Liverpool are certain to look to add at least one more attacker to their ranks before the new season, with Shakhtar Donetsk attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan a popular choice in the Anfield corridors of power this summer.
Manager Brendan Rodgers spoke, via the official club website, about the need to add one more "attacking, creative player," while the sale of Jonjo Shelvey to Swansea City also indicates that a central attacking midfielder will more than likely be coming in.
Mkhitaryan ticks all the right boxes for Liverpool this summer, and he has been linked with a move to the Reds, as per David Maddock in the Mirror, almost from day one of the rumour season.
A move for the Armenian international would be pricey, perhaps even becoming Liverpool's second-highest transfer signing ever, but it would ultimately be worth every penny for the Reds.
What Liverpool Need from a New No. 10
Last season, the Reds played a variety of players in the No. 10 role, the attacking midfielder, from Nuri Sahin and Jonjo Shelvey at the beginning of the season to the functional Jordan Henderson, the new arrival Philippe Coutinho and even a reorganised attack with Luis Suarez as the deeper forward.
While all brought their own skill set to the team, if manager Brendan Rodgers is not keen to continue with Coutinho's vision and passing ability in that role (though he does lack real strength), then it signals a clear indication of what the boss will be trying to do.
Coutinho will almost be guaranteed a spot on the left side of the attack, which the Reds will try to maintain as a front line of three whenever possible. This in turn signifies a much heavier defensive and tactical responsibility on the attacking midfielder, who must be capable and diligent going toward his own goal as much as lending an attacking threat in the opposite direction.
Creativity is important, but it comes in different forms; Coutinho provides the flair and vision to beat a man and pick improbable through-balls, while another player alongside him could be the consistent, reliable passer who finds his teammates with impressive regularity in open spaces to attack.
Goals, too, will be a vital addition in this key area.
Why Mkhitaryan Is Worth Betting Large on
Quite simply put, he ticks all the boxes of the requirements for the position.
Mkhitaryan's work-rate is impressive. He shirks no duty heading toward his own goal, and while he's no physical beast, he can more than match a traditional central midfielder for running capacity, defensive awareness and commitment to the cause.
His versatility might not be a tipping point, but it won't hurt, either, as he can easily switch to a deeper midfield position or play from the right side of attack as required.
Aside from his stamina levels, Mkhitaryan has great pace, which enables him to beat men down the channels without the need for any particular trickery, though he is far from a hit-it-and-run type of attacker. One of his more impressive attributes is his decision-making with his use of the ball; an open space is a target to hit, either for himself with the ball at his feet or the runners moving off him.
A new No. 10 will be an important signing for Liverpool because he will be playing at the heart of the already-established key players—Steven Gerrard behind in midfield, Daniel Sturridge and/or Luis Suarez in attack, Coutinho from the left.
The attacking midfielder needs to be capable of giving his best but also helping to get the best out of those others.
Coutinho will thrive with great movement ahead of him, and Mkhitaryan can certainly provide that; his off-the-ball movement is exceptional and his runs are made with great intelligence, either beyond the usual width a No. 10 operates in (to find space) or else late into the penalty box to score one of his familiar short-range strikes.
Through-passes, an ability to cross, tactical awareness to become a 4 in attack or a 3 in midfield and the physical capacity to do it all, game after game, makes Mkhitaryan a standout candidate for the role this summer.
He'll be expensive, yes, but Liverpool have to improve. To do that, they need to buy players who are significantly better than what they have, not just find more options to maintain the quality level—though that of course is also important.
No More Signings? No Problem
The sales of Shelvey and Andy Carroll, the retirement of Jamie Carragher and the departures of Peter Gulacsi and Danny Wilson, coupled with the arrivals so far of Iago Aspas, Simon Mignolet, Luis Alberto and Kolo Toure, mean that, so far, the Reds have shelled out around a net figure of £3 million.
While this is far from an exorbitant sum for a summer of spending, the capture of Mkhitaryan could catapult the figure to near the £30 million mark. That may or may not be the very upper limit of the Reds' spending, or it could even be beyond it already.
Were that the case, Rodgers would be able to make no more signings without offloading players first.
It seems likely that certain first-team members will depart from Anfield before September; Sebastian Coates is one, Oussama Assaidi another and Stewart Downing a third, while many supporters believe Pepe Reina is to be on borrowed time at Liverpool after the signing of Mignolet.
Regardless of who ends up leaving, the point is that the net figures of spending could drop significantly, so even a highest-cost prediction of £25-30 million for Mkhitaryan would not be prohibitive. It might mean that no further incoming deals can be completed this year, but it's a risk the Reds should be willing to take—even at the expense of not signing another central defender—to bring in the Armenian.
Toure, Martin Kelly and Andre Wisdom can all provide depth, and that's without even considering Martin Skrtel remaining at the club.
Going by the transfer rumours surrounding Mkhitaryan, only German Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund appeared to have any interest in signing him aside from Liverpool—and their capture of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should end their pursuit of Mkhitaryan.
This is a one-off deal for Liverpool at this point in their long history.
With an immediate objective of returning to Champions League football, Liverpool need Champions League-standard players. They aren't queueing up just now to move to Anfield and certainly not without other teams standing alongside waiting to pick them off. So if the transfer of the Shakhtar midfielder to Liverpool is possible, the club must do everything within its power to bring him in.
Mkhitaryan is a good enough step up in quality to push the Reds much closer to the top four.
If they need to put all their eggs in one basket on this occasion to snare their man, that's exactly what Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers should be doing.
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