Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina has had a season of ups and downs, and the speculation which has followed him throughout the campaign regarding his Liverpool future has stepped up of late amid rumours of interest from Barcelona.
The Reds' stopper has been hailed as an important part of the team in the future by manager Brendan Rodgers (via Goal.com):
It's that silly season now that starts up all the rumours and whatnot but Pepe's not for sale. He's got three years left on his contract here, he's happy and obviously there's speculation but it's not worth commenting on.
Nonetheless, rumours persist that Reina is wanted by Barcelona this summer (via Liverpool Daily Post) and having been at the club for some time now, it is likely that the Reds will have contingency plans in place in case the Spaniard does move on.
Any new goalkeeper for Liverpool will have to have several key attributes to his game to succeed under Brendan Rodgers. Aside from the basics of being a good shot-stopper and competent in the art of controlling his penalty area, the manager also requires that the man between the sticks is capable of playing with the ball at his feet and does not stick to merely operating within his six-yard box.
With that in mind, here are six possible replacements for Reina; two from the world football section of the rumour mill and four more who the Reds should at the very least be looking at and considering.
One of the more recent transfer rumours linking Liverpool with a new goalkeeper focuses on Ajaccio stopper Guillermo Ochoa (as per Sky Sports).
The Mexican is 27 years of age and has been at the Ligue 1 club for two seasons, helping them to a 16th-place finish last season and 14th so far this. The long-term international first choice has 52 caps for his nation so far and is highly regarded in terms of his athleticism and ability to make reflex saves, but is also competent with the ball at his feet.
The latter, of course, is an important aspect for the manager when considering any new players for that position.
Ochoa is a good goalkeeper, granted, but having spent most of his career in his home country he has yet to play for a big club in Europe, making some supporters skeptical of his true top level of ability. It shouldn't really be a consideration, but Ajaccio are hardly wave-makers in the French top flight and the lack of apparent interest elsewhere in Ochoa's services might be a better guide.
Ochoa might be one name in the papers linked with Liverpool, but he's far from the only one.
The inevitable speculation about new No. 1s at Anfield leads to Michel Vorm being linked with the Anfield club too, as the first-choice goalkeeper and personal signing of Brendan Rodgers when he was boss of Swansea City (as per Liverpool Echo).
Vorm has built a reputation in the Premier League with the Swans as a reliable shot-stopper, a good distributor and a consistent performer, everything that Liverpool will need to find if Reina does leave.
Is he the man to replace Pepe? It would be a somewhat underwhelming signing for some, but that won't matter if Vorm makes the right impact between the sticks. His quality is there, but whether it is comparable to the likes of Petr Cech, Hugo Lloris and co.—the goalkeepers of the top-four clubs Liverpool are chasing—is another question.
One which perhaps can only be answered when, and if, Vorm does make another move to a top club.
Now onto those who figure outside of the media rumours, but who have the proven credentials or the undoubted potential to be Champions League-quality players.
First up is Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.
At 27 years of age, Akinfeev is hugely experienced, having been first choice goalkeeper and captain for club and country for a number of years. He has already made 58 appearances for Russia and is the established first choice once more, while for CSKA Moscow he has been on the first-team scene since his late teen years.
This season Akinfeev has kept 15 clean sheets in 25 Russian Premier League matches, having come back from a serious ACL injury last year.
Akinfeev is a dominant character who organises his defence well and is a commanding aerial presence close to goal, while he also has excellent shot-stopping abilities and has significantly improved his decision making and effectiveness when coming out of goal to close down attackers in recent seasons.
He would be an expensive purchase, but would represent proven quality with many years of excellence still ahead of him.
Perhaps the finest young goalkeeper around at the moment, German stopper Marc-Andre ter Stegen is the Borussia Monchengladbach No. 1 at 21 years of age and has already played twice for the Germany national team.
As one of the biggest young talents in the game right now, it is probable that if he was available for transfer this summer then a whole host of teams would be after him, and indeed Barcelona are one of those who have been linked with bids for him (via Sport.es, in Spanish).
If the Reina to Barça deal is confirmed though, the path might be clear for others to move in quickly; 'Gladbach would no doubt demand hefty recompense for parting with their gem, but Ter Stegen has the ability to be a first-choice goalkeeper right now and the time and potential to improve to become one of the world's best over the next decade.
It might be a stretch for Liverpool to sign him, but they'll surely have been monitoring his progress and availability much like every other big club around the continent in need of a goalkeeper.
Germany is something of a hot-bed of young goalkeeping talent right now though and Ter Stegen is far from the only option.
Two of the more potentially attainable talents are 22-year-old Kevin Trapp and 21-year-old Bernd Leno, who play for Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen respectively. Both are regulars in the Germany under-21 team, though Leno has been the most recent No. 1, due in part to Trapp fracturing his hand in March which meant he has missed the rest of the season so far.
Trapp and Leno are both tall, strong goalkeepers with plenty of attributes to their game, and of course plenty to learn for both too. Learning to dominate their entire penalty area and distribute regularly to their back line will be important traits to pick up, but in terms of confidence and saving shots they are both up there among the best in the Bundesliga already.
How far they could go is yet to be determined, but either might make a great Liverpool goalkeeper for the next significant length of time.
Player data from TransferMarkt.co.uk