It’s been a theme of Liverpool’s season.
So many opposition teams – Fulham, Manchester United, Arsenal, Napoli to name but four – have succeeded in overwhelming Jurgen Klopp’s once rampant Reds side; an ageing and injury-prone midfield spluttering and billowing smoke.
Yes, Liverpool defeated Manchester City (Erling Haaland et al) at Anfield on Sunday. But that was a victory achieved with just 36 per cent of the possession. Liverpool, despite playing on home soil, were content to sit deep, soak up the pressure and hit City on the counter attack. It was a tactic borne out of necessity really.
Jurgen Klopp must have known that Thiago Alcantara (31) and Fabinho (28, but a shadow of his former self of late) would not have been able to cope with the energy and industry of those in City’s yellow-and-black; a swarm of stinging bees impossible to swat away. Klopp’s approach was, in some ways, an acceptance that Liverpool cannot currently go head-to-head with Man City and expect to keep up.
Liverpool’s apparent interest in Benfica’s Florentino Luis, then, feels especially intriguing. Florentino, linked via Record and O Jogo, is not the flashiest or most glamorous young midfielder. He would not capture the imagination or get hairs standing up on end a la Jude Bellingham or, perhaps, Benfica team-mate Enzo Fernandez.
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What Florentino would bring to the party, however, is a couple of key attributes Liverpool have been lacking during their worst start to a Premier League season in the Klopp era. 1) the energy and the speed to get across the pitch with ease. And, 2) the ability to stop opposition counters at source. Per Who Scored, only Everton and Leicester City have conceded more goals from counter-attacks than Liverpool this season (three out of seven conceded).
“Florentino is a young player who has exceptional talent,” former Benfica coach Joao Tralhao told Bernabeu Digital of the one-time Leeds United and Southampton target.
From very early on, we realized that Florentino was on the road to becoming an elite player. I see Florentino as a logical option (for Real Madrid). He has a profile very similar to that of Casemiro. And in Europe he is, without a doubt, one of the best in his position.”
At 23, and following loan spells at Monaco and Getafe, Florentino has been a man reborn at Benfica since the appointment of Roger Schmidt in the summer. He’s averaging three successful tackles and 3.3 interceptions per game in the Champions League group-stages. A 91 per cent pass completion rate in Portugal, meanwhile, paints the picture a player who loves to win the ball back before playing simple, considered passes to his more gifted team-mates.
Hence, those Casemiro comparisons.
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“Yes, we liked him,” Leeds director Victor Orta told Record of Florentino a couple of windows back, highlighting the similarities between the Lisbon-born enforcer and former Elland Road favourite Kalvin Phillips.
“But Benfica wanted to loan him out to get minutes. And in that position Kalvin Phillips plays, a player of Leeds’ academy. It was an operation from which no-one would benefit.”
Liverpool, however, would certainly benefit from Florentino’s presence. Especially with Thiago and Jordan Henderson the wrong side of 30, Fabinho struggling for form. And with Liverpool no longer able to out-run and out-fight more youthful opposition in the centre of the park.
“From the first day of pre-season, (Florentino) was very good. His attitude and his quality impressed me,” Schmidt, who has 14 wins from 17 Benfica games, tells O Jogo.
“He was one of the players in the pre-season who showed a lot of quality and improved a lot. Especially at the tactical level. He knows what he has to do in his position which is not an easy position; in the middle of everything, where you are very important in possession of the ball and under pressure.
“He’s very complete.”