need a defensive midfielder. They can’t let Bayern sign him without a fight.

It will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that Bayern Munich remain interested in Joao Palhinha. The German giants saw a summer bid of £57m rejected for the defensive midfielder, but will reportedly return with a fresh offer in January, with Fulham supposedly now willing to part with the Portugal international, who presumably still has designs on bigger and better opportunities.

Having failed to sign a like-for-like alternative to Palhinha, Thomas Tuchel has used Konrad Laimer – who joined on a free transfer from RB Leipzig – or Leon Goretzka in a double-pivot with Joshua Kimmich, but neither have looked comfortable and don’t provide anything like the aggression and defensive cover Tuchel is clearly after.

There’s a Palhinha-shaped hole at Bayern. But so too is there at Liverpool and Manchester United.

“I think if Palhinha plays for Liverpool, then they can win the league. He is that good,” said Owen Hargreaves, a man who could be described as an old-school version of the player he believes is the missing piece in Jurgen Klopp’s midfield.

Alexis Mac Allister has been operating in that defensive role since his £35million move from Brighton, and done so impressively in the most part. There’s certainly a benefit to having a creator like Mac Allister in that deeper position, but Liverpool’s failed chases of Romeo Lavia and Moises Caicedo in the summer, as well as reports continually linking them with other No.6 options, suggests they’re merely making do before Klopp’s able to complete his midfield rebuild.

Palhinha has been linked, but only in an idle ‘he’s a defensive midfielder and Liverpool need one’ way – there’s no substance to, or corroboration of, the fleeting rumours. To not hold serious interest in Palhinha given his desire to play at a higher level and the club’s requirement for a defensive midfielder is odd.

No Premier League player has more than Palhinha’s 69 combined tackles and interceptions this season. In fact, no-one really comes close, with Yves Bissouma second best on 54. It was the same story last term, with Moises Caicedo (156) a distant second best to Palhinha (193).

Fulham midfielder Joao Palhinha and Mason Mount battle for the ball.
Joao Palhinha and Mason Mount battle for the ball.

Chelsea paying £115m for Caicedo after his displays for Brighton last term and the praise that’s been lavished on Bissouma this season should illustrate just how brilliant Palhinha has been, if the numbers alone aren’t evidence enough.

His age may be an issue. Liverpool signed Ryan Gravenberch (21) and Dominik Szoboszlai (23) along with Mac Allister (24) in the summer, and 28-year-old Palhinha would be considered a short-term solution compared to those three.

But he’s a relatively young 28-year-old, if that makes any sense at all, in that he didn’t start a huge number of games until 2019 – he’s something of a late bloomer. Palhinha has made 290 appearances in his senior career, which is in stark contrast to someone like Bruno Fernandes, who’s just a few months older, and has racked up over 500. You could say – though we wouldn’t as it borders on inappropriate – that Palhinha’s got the legs of a 26-year-old.

Manchester United may well be more concerned by his age than Liverpool given Casemiro’s alarming downturn. But it’s precisely because of the Brazilian’s speedy demise that United need Palhinha as much – if not more – than their red rivals. They were linked with slightly more gusto than Liverpool in the summer.

We’re not sure how much more wincing we can take watching Christian Eriksen chase counter-attacking whippersnappers in vain at Old Trafford. He needs a warrior – as Casemiro was last season – alongside him, and Scott McTominay, oodles of Manchester United DNA considered, is not the answer to Erik ten Hag’s midfield problem. Sofyan Amrabat hasn’t looked as though he will be either.

Palhinha is the ready-made solution for both United and Liverpool, both of whom would be mad to allow Bayern a free hit at player who would immediately and undeniably make them significantly better football teams.