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Top Targets Liverpool Could Sign on a Pre-Contract Agreement in January

Rob Lancaster@RobLancs79Featured ColumnistDecember 15, 2017

Stefan de Vrij could be set to leave Lazio for nothing next summer.
Stefan de Vrij could be set to leave Lazio for nothing next summer.Marco Rosi/Getty Images

January is a month for looking ahead. While many of us make hollow promises to improve our lives at the start of a new year, foolishly signing up to join a gym or purchasing an appliance that makes it easier to stomach kale and almond milk together, some footballers have to plot their long-term futures.

Those with just six months remaining on their deals can begin negotiating to find alternative employers for next season and beyond.

Thanks to the Bosman ruling, players with an expiring contract can set their own price. Free to walk once they've served their time, these select few show there are still bargains to be had in the modern market.

Liverpool used the system to their advantage when Joel Matip was signed on a free transfer in 2016, with the Reds snapping up an experienced centre-back from the Bundesliga without paying Schalke 04 a penny.

There are cautionary tales in the Reds' recent transfer history (one name for you: Milan Jovanovic), but in 2018 there looks to be a plethora of options worth pursuing. Here, Bleacher Report picks out a few potential freebies who could make a difference at Anfield.

             

Leon Goretzka

Leon Goretzka's arrival at Anfield would be ideal, particularly if Emre Can leaves.
Leon Goretzka's arrival at Anfield would be ideal, particularly if Emre Can leaves.TF-Images/Getty Images

Who better to replace a multi-functional, powerful German midfielder still to hit his prime than a multi-functional, powerful German midfielder still to hit his prime?

Emre Can's contract situation is a concern for Liverpool; the 23-year-old has yet to agree fresh terms, and it appears likely he will move elsewhere next summer.

Goretzka is in the same boat with Schalke. Understandably, he's attracting plenty of interest.

Per Diario Gol (h/t Stuart Ballard of the Express), Barcelona are keen to snap him up. They are not alone in tracking a player former VfL Bochum head coach Peter Neururer once described as a "once-in-a-century talent," per the Bundesliga's official website.

If Can leaves, Goretzka makes a lot of sense for the Reds. The latter is a tad younger (he doesn't turn 23 until February 6) than his international team-mate, and he offers more of a goalscoring threat.

While Naby Keita is already certain to arrive next summer, manager Jurgen Klopp could still look to make further additions to his engine room. Right now, with Adam Lallana still not ready to return, too much of the creative burden is falling on the shoulders of Philippe Coutinho.

Having raided Schalke previously to get Matip, Liverpool should throw their hat into the ring for Goretzka, who will have to work out which club is best for his football career rather than just his bank balance.

               

Stefan de Vrij

Stefan de Vrij appears in a stalemate with Lazio over a new contract.
Stefan de Vrij appears in a stalemate with Lazio over a new contract.Angelo Carconi/Associated Press

Prepare for some groundbreaking analysis: Liverpool could do with a new centre-back—perhaps even two.

Yes, it's true. While most teams only go as far as their best players can carry them, it feels like the opposite with the Reds. They are too often held back by the defensive errors that undermine their attacking talent.

Klopp wanted a Dutch centre-back in the last transfer window. The pursuit of Virgil van Dijk went pear-shaped early on, however, leading to Southampton launching an official complaint over tampering and Liverpool issuing a public apology that killed any hope of a deal being done before September.

Bilbo Baggins' journey in The Hobbit feels easier than the Reds' path to securing their top defensive target. Van Dijk must still top their shopping list, but there's another Dutchman who could help plug a hole.

Stefan de Vrij may not be Klopp's first choice, but he would be an awful lot cheaper to sign.

According to Calciomercato.com's Nima Tavallaey Roodsari in November, contract talks with Lazio have stalled over the player's wage demands. The same article also noted Juventus—experts at hoovering up the best domestic talent in Italy—are "monitoring the situation."

De Vrij is 25, an experienced international—he's won 33 caps for the Netherlands—and could help solve a longstanding problem that plagued Liverpool long before Klopp arrived on Merseyside.

The current crop of centre-backs cannot be relied on. De Vrij is a calculated gamble worth taking because at least he would provide added competition for places in a key area.

             

Fernandinho 

Fernandinho is a pivotal figure in Pep Guardiola's Manchester City juggernaut.
Fernandinho is a pivotal figure in Pep Guardiola's Manchester City juggernaut.Dan Mullan/Getty Images

"I think Fernandinho, right now, is one of the three best holding midfielders in the world."

Pep Guardiola's statement, per James Robson of the Manchester Evening News, is a glowing endorsement for Fernandinho, a player who—while not a headline-grabber like some of his colleagues at Manchester City—has played an integral role in helping his club disappear over the hill in the Premier League title race.

Therefore, it seems strange how the runaway leaders have yet to tie the Brazilian down beyond this season.

Seleção Brasileira @BrazilStat

#Fernandinho has been the best Brazilian in the English Premier League this season. The most consistent, always performing at a high level and most importantly, remained injury free and played all the important games. https://t.co/OhaVdYhDWy

While he will be 33 by next summer, Fernandinho's powers show no sign of waning. He is a holding midfielder with a footballing brain. A proper holding midfielder, too, not a make-do-and-mend type just slotted into the role.

Jordan Henderson has played as the deep-lying general for Liverpool, yet the characteristics of the position don't suit his style. He's all about energy and enthusiasm, not providing a shield and building from the back.

Klopp should seriously consider Fernandinho. On a short-term deal, he would provide a safety blanket for a vulnerable back four, and he is clearly comfortable in possession.

With a player such as Fernandinho in the anchor role, his fellow midfielders would have the freedom to roam without worrying about the consequences if they lose the ball. Without a doubt, his presence has helped Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva shine this season.

              

Neven Subotic

Neven Subotic and Jurgen Klopp have history. A lot of it, too.
Neven Subotic and Jurgen Klopp have history. A lot of it, too.Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Suggesting Neven Subotic may initially feel like a case of joining the dots, considering Klopp knows all about him from their time working together at Borussia Dortmund.

A reunion in England has been rumoured in the past but has failed to materialise.

Sunday Mirror chief sports reporter Tom Hopkinson revealed how Klopp decided not to pursue a move for his former player in the summer, leaving him with only three experienced centre-backs to pick from.

"He might not be the answer to Liverpool's problems, and he might still have a rick in him. He's not got Premier League experience, but was it worth a gamble given how flaky we knew Liverpool's defence were last season," he told the Mirror Football Podcast (h/t Mark Jones of the Daily Mirror).

Liverpool's defence still remains their main area of weakness. They have conceded 20 Premier League goals this season, six more than any of the four clubs above them in the standings.

With Matip unsurprisingly enduring injury issues, plus Dejan Lovren being Dejan Lovren, the Reds look light at the heart of their defence.

Subotic endured injury problems in the first half of the 2016/17 campaign. He finished it on loan at FC Cologne, and since returning to the Westfalenstadion, he has barely featured for Dortmund, appearing in just three Bundesliga games this season.

Klopp knows Subotic's strengths and weaknesses as well as any coach, though. If he believes the Serb—who turned 29 on Sunday—can contribute, signing him for a season or two may be a worthwhile punt.

             

Max Meyer

If Liverpool want Max Meyer, they better be prepared for a fight.
If Liverpool want Max Meyer, they better be prepared for a fight.TF-Images/Getty Images

Apologies to Schalke, who may feel they're being picked on as another one of their players is selected as a transfer target for Liverpool.

For anyone who has looked over these guides for other clubs, they will notice Meyer's name has cropped up a few times. That's because the 22-year-old is a huge talent, someone who has already demonstrated the talent and temperament to cope at the highest level—and also has further room to grow.

Why might the Reds be interested? In the summer, they may need to fill a Coutinho-sized gap in their squad, if the Brazilian finally gets his wish to move to Barcelona.

Klopp and the Anfield board did an excellent job of repelling the Catalans' interest in the last transfer window, yet it may just turn out to be a case of delaying the inevitable.

It would hardly be a surprise if Coutinho revealed he wants to leave once this season comes to a close (perhaps even in January), so Liverpool must make sure they have identified a potential replacement.

Signing Meyer in January would be a pre-emptive strike. The Germany international would be useful even if Coutinho stayed on Merseyside, considering his capability to play in a number of positions.

While previously seen as an attacking option capable of playing out wide or centrally behind a striker, Meyer has often occupied a deeper role this season for Schalke.

Per Alex Young of the Evening Standard, Tottenham Hotspur made an approach last summer, but Meyer stayed put.

It seems likely he will end up moving on in 2018, though, even if anyone signing him to a pre-contract agreement would still be due to pay a compensatory fee to his current club.

             

Rob Lancaster is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All information used in the article is from Transfermarkt unless otherwise stated.

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