With his constant declarations of admiration for former manager Rafa Benitez and comments about his family’s unhappiness upon Merseyside, it seems pretty apparent that Javier Mascherano will exit Anfield at some point this summer. Having been an integral part of Liverpool’s starting line-up for the last three years, the loss of the Argentine captain will come as a blow to manager Roy Hodgson. With less than seven weeks to go until the start of the new Premier League season, Hodgson will surely be working on acquiring a replacement for the soon-to-be-departed anchorman. Whilst the Anfield side have been linked with a whole host of transfer targets, the following four midfielders look most likely to replace ‘El Jefe’.
Linked with the club earlier this year, Valencia midfielder Ever Banega has recently re-emerged as a target for the Anfield club. The 22-year-old, who joined the Mestalla side from Boca Juniors in early 2008, has been described as the ‘Argentine Alonso’ and is thought to be the most likely candidate to replace compatriot Mascherano at Anfield.
Following a difficult first season in Spain, which included a loan spell with capital club Atletico Madrid, Banega excelled last season, with his impressive displays helping Los Che clinch third place in La Liga. Noted for his long-range passing and vision, Banega would help to provide some of the creativity that has been missing in the Anfield midfield since the departure of Spanish international Xabi Alonso. Although Banega originally cost Valencia €18m, their well-documented financial woes mean that he may be available for as little as €10m this summer.
Rumoured to have been offered as a makeweight in Real Madrid’s bid to sign Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, Fernando Gago has unsurprisingly been touted as a replacement for fellow Argentine Javier Mascherano. Like Banega, Gago moved to Spain from Boca Juniors, joining Real Madrid in late 2006. Capped 28 times for his country, Gago has featured 114 times for Real Madrid, and was a key member of their title-winning side of 2007/08.
Although Gago has been assured that he is part of Jose Mourinho’s plans for next season, a starting berth at the Bernabeu isn’t certain, and he may wish to depart in search of guaranteed first-team football. A move to Anfield would almost certainly provide this.
The least glamorous and distinguished player on this list, free agent Paul Scharner has emerged as a shock target for Liverpool over the last few days. The former Wigan Athletic man featured 156 times for the DW Stadium outfit and has proven experience of playing in the Premier League. Scharner is also versatile operator, having played in most outfield positions during his four and a half seasons at Wigan Athletic.
The former Wigan Athletic man’s agent, Valentin Hobel, has talked up the prospect of his client moving to Anfield, stating “Roy Hodgson and Paul Scharner – this is a special relationship. Hodgson thinks that Paul’s strengths in midfield are better than his attributes in central defence. Liverpool would be a dream, of course, but we are in contact with several clubs. Because he is a free transfer, he can choose.”
Having (unsuccessfully) tried to sign Scharner for Fulham on three separate occasions, Roy Hodgson is known to be a huge admirer of the Austrian international. Despite rumoured interest from Aston Villa and Sunderland, Scharner is thought to have his heart set on a move to Anfield this summer.
The impending exit of Javier Mascherano may re-open the Premier League door for former Arsenal midfielder Gilberto Silva. The 33-year-old, who left the North London side during the summer of 2008, is thought to be high on Roy Hodgson’s summer wish-list. Currently contracted to Greek side Panathinaikos, the veteran midfielder appeared for Brazil during all five of their games at the World Cup and still appears to be capable of playing at the highest level. Silva also contributed to his club side’s recent domestic league and cup double.
Due to financial problems, Panathinaikos have made Silva available for transfer, and a clutch of Premier League, Serie A and Primera Liga clubs are thought to be interested in the Brazilian. Despite having expressed an earlier desire to return to former club Atletico Mineiro, Silva may fancy one last stab at English football and Liverpool could do much worse than secure the mild-mannered former Arsenal man’s services.
Which defensive midfielder should Roy Hodgson look to snap up this summer?
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