Jude Bellingham is a player who excels in his ability to create chances for himself and others. He is someone who carries the ball with incredible purpose and bravery. He can defend. He can act as a team’s main playmaker. He wins headers. And he is obviously a player who understands tactics and certainly does not play or act like a 19-year-old boy.
He might have it all as a central midfielder, but Liverpool clearly cannot justify spending over £130million on him when they need a whole new midfield, not just one terrific player to play in that position. Even if he can be one of the best for the next decade at the very least.
The Reds clearly need to invest this summer and are expected to do just that. Here is an in-depth look at 10 midfield players the Premier League club should pursue with Bellingham no longer on the agenda. It is important to emphasise right away that out-and-out defensive midfielders like Moises Caicedo will not be on this list as they are not the same profile as Bellingham.
Mason Mount (Chelsea)
Bellingham and Mason Mount have shared the pitch for England on nine occasions. Amusingly, out of every international teammate, Bellingham’s joint second-worst points per game record (1.33) is with the Chelsea midfielder. He clearly doesn’t link up well with Jarrod Bowen, whom he has a shocking record of 0.33 points per game when they share the pitch. This is not relevant, just amusing.
Mount’s list of similar players on fbref is very generous. His style of play and effectiveness can be compared to Kevin De Bruyne, Martin Odegaard and Nicolo Barella, apparently. This is not to say Mount isn’t a good player or someone Liverpool should not pursue; he wouldn’t be on this list otherwise.
The phrase ‘set-piece merchant’ is thrown around far too often by fans these days – well, fans on social media, anyway. However, the ability to create danger from dead ball situations cannot be underestimated. That is something Mount is brilliant at, whether it be a free-kick shooting opportunity, free-kick crossing opportunity or a corner kick. Bellingham is not someone you would count on to create chances from these scenarios, or even crossing from open play. While there is nothing wrong with that when he offers so much more, Mount can add that dimension to Liverpool, while being able to do a whole lot more.
The Chelsea and England midfielder is often scapegoated by his club and international fans. Why? That is unclear. Is it because he isn’t a flashy player you will see doing rabonas, backheels and stepovers? Is it because his biggest strength is his tactical flexibility and work rate? Those two go hand in hand and give you a good idea of what sort of player Mount is.
There is a reason he has been heavily relied on by Gareth Southgate, Frank Lampard, Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter. When you compare Mount to other central midfielders, he has very impressive statistics in all that is needed to play in that position. When compared to other midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues, the 24-year-old is in the top 11 per cent for non-penalty expected goals, total shots, assists, expected assists, shot-creating actions and has the highest amount of touches in the attacking penalty area and progressive passes received.
A clear menace in the final third and someone who contributes defensively and when pressing, Mount suits Jurgen Klopp’s system perfectly and Liverpool fans would be silly to turn their noses up at the prospect of him joining, especially when he could be available for a very decent price given his contract situation at Stamford Bridge.
Nicolo Barella (Inter Milan)
Italian midfielder Nico Barella has been strongly linked with a move to Anfield for quite some time now. Barella was on the scoresheet against Benfica in Inter Milan’s Champions League quarter-final first-leg win, getting on the end of a succulent Alessandro Bastoni cross to open the scoring in the tie.
Like Mount, Barella has (nearly) everything you would want from a central midfielder – but is more technically gifted and fierce. That edge to his game probably comes from the fact he is quite short and if he weren’t a nasty b*stard he would probably get bullied every game. Also similar to Mount, Barella thrives in causing havoc in the final third and has consistently shown superb creativity and goalscoring prowess.
Barella’s biggest problem is his ability defensively. One look at that section on fbref tells you all you need to know. The 26-year-old is a poor tackler, is taken on by a dribbler too often and has an alarmingly low interception rate (0.38 per game). He is damn good with the ball at his feet, but is clearly not the best when out of possession, which could be a big concern.
A recent report claimed Barella would be available for €50m (£44m) this summer.
Matheus Nunes (Wolves)
Back to Premier League talents and remaining with a player who has been linked with a move to Liverpool for bloody ages. Wolves signed Matheus Nunes from Sporting last summer, beating the Reds in the race to land him – although it is unclear whether or not Klopp’s side actually tried to make it happen. Nunes has been a bit disappointing this season but remains linked with the Reds and showed everyone what he is all about with that volley against Chelsea.
Nunes is obviously a player Klopp likes. He clearly has the ability to score wonder goals but has not displayed that nearly often enough in a Wolves shirt. What he has been able to display in England is his ball-carrying and power.
The 24-year-old is similar to Bellingham in that he is able to carry his team up the pitch and is forward-thinking more often than not. He is quite raw, which you would maybe not expect from a player his age, but this is still his first year in England, and the easing-in process at Molineux could put Nunes in a decent position to thrive for Liverpool.
Conor Gallagher (Chelsea)
Conor Gallagher is top of the list of similar players to Bellingham on fbref, which may come as a bit of a surprise to many. The Chelsea midfielder is more combative than his England teammate, though the latter is not afraid to get stuck in. Both players are young, have an eye for goal, and can operate effectively as a box-to-box midfielder, though it is very fair to say the Dortmund wonderkid is the better player with a much higher ceiling.
Gallagher would be a good signing for Liverpool, there is no doubt about that. However, he is the sort of player the club should only be targeting if they are planning to add another two midfielders alongside him. Chelsea are willing to offload the 23-year-old and whether or not they’d be happy to sell to a Premier League rival is not up for debate; they need the money and can’t pick and choose who they are selling players to.
Reading Gallagher’s strengths and weaknesses on WhoScored is quite amusing. Considering he is a central midfielder, you would expect him to excel in passing, finishing and discipline. But no. His strengths are apparently actually ‘blocking the ball’ and ‘defensive contribution’. Funnily enough, that could be enough to thrive in a Klopp midfield.
A lot of clubs are interested in signing Gallagher. Everton, Crystal Palace, Newcastle United and West Ham are all believed to like the former Eagles and West Brom loanee, so competition will be fierce. Saying that, Liverpool should consider themselves favourites considering the size of the club and the minutes Klopp will be able to guarantee. Newcastle are the only club they should be wary of, but Eddie Howe has Joelinton – who is very similar to Gallagher – and Bruno Guimaraes – who would be on this list if he wasn’t completely unattainable. If he leaves the Magpies, it will probably only be for Real Madrid.
Declan Rice (West Ham)
Although it was said at the start that defensive midfielders like Moises Caicedo will not be included as they are not direct alternatives to Bellingham, Declan Rice can and often does play as a No. 6, but also excels in a box-to-box role. Arsenal are believed to be leading the race to sign the West Ham captain at this moment in time with Chelsea obviously keen as well. This will be an interesting transfer race involving more teams than the battle to sign Bellingham.
It hasn’t been Rice’s best season but he is playing for a very poor team. The 24-year-old is very tidy on the ball, is proven at international level and in the Premier League and, as aforementioned, can play two different midfield roles very well. He is also surprisingly disciplined. For someone playing in his role for West Ham, it is interesting to see he is in the top 96 per cent for fouls committed and has never received a red card in his senior career.
The only major downside of signing Rice is his price tag. He enters the final year of his West Ham contract this summer but the Londoners still want a hefty fee to let their captain leave. Manager David Moyes has previously said £100m will get it done. He has also said the club’s valuation is closer to £150m. No club is going to pay nine figures, surely? Multiple reports say the expected transfer fee will be between £70-80m, which is a lot better, but still pretty expensive for a player who will be available for nothing in 2024.
Amadou Onana (Everton)
The fact Amadou Onana plays for Liverpool’s city rivals Everton automatically makes this quite an unrealistic signing, but we will run with it anyway.
Onana joined the Toffees from Lille for around £30m last year. He is only 21, can play as a holding or box-to-box midfielder and is bloody massive, standing 6’3″ tall. Obviously, that ability to win headers and get his legs where others can’t comes in very handy and would make him a right menace if teamed up with Mount.
Unlike Bellingham, Mount and Barella, Onana lacks that cutting edge in the final third. One goal in 30 appearances is less than ideal, but Everton are pretty bad, in fairness to the Belgian international.
Even if you take away the fact Onana plays for Everton, this is probably the player least suited to Liverpool on this list. Also, he will be pretty expensive should the Toffees avoid the drop. He penned a five-year contract when he signed for £30m and would cost at least double that amount, you would think.
Enzo Le Fee (Lorient)
A player who wouldn’t be overpriced is Lorient playmaker Enzo Le Fee. The 23-year-old is valued at €15m (£13.2m) and has publicly said he will not extend his contract – which expires in 2024 – and that he wants to find a new club at the end of the season. Le Fee will surely be available for a very Le Fee this summer, and that is not the only reason Liverpool should add him to their shortlist. He is actually pretty damn good at football.
Le Fee is not afraid to get stuck in, which is a similar trait to Barella, with both players suffering from little-man syndrome. The French playmaker is a great overall passer with a mean delivery into the penalty area. He is one of the best in Europe at dribbling past players, can take set-pieces, effectively shoots from distance and particularly thrives when carrying the ball – something that has been emphasised in this article, mainly because it is very important for a central midfielder.
The only negative is Le Fee’s physical attributes. He is a little shorter than 5’6″ and weighs about 10 stone. The Frenchman could get bullied in England, which is also a worry for Barella. At least Le Fee is not poor defensively and his tenacity could bail him out. Either way, he is one to watch this summer.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio)
From a rather small man to a rather tall one, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic has been linked with a move to the Premier League for an eternity. Will it ever happen? Probably not. Yet, here we are again.
Surprisingly, Liverpool are one team who don’t tend to be linked with the Serbian international. That honour often falls to Manchester United or Arsenal. Saying that, the Reds need midfielders and it is about time Milinkovic-Savic moved to England. He is very highly rated in Italy and in particular Rome. If you watch him play often enough it is easy to see why. The 28-year-old is a big goal threat but also a frequent assist provider and chance creator. For someone his size, he has incredible balance and possesses an excellent ability to take on his man.
Milinkovic-Savic is basically an older, Serbian version of Bellingham. If Lazio are willing to sell him for a respectable price this summer – with one year left on his contract – this is a transfer Klopp must pursue.
Aurelien Tchouameni (Real Madrid)
French international Aurelien Tchouameni was linked with a move to Liverpool last summer before he opted to join European champions Real Madrid. Given the club’s contrasting campaigns, that looks to have been the correct decision. However, he is already being linked with an exit and it is no surprise to see the Reds keeping tabs on his situation ahead of the summer transfer window.
The 23-year-old has featured 36 times for Madrid this term, but has only played 12 minutes in his side’s previous two Champions League matches and has failed to start eight of Los Blancos’ last 14 La Liga encounters. It was recently reported that Liverpool have made Tchouameni their number-one target this summer, but whether or not Madrid are willing to sell is another thing. And if they are, he is going to cost a fortune.
Everyone knows how good Tchouameni is. Klopp evidently does, anyway. If you are wondering why he is on this list when Caicedo is not, it’s because he, like Rice, can play deep and further up in a midfield three. For what it’s worth, Caicedo is certainly capable of playing the same role as Bellingham, but it would be a huge waste considering his outstanding ability to play as a No. 6.
Alexis Mac Allister (Brighton)
Why not save the best for last, eh?
There are plenty of positives with Alexis Mac Allister. He is a proven Premier League talent having shone for Brighton for a season and a half. He is only 24. A World Cup winner. And he wasn’t just a squad player for Argentina in 2022, he was a crucial one.
Mac Allister has eight Premier League goals this season and is attracting interest from Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea. A summer departure seems extremely likely, though it is believed Brighton want at least £100m – which is too much money.
Saying that, the 24-year-old is a fine player and would walk straight into Klopp’s starting XI and is the best Bellingham alternative out there – if you ignore the price tag.
Mac Allister is arguably the most attacking player on this list so offers different qualities to players like Mount and Rice, but he has done enough to merit all of the interest in him.