10 Midfielders That Liverpool Could Target as an Alternative to Naby Keita

As we enter the depths of July and the summer transfer window, Liverpool are embroiled in a saga. Every day brings a new twist for their pursuit of RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita, and a big-money move for the Guinean appears to be very much in the balance.


The all-action midfielder was one of the breakthrough stars of Leipzig's phenomenal season last year - as they qualified for the Champions League in their first Bundesliga campaign - and has attracted the inevitable attention of Europe's biggest predators. 


However, the German club are unwilling to give up without a fight and are attempting to price their star out of a move away. With suggestions of a £70m asking price doing the rounds, Jurgen Klopp's men may be priced out of a move. 


In any such case, the Reds have to sound out alternatives, so here are ten players that could be suitable targets should a move for Keita become unfathomable.

10. Paulinho

Few players head to China and revitalise their careers; but Paulinho has done just that. Branded a 'flop' at Spurs after a tepid two-year spell at White Hart Lane, the Brazilian moved to Guangzhou Evergrande for a mere £9.9m. 


With 27 goals in 91 appearances, Paulinho is enjoying himself in China, but that's not what got him onto this list. His performances for the Brazilian national team - under his ex-Corinthians boss Tite - have been nothing short of phenomenal. He has scored against Argentina and grabbed a hat-trick away to Uruguay this season, and is a beast in the middle of the Seleção midfield. 


Paulinho's re-birth is epitomised by Barcelona's continued interest in the 28-year old, and highlights that his name should not be scoffed at purely because of one bad spell at a club. 

9. Rafinha Alcantara

At 24 years of age, Rafinha can no long be considered as a young talent. Whilst some overlook the Brazilian for his brother Thiago - who incidentally elected to represent Spain - he has become a top-class player in his own right. 


Having elected to stay at Barcelona, and not to follow his brother's move abroad, Rafinha has gradually established himself as a reliable squad player. That being said, he is far too good to be 'simply a squad player' and has the ability to regularly start for a top European club. 


Whilst widely branded as a more attacking outlet, Rafinha is capable of playing the 'Number 8' role in a 4-3-3 formation and - much like Keita - is a very well-rounded midfielder. His pass completion is, unsurprisingly, far superior of Keita's (92.6% to 81.8%) and would better aid Klopp if he wanted to dominate possession in a game.

8. Mateo Kovačić

Another talent that is a victim of circumstance, Mateo Kovačić is a player that is worth far more than a regular seat on the bench. When you're competing against Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Isco - to name a few - it's no negative representation of your ability to be left out of the team. However, at 23-years-old it's time for Kovačić to be a key man for a big side.


As with his Barcelona counterpart, Kovačić is considered as a more attacking outlet, but his statistics show that he is capable of more. He averaged 2.4 tackles per game last season, which is just 0.2 short of Keita's figure, and was dribbled past less times (0.9 to 1). 


Tottenham Hotspur have also been heavily linked with the Croatian midfielder, however if Liverpool were to show interest you would suspect that they would have a good chance of sealing his signature; and for a price much further south than that of Keita.  

7. Leon Goretzka

A fellow breakthrough Bundesliga star from last season is Leon Goretzka. The 22-year old made 30 appearances in Schalke's side last season and earned himself a place in Germany's Confederations Cup squad. He scored three goals to win joint-Golden Boot, as the Germans won the competition, and his stock rose further. 


Goretzka stands tall (6ft 2.5) in midfield and fulfils the 'Number 8' role perfectly with goals and defensive actions. Last season he scored five goals, made an average of 2.2 tackles per game and 1.1 key passes per game. 


Whilst his statistics are mostly short of Keita's, he was playing in a less successful Schalke side and it should not be judged too heavily. His performances in a more dominant Germany side should prove enough food for thought on whether he can make it in the Premier League or not. 

6. João Mário

Last summer, João Mário's name was red-hot. He had just won Euro 2016 with Portugal, on the back of a superb season with Sporting Lisbon. After heavy speculation linking him with a move to Chelsea and Manchester United, he signed for Internazionale for an estimated fee of €45m. In a calamitous season for the Italian giants, Mário found it hard to reach full form and only made 22 league starts in a disappointing season. 


That being said, one season does not represent your whole quality as a footballer and he would still be a very useful addition for Liverpool's midfield. The 24-year old has the same roaming nature of Keita, and can even be deployed as a right midfielder. He also made more key passes than the Leipzig man (1.8) and had a higher pass accuracy (83.3%).

5. Blaise Matuidi

The star name on the list, it has been speculated all summer that last season was Blaise Matuidi's last as a Paris Saint-Germain player. The 30-year old has been targeted by Juventus, and could be a very achievable option should a big European team offer the right sort of money to the French giants - who are focusing more on keeping Marco Verratti at the club.


Matuidi's credentials need less explaining than most of the names on this list. For the last six years he has been one of the best midfield destroyers in Europe. Playing in such a dominant system in PSG's, he has also developed his ball usage skills; he surpassed Keita for the average number of passes per match (49.9 to 45.9) and pass completion (90.8 to 81.8). 


Most valuably to Liverpool, arguably, would be Matuidi's experience of Champions League football, and his know-how of knock-out football should Klopp's men get that far. 

4. Gonzalo Castro

One of the Budesliga's most experienced heads - and one that Klopp will know like the back of his hand - Gonzalo Castro could be a perfect budget option for Liverpool if their money was to go elsewhere (Virgil van Dijk anyone?). 


A strong recycler of the ball, Castro surpassed almost all of Keita's passing statistics from last season. He runs much less with the ball (0.6 dribbles per game to 2.7), but makes up for it with accurate (84% pass accuracy) and constant (49.9 passes per game) passes to his more creative teammates. 


With Sadio Mané, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah ahead of the midfield, this is arguably the trait that Klopp requires most as opposed to someone who can do it themselves from the middle of the park. With Jordan Henderson and/or Emre Can sitting deeper, a more advanced provider would complement Liverpool's midfield well. 

3. Sergej Milinković-Savić

Sergej Milinković-Savić was one of the best midfielders in the Serie A last season and is certainly a name that Klopp should be looking to. Originally a more advanced player, the Serb played in a role closer the that of the 'Number 8' for Lazio last season and was a revelation. 


The 22-year old has a set of statistics that are very close to that of Keita, with both players picking up seven assists and making a similar number of key passes (1.2 to 1.3). One number that does stand-out from the Spanish-born Lazio star's collection is his aerial battles. Whilst Keita won 0.6 per game, Milinković-Savić won 4.4 per game. His 6 foot 3.5 might have something to do with that, mind...


A tall playmaker is the perfect profile for a player to succeed in a Premier League midfield and Liverpool should look towards Milinković-Savić if the Keita deal falls through. 

2. Piotr Zielinski

One for the hipsters is Polish international and Maurizio Sarri-favourite Piotr Zielinski. The diminutive midfielder has had a successful first season at Napoli, and has proved his tactical IQ by thriving in Sarri's unique and dynamic systems. 


The 23-year old was used in a varied way by Sarri, with 18 starts and 18 substitute appearances, but was required in almost every match whether as starter or cameo. He racked up seven assists and five goals, and proved himself as an effective user of possession when given the ball. 


His 87.7% pass accuracy was complemented by only 0.6 unsuccessful touches per game (compared to 1.5 from Keita). It all equals to and trusted cog in a complex midfield system - something that Klopp clearly wants in his squad.

1. Jean Michael Seri

Nice had a fantastic season in Ligue 1 last season, and qualified for a Champions League spot after just drifting away from the title in the last few months of the season. Whilst the mercurial Mario Balotelli grabbed the spotlight, the true star was lying in their midfield. 


Jean Michael Seri had an exceptional and productive campaign, scoring seven goals and assisting nine. The 25-year old is only 5ft 5, but managed to control the pitch on regular occasions last season. His passing attributes are the headliner of his arsenal, and he was better than Keita for every distribution statistic last year. 


His 83.4 passes per game is the stand-out of that bunch, especially when compared with Keita's 45.9 per game. Unlike anybody else in this list, he is someone that looks more for longer passes, with 4.7 per game last year. With Mo Salah and Sadio Mané running in-behind, that's surely a tactical option that Klopp would look at.