Liverpool’s ideal first summer signing is worth £40m – and he plays in Serie A

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Liverpool have been heavily linked with a summer signing from Italy who could be the key that unlocks Arne Slot’s system.

On the face of it, Liverpool’s squad fits new manager Arne Slot’s style of play pretty well. At Feyenoord, the Dutchman set up in a 4-2-3-1 system with a high press and aggressive wing-backs, and the broad tactical brushstrokes should map onto Jürgen Klopp’s team with minimal fuss, which is likely one of the reasons that he became the preferred candidate for the job. But there is one area which may need to be reworked, and that’s at the base of the midfield – but reports in Italy suggest that Slot may have found his solution already.

Europa League-winning Atalanta midfielder Éderson has been linked with a move to Anfield before, but the continental rumour mill has been pushing the connection more and more in recent days. The 24-year-old Brazilian wouldn’t be an especially flashy or necessarily thrilling first signing for Slot, but he could be a crucial missing piece in the puzzle.

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Slot’s midfield is typically set up as a double pivot with a number ten forging on ahead, but there is a great deal of fluidity in the way the two midfielders at the base play – one often pushes ahead in possession while the other stays back to defend, and his notionally ‘defensive’ midfielders spend a fair amount of time probing for half-spaces in the opposing half and providing support for the attack on top of performing their more routine defensive duties.

Liverpool have one midfielder who should be able to play that role without any problems in the shape of Alexis Mac Allister, but it’s debatable whether any other members of the squad will be quite so comfortable. Curtis Jones and Ryan Gravenberch could probably handle it but aren’t necessarily at their best in the more defensive elements of the role, Wataru Endo doesn’t have the attacking dynamism necessary, and other members of the side such as Harvey Elliott and Dominik Szoboszlai are by nature more attacking, creative players who are likely to compete for the number ten slot.

Which is where Éderson could come in. A defensive midfielder by nature, he generates a high number of turnovers, is strong in the tackle, has the stamina and pace to shuttle between the lines and is as comfortable getting to the edge of the final third as he is at haring back to help out the defence. The way he plays the game and the way he moves around the field are almost ideal for the job – his heat map for the 2023/24 season, for instance, is fundamentally identical to that of Feyenoord’s Ramiz Zerrouki, who played the equivalent role for Slot this past year. He’s the kind of genuine all-rounder that Liverpool will need to ease the transition into the new era.

He also fits another of Slot’s requirements – he’s excellent at playing quick, middle-distance vertical passes up to the front lines. While Slot’s teams rarely play truly direct football (Feyenoord had the fewest long pass attempts in the Eredivise by a distance this season), he does want his midfielders and defenders to get the ball forward quickly and to look to break through the opposing press with quick passes upfield – indeed, Slot’s side attempted almost as many passes between 15 and 30 yards last season as they did shorter ones. Getting the ball forward quickly without resorting to the long ball is a key tenet of Slot’s style.

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And Éderson specialises in precisely that kind of line-breaking pass – at Atalanta, he went for those ‘middle-distance’ passes more often than short balls in each of the last two seasons and passed a 90% success rate in the 2023/24 season. That’s an exceptionally high degree of accuracy, and resulted in the creation of a very decent volume of shooting chances compared to a typical ‘defensive’ midfielder.

If he has a weakness, it’s a relative lack of threat of his own in the final third – he scored six goals this season, but as he’d never scored more than twice before in his career and his xG was 3.5, that looks more like a slight anomaly than an indication he’s on his way to becoming a lethal finisher. But he has the technique, dynamism, passing range and physical attributes to cover everything Slot is likely to ask of him. He looks like a natural fit for Liverpool as it stands.

Various reports have suggested that Atalanta are likely to ask for a fee in the €45-50m range (around about £40m), which should be within Fenway Sports Group’s budget. There may well be competition, with Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur having been suggested in the past, but there’s no question that Liverpool’s name is being bandied about by far the most at the moment. In the world of transfer rumours, smoke without fire isn’t all that unusual, but there does seem to be more substance to this story than most.

There has still been no word on a formal bid and Liverpool may well look in a different direction – Porto’s Alan Varela is another name which has cropped up, as is Éderson’s team-mate Teun Koopmeiners, although he is typically more expansive and attack-minded. It’s also possible that Slot is minded to adjust his tactics to adapt to the players he will already have at his disposal rather than to try and spend money to fill gaps. But if he does stick to the methods, a tough-tackling midfielder who can protect the defence and strengthen the attack is likely one of the most important signings Liverpool could make. Éderson seems to tick every box.

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