With news that Nabil Fekir, Lyon’s star number ten, looks set to sign for Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp looks to be building a championship-challenging side on Merseyside.
Many well-connected journalists have reported the deal as subject to a medical, including The Echo’s Ian Doyle and The Times’ Paul Joyce whose words can be trusted when it comes to matters regarding Liverpool FC.
While there have been rumours of complications with Fekir’s medical, which is said to have taken place in Paris as the French squad are training in preparation for the World Cup, the latest reports suggest that they are unlikely to derail the transfer.
In a number of ways, the Fekir move is a statement of how much better Liverpool are doing in the transfer market.
Patience is a virtue
The transfer, reminiscent of the Virgil van Dijk signing, is symptomatic of the patience with which Liverpool have approached recruitment under Jurgen Klopp and sporting director Michael Edwards.
They identified the centre-half as the right man and were eventually vindicated by his performances when he finally arrived, albeit one transfer window later.
Liverpool were criticised for not signing a direct replacement for Philippe Coutinho when he was sold to Barcelona in the January transfer window but, with Lyon’s president Jean-Michel Aulas a notoriously tough operator and the club still in the Europa League and challenging for a Champions League spot in Ligue 1, it would have been impossible to secure Fekir mid-season.
This is the reality of the winter transfer window in which most quality options are off the table.
Liverpool could have desperately gone out and paid over the odds for a lesser player in January, and whilst they may have contributed in the run-in the club would have been stuck with the wrong man going into next season and beyond.
This is the antithesis to the “someone, anyone” strategy that lead to Andy Carroll being their record signing and the directionlessness of the Hodgson and Dalglish years.
A more irresistible attack
The truth is that with van Dijk and without Coutinho, Liverpool were a better and more balanced team.
Their defence much improved, the front three largely took care on the goal-scoring burden as Porto, Manchester City and Roma found out in the Champions League. They could also be depended upon to carve open any opposition, often to a devastating degree.
But there was the occasional reminder that Coutinho might have offered them something. Against Chelsea, Liverpool huffed and puffed to little end product. The same against Stoke.
Fekir is a player with a different profile to Coutinho, but he can offer many of the same qualities – more incisiveness from deep, quality from set-pieces and an ability to shoot from outside of the box. Liverpool’s attack would be even more multi-faceted.
Fekir stepped up a level last season for Lyon, driving them to a third-place finish despite losing the likes of Corentin Tolisso and Alexandre Lacazette. He became their leading light, even drawing comparisons to Lionel Messi because of the way absolutely everything went through him.
There was a phase in December last year where Coutinho contributed just as much as the three ahead of him with the “fab four” earning their nickname.
Five goals against Brighton. Seven against Spartak Moscow. Five against Swansea. Four against Bournemouth. Three against Arsenal. In those games, Coutinho scored six goals and created five more – if Fekir can offer a similar contribution, playing behind Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, the offensive potential is frightening.
Reliable from the penalty spot too, alongside other Ligue 1 signing Fabinho, this is another area in which they should improve.
Versatility and depth
The other occasion in which Coutinho’s absence was telling was the Champions League final after Salah got injured. All of a sudden the gulf in class between the likes of Adam Lallana, James Milner and Jordan Henderson and Real Madrid’s formidable pairing Toni Kroos and Luka Modric became clear to see.
Both Englishmen had done exceptionally well and their spirit and endeavour usually accentuated Liverpool’s biggest strength – their frontline – but once the system broke down, and more creativity was demanded of them, they struggled.
The addition of Fekir means that shouldn’t be a problem. He’s well suited to playing further forward and covering for injuries in Liverpool’s front three, or posing problems when picking up the ball in the middle of the park.
For the first time at Liverpool, Klopp will have genuine quality on his bench next season and the ability to make dynamic, match-changing substitutions. Liverpool’s midfield that started the Champions League final – Henderson, Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum – will have their work cut out to get minutes with three top-quality arrivals from the continent in Fekir, Fabinho and Naby Keita.
But they have shown they can be trusted, at the very least as water-carriers, as Liverpool made a European final. That’s not to mention Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was progressing well until his season was cut short through injury.
Fekir can add an extra dimension to either Liverpool’s midfield or attack. They should finally have the depth to compete on different fronts going forward.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss France’s chances in the World Cup for Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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