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Anfield audition time! Is Guardiola favourite Matheus Nunes the answer to Liverpool's midfield prayers?

1:30 PM IST 07/01/23
Matheus Nunes Wolves HIC 16:9
Wolves midfielder Matheus Nunes will face Liverpool in the FA Cup on Saturday but has been strongly linked with a summer move to Merseyside.

Could Liverpool fans be about to get their first glimpse of the man who will be asked to help solve their midfield issues next season?

Matheus Nunes should, barring a late injury or a surprise selection from Julen Lopetegui, line up for Wolves at Anfield in the third round of the FA Cup on Saturday night, and the Portuguese international has plenty of incentive to put in a strong performance.

Reports emerging this week suggest that the 24-year-old is a serious transfer target for the Reds, and that a £44 million (€50m/$52m) deal is already very much in the pipeline for the summer.

Liverpool, it is said, made a commitment to come back for Nunes when he moved to Molineux from Sporting Lisbon in August, and plan to honour their word at the end of the season.

That leaves plenty of questions, of course. For example, how exactly, do you “commit to a bid” without actually making one?

Why, when Nunes was clearly available at a price of £38m (€43m/$45m) in the summer, did Liverpool not sign him then?

What has he done at Wolves to justify a £6m (€7m/$7m) increase in value? And why has the story come out now, when the Reds’ need for midfield reinforcement is immediate rather than upcoming?

Klopp was not asked about Nunes at his pre-match press conference on Friday, and would undoubtedly have straight-batted any questions in any case

"We talk about such things in the boardroom, not the press room,” his assistant, Pep Lijnders, said last month.

However, the word from the club is that Nunes is a “long-standing target” and one of a number of names under consideration for the summer, when Liverpool will attempt, above all else, to recruit Borussia Dortmund star Jude Bellingham.

A January transfer is impossible in any case. FIFA rules stipulate that a player cannot play for three clubs in a single campaign, and Nunes has already appeared twice for Sporting this season, as well as 17 times for Wolves. 

He has, it is fair to say, found life difficult so far in England, with Wolves struggling for consistency and Lopetegui having replaced the sacked Bruno Lage in November. 

His performances have been underwhelming, although Liverpool fans needn’t worry too much about that.

Mohamed Salah hardly cracked his first spell in the Premier League, after all, while going further back, Javier Mascherano failed to break into the West Ham team but went on to become a superb signing for the Reds.

Nunes’ numbers, both at Wolves and before that at Sporting, suggest he is something of an all-rounder, a player who likes to take shots and play long passes but also carry the ball when required.

He was the most-fouled player in Portugal last season, when his performances prompted Pep Guardiola to label him as “one of the best players in the world today".

Whether the Manchester City boss plans to rival Klopp for his signature remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that Liverpool’s need for a top-class, all-round midfield player (or two) is greater right now. 

They look set to lose Naby Keita and James Milner, as well as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, on free transfers at the end of the season, and with Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara well into their 30s, and Fabinho’s form having nosedived this season, the burden on youngsters such as Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones and teenage starlet Stefan Bajcetic is already too great.

The manner in which Liverpool have been rattled by sides such as Fulham, Nottingham Forest, Leeds and, most recently, Brentford, means there can be no doubt within the club that surgery is required in the centre of the park.

Nunes, certainly, ticks a fair few boxes. He is young enough to grow and improve, yet has had ample senior exposure at a good level.

He has played Champions League football, speaks perfect English – his stepfather is from Sunderland – and, by the time the summer comes, will have 12 months’ worth of Premier League experience, good and bad. 

Liverpool have a good relationship with Gestifute, the Jorge Mendes-led agency which represents him, having recruited the likes of Fabinho, Diogo Jota and Darwin Nunez in recent seasons and, perhaps crucially, seem to know the parameters of any potential deal for Nunes.

He does not have a release clause at Wolves, but there will be no outrageous inflation of his transfer fee – a la Enzo Fernandez, say – allowing the club to plan the rest of their business more easily.

In the meantime, the Brazil-born star, who moved to Portugal aged 12 and now has 11 caps for his adopted country, will be looking to add to Liverpool’s woes.

Already out of the Carabao Cup, and 16 points off the top of the Premier League, the Reds know the FA Cup may represent their best chance of a trophy this season.

Klopp has promised a strong team on Saturday night, with new signing Cody Gakpo likely to make his debut.

The Dutch international should receive a raucous ovation from his new supporters of course, but it would be no surprise if plenty of eyes are drawn to Wolves’ No.27 on the night, too. 

Is this Nunes’ big Anfield audition? Only time will tell.