Liverpool have been struggling for goals this season despite the influx of over £50 million worth of attacking talent in the summer of 2015, and Jurgen Klopp will be wondering when—or if—his luck in this area will turn.
Roberto Firmino, signed in the midst of a Copa America campaign leading Brazil’s line, has been exceptionally inconsistent; he’ll rip the doors down at the Etihad Stadium, then follow up with an extremely quiet performance against “lesser” opposition.
Christian Benteke has been a square peg in a round hole, and it’s only his knack of finding the back of the net semi-regularly (offsetting the other 89 disappointing minutes in which all of his mechanics are off) that save him from red-hot media scorn.
Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge are both perennially injured, while Danny Ings, too, is out for the year due to an ACL tear. That one seemed especially cruel: He’d just been called up to the England squad after a lovely patch of form under Brendan Rodgers and scored a goal in the Merseyside derby.
So Klopp is well within his rights to search for answers in the January market, and although there are perhaps more pressing needs in the squad—a centre-back, perhaps?—the Reds are still only eight points off fourth place; if a player can fire them there, and he’s available, the gamble is worth taking.
According to Marcus Christenson of the Guardian, that player has been identified, and his name is Alex Teixeira of Shakhtar Donetsk. The report states Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre has flown to the United States to meet the Ukrainian club (in their winter training camp) to hash out a deal, and B/R’s own source at the club confirmed they will seek more than the circa €30 million opening bid.
So who is Teixeira, and why is he attracting Klopp’s attention to the tune of such a large fee?
He’s a player the German boss will be well aware of, considering his former club, Borussia Dortmund, took Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Shakhtar in the summer of 2013. When scouting the Armenian, Teixeira was a key part of the XI—as he was when Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea scouted Willian from the same club, with the Blues winning the race for the winger.
Alex Teixeira and Douglas Costa were both slowly groomed by Mircea Lucescu at Shakhtar and educated the right way. Both outstanding now— John Bradley (@JBcommentator) January 21, 2016
Really, the high-profile interest has been a long time coming; the Brazilian has been with Shakhtar for six years and grown into a fantastic footballer, with 2015-16 undoubtedly his coming-of-age campaign.
He has netted an absolutely ridiculous 22 goals from 15 starts in the Ukrainian Premier League this season, per WhoScored.com. He’s also added three in the UEFA Champions League, two of which came against Real Madrid in a home 4-3 loss.
The positive swing in production lies, perhaps, in manager Mircea Lucescu’s decision to line him up more frequently as a support striker.
He’s a player capable of playing anywhere across the advanced midfield line and has taken up roles behind, left and right of a lone forward in the past, but this campaign Shakhtar have been more 4-4-2 than ever at times, with Teixeira playing just off Eduardo da Silva or Oleksandr Gladkiy.
He’s clearly enjoying the more prominent new role, and while there were times in the Champions League he would end up switched wide as the team searched for goals, he’s been the best player in the box in Ukraine so far this season. His penetrative runs, good near-post movement and instinctive, confident finishing are the key factors behind his goal tallies.
Of course, he plays in a thoroughly dominant team that wins 90 percent of its domestic games, so the goals are bound to flow, but Shakhtar have always been this good in comparison to Ukrainian counterparts, and no forward has found the back of the net this regularly other than Mkhitaryan.
It’s important to note that while he has been pushed forward into a more advanced role, he is not playing a prima punta (No. 9) role in this side. He may be the main goal outlet, but there is an outright centre-forward occupying markers and creating space for him further ahead most of the time.
That means Klopp can only be thinking of one thing in attempting to sign him: He wants to play him just behind Firmino or Sturridge and truly begin crafting a similar system to his 4-2-3-1/4-4-4-1-1 at Dortmund. While Adam Lallana has been shown favour by the coach, his production (zero Premier League goals) is a massive concern considering the position he plays.
Pressing and goals are the two base-line requirements for the No. 10 position in Klopp’s system, and while Lallana fills the first requirement, he’s falling woefully short on the second. Should Teixeira fill in and Firmino play up top in a full-time capacity, it would not only vastly improve the goals scored tally, but also go a long way toward weaning the Reds off a total reliance on Sturridge being fit.
Liverpool also lack wingers, with Lazar Markovic quizzically sent to Turkey by Rodgers and Jordon Ibe offering very little in terms of end product. Teixeira’s ability to play off the left or the right, create chances, instigate quick one-twos and make late runs into the box from wide will all be attractive qualities to Klopp.
The Guardian suggest Shakhtar want £38 million for Teixeira, which is a hell of a lot of money. Given his goal output in the first half of the season, they’re entitled to ask for a princely sum, and they’re in absolutely no rush to sell their most effective player during such an awkward part of the season.
That said, his complete, silky skill set, great penalty-box play and clear eye for goal put him in a category few others can breach, and if Liverpool wish to snare him without the allure of Champions League football, they’ll have to do it a) six months earlier than anyone else, and b) for a higher price than they wish to pay.