Liverpool’s 2017/18 Premier League campaign is well under way and it is safe to say that the Reds fortunes this season have been very mixed. Domination at Anfield that has resulted in the smashings of Arsenal and Southampton have been overshadowed by batterings away from home at fellow top six rivals Manchester City and Tottenham. These frequent below-par performances away from home leave Liverpool languishing down in sixth place, already FOURTEEN points behind Pep Guardiola’s so-far dominant Manchester City.
As Liverpool prepare for the hectic winter schedule where games are in both the league and UEFA Champions League are coming every few days, attention has already started to turn towards the January transfer window that will give Jürgen Klopp the chance to strengthen his squad once more. Whilst all eyes will inevitably be on the ongoing Virgil Van Dijk saga, the German boss may have his mind fixated on next season as a whole host of quality players are available to leave under the Bosman ruling.
One key name on that extensive list is Schalke 04’s highly coveted central-midfielder Leon Goretzka. The German international will be the most sought out player this January with a whole host of Europe’s top clubs vying for his signature. Along with fellow Premier League clubs Arsenal and Chelsea, Liverpool look set to battle it out with the likes of the reigning Italian champions Juventus and the German champions Bayern Munich, with journalist Raphael Honigstein even claiming that Goretzka has agreed a deal in principle to sign for the five-time European Cup and Champions League winners. However, Goretzka has denied such claims and so this saga looks set to remain one of the biggest transfer stories of the season for the next few months at least.
At only 22-years of age, Goretzka has already featured 100 times for Schalke, as well as being capped 12 times at senior level for Germany, and he is someone who plays with the maturity and calmness of a veteran. In previous seasons, Goretzka was traditionally deployed as the defensive midfielder of the team, but under Domenico Tedesco he has seen a transition into a more advanced central position in the Italian coach’s preferred 3-5-2 formation.
When playing in this midfield two, Goretzka plays in the box-to-box role such are the strengths of both his defensive and offensive attributes. Being 6ft 2in combined with his robust reading of the game means he is exceptional at intercepting opposition attacks and making crucial blocks in and around his own area, demonstrated by the fact that Goretzka made more interceptions and blocks combined on average per game (2.8) last season than his midfield teammates. Goretzka doesn’t just stop when he wins the ball, however, as he then demonstrates quick-thinking when in possession to release his teammates on the counter-attack.
Not only is the German a wonderful technician with the ball, but perhaps his biggest offensive strength is his direct running with it. The current Schalke player is very similar to his international teammate, Emre Can, in the sense that he likes to pick the ball up from deep and drive forward, as well as being similar to another Liverpool midfielder, Georginio Wijnaldum, in the way that he looks to make late darting runs into the box. Both of these strengths of Goretzka’s are built on his direct play style and his ability to use his superb athleticism to break away from opposition chasers makes him very difficult to stop.
Liverpool’s current central-midfield armoury consists mainly of tricky, intricate players who look to move the ball at a quick tempo and outplay the opposition directly, but what they severely lack are players who are willing to run directly into the opposition half and take a risk. That is exactly what you would get with Goretzka. His average passes per match (35.2) last season was lower than any of the Reds current midfielders, however, his dribbles completed per game (1.2) were higher than the likes of Adam Lallana and Gini Wijnaldum. This area to his game would certainly be a welcome addition to Liverpool’s ranks, as his tendency to push on from midfield would benefit Klopp’s side immensely in the games they struggled last season: against the lower sides. His willingness to join his teammates when going forward resulted in him scoring 3 goals in just 7 Europa League appearances last season and has seen him rewarded with 4 goals in just 8 Bundesliga starts so far this season.
One final thing that makes Goretzka the perfect central-midfield player for Jürgen Klopp is his versatility. So far in 2017/18 the Bochum born star has adapted to whoever he has been asked to play alongside, whether that is to be passive when positioned next to Amine Harit or to be more aggressive when partnered with Nabil Bentaleb. Furthermore, he can also play on the right-hand side in Tedesco’s secondary formation of 3-4-3. His ability to do any role in the midfield makes him the perfect midfielder for a Klopp side and if Liverpool are able to acquire the signature of the man that Xavi described being “good enough to play for any team in the world” then he could form the basis of the Anfield club’s midfield alongside Naby Keïta for many years.