Christian Pulisic: Dortmund wonderkid is the perfect fit for Liverpool

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The youngster has quickly established himself as one of the world’s most promising talents, writes Sam May.

Having had a fantastic year for both club and country, many teams across Europe, including Red Bull Leipzig, have been running the rule of the 18-year-old winger, who can also play in the attacking midfield role.

Liverpool have been heavily linked with the highly-rated midfielder, and he would be the perfect fit under Jürgen Klopp. With Philippe Coutinho suffering ankle ligament damage the Reds will look to “step-up their pursuit”, of the American sensation.

Sadio Mané will be away for the African Cup of Nations leaving Liverpool with no option but to bring in new attacking reinforcements this January. Liverpool are said to have seen an £11 million bid rejected by the Bundesliga giants last summer.

Making 14 apperances for Dortmund, he has scored two goals and contributed to six assists. It is understood the Reds would have to offer in excess of £25 million to prize away the USA international from Klopp’s former club.

The Kop boss has is known for developing young players from his time at Dortmund, having natured the likes of Mario Götze, Robert Lewandowski, Julian Weigl, and Marco Reus. All have benefited from Klopp’s man management skills and Pulisic would follow in their footsteps, should he make the move to Anfield.

His desire to move to the Premier League and Klopp’s record of development means Pulisic should look no further. At 18 years of age, he has time to develop and progress. He will fit into Liverpool’s high-pressing system and provide speed along the flanks.

Many fans will hoping he signs for the Reds sooner rather than later, but there is no question he is the right man for the Anfield club this January.

Julian Brandt: Bayer Leverkusen’s shining star

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The 20-year-old has caught the eye of some of the biggest teams in Europe and there is no surprise following his rise, writes Sam May.

A regular in the Leverkusen first team, Brandt has already established himself as one of the most promising wingers in European football following his four seasons in the Bundesliga.

He has scored 18 goals and made 19 assists in 108 games for Leverkusen so far, and has four senior Germany caps to his name. Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Manchester City, Juventus and Liverpool are all interested in him.

However, it’s not just his goals and assists that have got teams fighting for his signature, between March 20 to April 30 2016, he scored in six consecutive Bundesliga matches, becoming the youngest player since Gerd Müller to achieve this, by scoring 72 seconds into a 2–1 home win over Hertha BSC.

Although mainly a left winger, he is also capable of featuring on the right, due to his pace, power and his eye for goal. He was nominated for the Golden Boy Award on September 30, along with 39 other bright young under-21 talents.

A silver medal winner at the last summer’s Olympics in Rio, Leverkusen’s sporting director Rudi Völler wasn’t exaggerating when he previously said Brandt was “one of the most talented players in German football”.

The Bremen-born star is currently contracted to Leverkusen until 2019, with a release clause between £10.75 million and £17 million, which can be activated in 2018.

Völler is certain though that the youngster isn’t leaving the Bayer Arena anytime soon.

“I am convinced Julian will be playing for Leverkusen for many more years,” Völler said.

“I am not surprised that teams like Bayern and other big clubs from across Europe are keeping an eye on him. That’s a compliment for what we do.

“But we know what Julian’s contract looks like and we know he is feeling very well here.

“It would not be the first time a player reaches a stage where he wants to leave. I hope it will not happen with Julian, but we will just move on if it happens.”

How the Reds failed to beat Southampton

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The weekend saw Liverpool take the long road to St Mary’s to face a dangerous Southampton. As it turned out a point apiece was probably a fair result, but that’s no good for the Reds high ambition, and table topping ambition, writes Sam May.

Mané, Firmino and Coutinho spearheaded the attack as usual. What wasn’t usual was the preparation. Between them they had travelled almost 50,000 air miles to fulfill their international duties. Even allowing for private jets and the pampering Premier league stars receive, the traveling miles have an effect, and it showed.

The Reds first half display was substandard as Southampton set a cautious ploy. “Don’t concede early”, and they didn’t. Klopp’s men improved as the game went on, but chance after chance went begging. Gilt edged chances missed showed the jaded minds of the weary globetrotters. If only they had a natural goal scorer, fresh after light international duty and raring to prove a point, up step England’s most natural Daniel Sturridge.

That was the mistake, he was there, warming the bench. Klopp is loyal and that’s a great trait, but even the 60 minute let’s make a change came and went, as did more chances and still no Sturridge. The game needed a piece of inspiration, a moment of magic, or simply a sharp mind to beat the solid Forster between the sticks. It was only when the frustration set in that he was called to action. Just over 10 minutes to play in a 0-0 stalemate, he entered the fray, replacing Can. With the home side not having a single shot on target, Daniel Sturridge could have started alongside the regular front three, or at least at 60 minutes. He almost set up Clyne with a fairytale goal on his return to his old club, but he too wasted yet another must score opportunity. The modern game is a squad game, and Sturridge is still an integral part of the club according to Mr. Klopp, but try telling that to the underused hit man.

Mané may not be unavailable for six weeks in the New Year due to the African Cup of Nations, so here was the perfect opportunity for the team to work a system with him in, at the expense of Mané, who looked sluggish and a yard off his normal electrifying pace.

No doubt the Reds competition would have been pleased with the draw and two points lost. They will be more than pleased if he asks for a January move. Who knows one of them may just take on his services, and football has funny way of coming back to haunt you.

Who is Ezri Konsa?

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Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Celtic are all interested in securing the youngsters signature.

So who exactly is Konsa? Sam May gives you a rundown of all you need to know…

 

Factfile

Name: Ezri Konsa

Age: 19

Position: Centre-back

Club: Charlton Athletic

 

Background

The starlet joined Charlton’s youth academy as an under-11 and has worked his way up the clubs highly regarded youth set-up, which has seen the likes of Joe Gomez graduate from.

He made his professional debut in the 1-0 defeat to Cheltenham in the EFL Cup back in August and has made 12 appearances so far this season in all competitions.

Being given the chance, his performances have been noted, despite missing a penalty in the Checkatrade Throphy defeat to Colchester earlier this month, with a number of clubs plotting a raid.

 

Style of play

Being a versatile player, Konsa can also play in centre midfield as well as his favoured central defensive position. He has featured as a full back for the Addicks and has a similar style of play to that of Liverpool’s Joe Gomez.

Despite his lack of experience, the youngster has shown he has what it takes to withstand the rigors of League One and therefore would have what it takes to make the next step up.

The 19-year-old’s pace, skill and confidence in possession makes him a strong defender, with a level of composure that belies his tender years. Konsa’s imposing physical presence is what first catches the eye. He is powerful in the air and also a threat at set-pieces.

 

Availability

Konsa signed a contract with Charlton last December that runs through to 2019, clearly this shows that they rate him highly.

The Addicks will know doubt want a hefty fee for the player, who they have nurtured from the age of 11.

 

What they have said

Former Charlton manager Russell Slade previously gave his thoughts on the rising star: “Every game will be a massive, massive learning curve for him.

“There’s a few little habits needed to sort out, but these will only help him.

“But he’s got some good role models around him now, with the likes of [Jason] Pearce and [Andrew] Crofts.

“There are some good role models around and I think that’s very important for the younger players.”

Its looking more and more likely that Konsa will leave Charlton to pursue his learning else where, sooner rather than later.

Sead Kolašinac: The man to solve Liverpool’s left-back problems

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Schalke star Sead Kolašinac should swap the Veltins-Arena for Anfield, writes Sam May.

The Reds have been linked with a number of left-backs in recent times as they look to solve their defensive problems. James Milner has been a consistent performer, but Jürgen Klopp needs a natural suitor for the most problematic position.

Despite impressing, Milner turns 31 in January and isn’t a long-term option at left-back. So far this season Kolašinac has won 60% of his aerial duels compared to James Milner’s 41.9%. On average, he wins 1.8 tackles and makes 2.2 interceptions per game. Milner averages 2 tackles and 1.9 interceptions.

Bosnia Herzegovina international Kolašinac, 23, has been a key performer so far this season under Schalke manager Markus Weinzierl. Available on a free transfer next summer, Klopp could return to Gelsenkirchen to raid another one of their shining stars, who has been with them since September 2012.

The Reds snapped up centre-back Joel Matip on a free transfer last summer, and could now look to bolster their defensive ranks with a move for Matip’s former team-mate Kolašinac also on a bosman.

A product of the Karlsruher SC academy, his aggression and high-energy, means he would fit into Klopp’s squad comfortably. Being a versatile player who is capable of playing as a left-back, left-midfield or as defensive midfielder, signing the highly-rated Bundesliga star would spell the end of Alberto Moreno’s Anfield tenure.

He is allegedly viewed as a potential long-term option at Anfield, but Chelsea, West Brom and West Ham are also interested in his services.

Kolašinac’s relationship with fellow Bosnian Željko Buvač, Klopp’s assistant, as well as his former Schalke team-mate Joël Matip could help the Reds in landing the defender.

Featuring for Germany’s under-18s, under-19s and under-20s, he opted to join Bosnian Herzegovina in 2013. He has made 10 apperances for his club in all competitions this season and scored an impressive five goals.

Meet Marseille’s rising star dubbed the ‘new Samir Nasri’

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Born in Marseille and product of his hometown’s youth academy, Maxime Lopez has hit the ground running under manager Rudi García, writes Sam May.

The promising and lively 18-year-old attacking midfielder who is a target for both Liverpool and Arsenal, showed signs of his qualities following his Ligue 1 debut last Sunday against Bordeaux at the Stade Vélodrome.

Both clubs are monitoring the situation closely, having sent scout to watch the youngster on a number of occasions. Liverpool will look to add to their attacking line in January with Sadio Mané set to join Senegal at the African Cup of Nations, in Gabon. The Reds have known about the starlet since the age of 16 and Jürgen Klopp may look to make a move should he fail in his attempts to sign Christian Pulisic from his former club Borussia Dortmund.

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger may look to fill the void left by the injured Santi Cazorla, who is expected to spend a lengthy time on the sidelines, following an Achilles injury picked up in Arsenal 6-0 thrashing over Ludogorets Razgrad in the UEFA Champions League back in October.

Lopez is the brightest prospect since Samir Nasri, who made the step up to the first-team in 2004 and is hoping to go onto bigger things just like the former Arsenal and Manchester City man. Being a confident and intelligent player, he has quickly emerged on to the scene, becoming Marseille’s midfield maestro and showed he is capable of living up to expectations.

The technical player is good on the ball, meaning that he can look up and take on defences, making things happen with ease. Like Nasri, who made 121 appearances for the French side before moving to Arsenal for €16 million, Lopez can play in the No.10 position, and has the same stature as his fellow countryman.

The Gunners were keen to secure his services back in 2014, before he signed a new deal with the French outfit. There is no question Marseille will act quickly to try and persuade the starlet to stay in the South of France. They will however, struggle to keep hold of their star man, amid renewed interest from two the biggest clubs in the Premier League.

Tom Heaton: The perfect Simon Mignolet replacement for Liverpool

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Liverpool should target a move for Burnley shot stopper Tom Heaton, should Simon Mignolet move on in the summer, writes Sam May.

The experienced Burnley goalkeeper, 30, who has made 140 appearances or so for the Clarets since his arrival in 2010.

Having spent 13 years at Manchester United from the age of eight, Heaton had two seasons at Cardiff City and one at Bristol City, before moving to Burnley. He has moved down and back up from the Championship. It has been a rollercoaster ride but the club’s values, as preached by the manager, Sean Dyche, are set in stone.

It is clear, Mignolet will not stay at Anfield to be second-choice, behind the Reds No 1 Loris Karius and has previously hinted at his desire to leave the club, if the situation doesn’t change.

The Belgium goalkeeper, 28, was previously quoted saying: “I don’t want to be a No. 2, that’s clear. I want to play,” he said.

“I will never give up fighting because that’s not in my character to just give up.

“Secondly, because I am not in a situation where I can sit on the bench. I’m 28 years old and I want to play week-in, week-out.

“So I’ll work hard and I’ll never give up—giving up is not what I want to do. I see it as a challenge that I can overcome.

“So hopefully it will be a fair challenge based on performances put in on the pitch.”

Perhaps some would say Heaton is too good to be a No 2 goalkeeper, but the Reds should look no further should Mignolet seek pastures new. The England international is experienced, good with the ball at his feet and an all round great stopper.

Heaton was already having a fine season, but it will be tough for any Premier League goalkeeper to beat this fantastic performance against Manchester United last weekend. He made 11 saves, and gave a keepers masterclass to help shut out Mourinho’s side.

He’s working towards a top class club move, and have no doubt, if he did sign for the Reds he will seriously challenge Karius for the number one shirt.