Liverpool now look set to qualify for the UEFA Champions League for next season, and given their paucity of squad depth, they are likely to look at signing a few players to not only improve the quality of the team, but also the address the issue of squad depth. One of the players who has constantly been linked with a move for Olympique Marseille playmaker Mathieu Valbuena, but the question is would a move for the Frenchman make sense?
Liverpool have evolved as one of the most fluid attacking teams in not only the Premier League but also among the top European leagues based on their goal-scoring record this season. In Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, they have two strikers who are in great form and have scored 47 league goals between them. However, despite the emergence of Philippe Coutinho last season, Liverpool have struggled for a consistent creative influence in the attacking third apart from Suarez.
For all the silky passes and wonderful assists, Coutinho has struggled to string together these performances on a consistent basis. For every brilliant performance in a home game (35 chances created including 4 assists in 11 home appearances), Coutinho has been anonymous away from home (10 chances created including 2 assists in 14 away appearances). This is where Valbuena could add value to the current Liverpool setup.
Valbuena has been absolutely outstanding for Marseille this season and has been the most creative player for the Ligue 1 side by some distance. He has created 74 chances in 27 league appearances, and the performances have been more or less evenly distributed – 34 chances created including 4 assists in 13 home appearances and 40 chances created including 1 assist in 14 home appearances. On top of that, he has become an integral part of the French national setup and established himself as the first choice playmaker for the national side.
Even his passing is much better than the Brazilian, who is sort of hit-and-miss with his passing. Compared to the 78% passing accuracy for Coutinho, Valbuena has had a passing accuracy of 85%, playing as the central attacking midfielder for the most of it. At the same time, he is also quite capable of playing in a wider role if required, and that versatility will be important when manager Brendan Rodgers looks to integrate him into the side.
However, Valbuena has been playing in the Ligue 1 for the entirety of his career and there may be doubts as to how he might adapt to life in a supposedly more competitive league. As far as the indications are, it might not be that good – he created only one chance in five appearances in the Champions League this against the likes of Arsenal, Napoli and Borussia Dortmund.
Add to that his age, he is 29 now, and he is not the sort of player that Liverpool’s owners will be keen to break the bank on. The player himself is keen to move on in the summer after spending eight years at Marseille but since his contract is set to run till the summer of 2017, he is unlikely to come cheaply despite the club supposedly looking to sell him.
Manager Brendan Rodgers has been excellent in identifying targets identifying players who will be able to come to Anfield and make an impact, and whether Valbuena is one of the names on the possible shopping list for Liverpool in the summer remains to be seen. There is sufficient quality in the diminutive Frenchman to make a difference at Anfield but due to his lack of experience at the biggest level there is enough doubt as to whether he might be the man to make the difference at Anfield.