Manchester United are considering trying to trump Liverpool for Romeo Lavia as Jurgen Klopp's bid for the Southampton teenager falters, in a wider race that has become one of the main drivers of the inflated 2023 summer market.
Four of England's major clubs – perhaps symbolically, the old “big four” – all want midfielders. United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal have each at least had a look at a group of players led by Lavia, Fiorentina's Sofyan Amrabat, Ajax's Mohammed Kudus, Nice's Khephren Thuram and – above all – Brighton's Moises Caicedo.
Many of those players are very different but all of that has been considered by managers and football recruitment units intent on adding both depth and another dimension to their teams. It has certainly added depth to this summer's market and probably represents the third major driver.
The first is obviously Saudi Pro League and the second is the grand chase for No 9s, although both of these have influenced this next factor.
Most immediately, the money coming in from the Gulf has so inflated the market that almost no club is inclined to reduce their prices. It has made it much easier for sellers. They have a position and that's it. Arsenal saw it with Declan Rice. Chelsea have seen it with Caicedo. Liverpool have now seen it with Lavia, who has a fee set at £50m, and United themselves saw it with Rasmus Hojlund.
Atalanta stuck to a value there and it has occupied the last of United's allocated budget.
Erik ten Hag wants to add a midfielder, and there have already been discussions over Amrabat, but he needs to sell players to raise funds first. The hope is to offload some of Brandon Williams, Donny van der Beek, Harry Maguire, Fred and Scott McTominay. That could be enough for Amrabat, who would go for a similar figure to Lavia.
It has been quipped by some around Old Trafford that they haven't yet been the beneficiaries of any big offers from Saudi Arabia.
Arsenal are in a similar position and could move for Lavia themselves if Folarin Balogun goes to one of the Milan clubs. It is understood that Arteta currently favours Kudus, due to a particular idea he has for his midfield. Chelsea have been ready to swoop for the Ajax player, though, which has been similar with Caicedo.
They are bolstered by Saudi bids, only Liverpool bringing in more from that revenue stream. That is the major reason why Klopp is still in the market, after all, since he needs to replace two of his senior players in Fabinho and Jordan Henderson. That they were his two midfield pillars throughout the 2017-22 era partly points to why this has also been the main obsession of the German's summer. Last season made it clear just how much he needed to overhaul the engine of his team, particularly to restore the side to their frenetic best. Alexis Mac Allister and Dominic Szoboszlai are a literal start, in that they will go straight into the team, but he now needs depth.
This, like the striker's market, is another that needs that next move. It is at the centre of so much.
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