Liverpool want Alexis Mac Allister, but Moises Caicedo is the Brighton midfielder who would really transform Jurgen Klopp’s side
There’s every chance that a current Brighton midfielder ends up at Anfield this summer. But while Liverpool have made Alexis Mac Allister one of their top transfer targets, it is hard to escape the feeling that the player who would really transform the Reds is the Argentine’s team-mate at the Amex Stadium.
To watch Moises Caicedo against Arsenal on Sunday was to watch a player tailor-made for a top club, and tailor-made for a Jurgen Klopp side. Playing in the unfamiliar position of right-back, the Ecuadorian was outstanding as Brighton won 3-0, effectively ending the Gunners’ Premier League title hopes in the process.
“A technician and a destroyer,” read the headline in The Telegraph, and it is hard to argue. Certainly, Caicedo’s blend of skill, physicality and tactical smartness mark the 21-year-old out as one of the best young talents in Europe, and one who would make a huge difference to a side as desperate for midfield reinforcements as Liverpool are.
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The all-round package
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Caicedo is his variety. He is seen predominantly as a defensive player, but he is as comfortable with the ball as he is without it.
This season, for example, he ranks in the top five of Premier League midfielders (minimum 900 minutes) for both passes completed and tackles won. His passing accuracy is second only to Manchester City star Rodri among midfielders, and he is in the top 10 for interceptions, ball recoveries, duel success and passes into the final third.
“There are many players who are very good with the ball but without it, in defensive spaces, are not so good,” says Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi. “Others in the defensive space are top but with the ball there are some problems. With Caicedo, I don't see anything not at the top level.”
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The perfect Trent foil
Intriguingly, Brighton have begun to use Caicedo as a full-back in recent weeks, presumably seeking to utilise his excellent one-v-one defensive skills, as well as his comfort in possession. Liverpool, one would imagine, will be taking more interest in this positional shift than most, given their own experiment with Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has been deployed in a hybrid right-back/midfield role of late, with considerable success.
It is clear that finding a way to emphasise Alexander-Arnold’s strengths, while compensating for his defensive flaws, is high on Klopp’s to-do list, and having a midfielder comfortable filling in at full-back, preferably one with physicality, high energy levels and the ability to keep the ball, would make that process a whole lot easier.
If the Trent experiment is to continue, it’s hard to think of a better foil than Caicedo.
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Likely to move on?
It certainly didn’t go unnoticed that after the Arsenal game, De Zerbi name-checked both of his star midfielders when discussing potential sales this summer. “For sure we will lose some players,” the Italian told Sky Sports. “Maybe Caicedo, maybe Mac Allister...”
There is an acceptance at Brighton that, despite this being the best season in the club’s history, departures are inevitable. The club’s model of scouting development is clear, and it depends upon those who are successful being sold on for big fees, firstly to generate money which can be reinvested into the squad and the club’s infrastructure, but also to help them continue to attract players, who know they are not going to find themselves locked in on the South Coast when bigger clubs come calling.
Brighton have already started to make moves for next season. Watford forward Joao Pedro has signed, while James Milner will join on a free transfer once his deal at Liverpool expires at the end of June. Mahmoud Dahoud, the Borussia Dortmund midfielder, is also expected to arrive as a free agent.
The likes of Julio Enciso, Evan Ferguson, Facundo Buonanotte and Jeremy Sarmiento, all 20 or under, have already started to be drip-fed into the first team, and the expectation is that Sweden international Yasin Ayari, 19, will step up next term after joining from AIK in January.
Exits are likely, then. Mac Allister and Caicedo are the jewels, of course, but Kaoru Mitoma and Pervis Estupinan will surely attract attention too, while Levi Colwill will return to parent club Chelsea. De Zerbi's starting XI could look very different by the time August rolls around,
Arsenal and Manchester United's regret
It is incredible to think, given the player he has developed into, that Caicedo cost Brighton only £4 million ($5m) when signing from Independiente del Valle in February 2021.
A little over two years later, the Seagulls will be able to name their price. They have already turned down mega offers from both Chelsea and Arsenal in January, standing firm despite the player making it clear publicly that he wanted to leave.
Caicedo has since signed a new contract with Brighton, and with Paul Barber, the club’s chief executive and deputy chairman, confirming recently that there is no release clause in that contract, any club wishing to sign him this summer will need to pay even more than the £70m ($87.5m) offered by Arsenal in the winter window.
A penny, then, for the thoughts of Manchester United, who missed out on Caicedo when he left Ecuador due to issues over payments to his agents. They’d love to have him at Old Trafford now, that’s for sure.
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Significant hurdles to overcome
Liverpool, of course, have already walked away from one transfer target, Jude Bellingham, due to concerns over the cost, and with Chelsea and Arsenal still very much interested in Caicedo, it feels unlikely that they would be willing to get into a bidding war.
There is a feeling that while Mac Allister, who has two years left on his contract, will certainly not come cheap, the 24-year-old will be the easier of the two to sign. He too shows up well in the data, ranking highly as an all-rounder, and Klopp is believed to have received glowing feedback on the player’s character and training habits from Adam Lallana, Brighton’s former Liverpool midfielder.
Anfield sources dismissed weekend reports that a £70m ($87.5m) deal was already close to being agreed, but it is understood that Mac Allister is keen on a move to Merseyside, with May seen as a key month in determining the World Cup winner’s future.
The midfield merry-go-round
Of course, Mac Allister is by no means Liverpool’s only summer target. Chelsea’s Mason Mount is also high on the Reds’ wishlist, and talks have taken place with Bayern Munich’s Ryan Gravenberch. Interest in Sporting CP’s Manuel Ugarte has been dismissed by sources, but Matheus Nunes (Wolves), Joao Palhinha (Fulham) and Teun Koopmeiners (Atalanta) are all admired.
Midfielders are also on the agenda at Premier League rivals. Arsenal are targeting West Ham and England star Declan Rice as well as Caicedo, Manchester United would dearly like to upgrade Scott McTominay, Fred or both, while Manchester City will look to sell Kalvin Phillips and could lose Ilkay Gundogan on a free.
Chelsea, naturally, will be in the market, with doubts over the futures of Mount, Conor Gallagher, N’Golo Kante, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Mateo Kovacic, among others, while Newcastle will strengthen again as they prepare to return to European competition. With many of these clubs keen on similar players - Manchester United and Arsenal, for example, like Mount, while Chelsea would love to sign Rice - the summer market will be an intriguing one.
Liverpool’s need is as great as anyone’s of course, and it is expected that the Reds will seek to get their business done as early as possible, the intention being to give Klopp a full pre-season with which to work with his new recruits. Who those new recruits will be, remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised at all if one of them is a Brighton player.
Mac Allister is the one they want, and the one they think they can get. Caicedo, though, is the one this team really needs.