Less than 24 hours after Liverpool’s Champions League defeat to Real Madrid, the Reds’ heart shattered into smithereens for the second time.
With news breaking about Sadio Mané’s purported departure from Anfield, the club’s supporters have been forced to say goodbye to a player who has been a fan favorite for over half a decade on the terraces of the Kop.
Never recognized as much as Mohamed Salah, Mané was almost always just as reliable. He had endured a dip in form during the 2021 calendar year, but he bounced back strong in 2022, and was the club’s best performer at times in the second half of the 2021/22 campaign.
Liverpool may have replaced him on the left wing with the arrival of Luis Díaz in January, but that does not mean that Mané’s departure will not significantly weaken the squad. Mané will leave a major void, one that has to be addressed this summer if FSG are serious about maintaining Liverpool’s race with their arch rivals.
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However, since Díaz’s departure solves Liverpool’s left wing issue, the money recouped on Mané could be invested in another area of the squad.
In the Champions League final, Liverpool struggled to breakdown a resilient low-block Real Madrid defense. Speaking in the aftermath of the game, Steven Gerrard highlighted to BT Sport the one area he would like Liverpool to reinforce this summer.
“For Liverpool, if you think about the next five, six, seven years, they’re going to need a midfielder, an eight, who can get goals, who can get double figures. They are heavily reliant on the front three – or the front five if you include Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino.
“You always need one of those midfielders that’s going to get in the box and get you goals.”
Gerrard is right. That type of midfielder is the one area where the club’s rivals, Manchester City, have hegemony over Liverpool. If there are extra funds to invest into the squad on the back of Mané’s departure then FSG should do their utmost to bring in that kind of midfielder – the kind, in short, epitomised by Gerrard himself.
In the club’s quest to do so, FSG’s first destination should be RB Leipzig, where the perfect candidate could be Christopher Nkunku. The French international is not only capable of playing in midfield but he is also comfortable playing in any of the front three roles at Liverpool, which makes him an enticing target.
Nkunku’s teammate, Dominik Szoboszlai, could be another excellent option. The Hungarian international has previously spoken highly of the club and Jürgen Klopp. He is a midfielder who could be tailor-made for a role in Liverpool’s front three and has previously been likened to Kevin de Bruyne due to his ability to score and create from midfield.
Staying in the Bundesliga, another option may be Florian Wirtz. A hard-working midfielder, Wirtz is capable of creating and scoring chances and is of the same ilk as Philippe Coutinho with his diminutive stature and explosive playing style. The only downside to Wirtz is that he hasn’t played football since March and is not expected to return to action until mid-September, having suffered an ACL injury. On the plus side, he may cost less for Liverpool this summer considering there will be fewer suitors for him while he is on the side line.
Lastly, Nicolò Barella could be another intriguing candidate, with the midfielder not only capable of scoring goals but also adept at creating opportunities. He hasn’t enjoyed his best personal season, but he has still contributed directly to 17 goals with Inter Milan – far exceeding any Liverpool midfielder this season.
The best Mané ‘replacement’ might well be someone more in the Gerrard role. Liverpool certainly have options.