Rumours, rumours, every where; nor any drop to drink. Oh, wait, there's some bourbon. Which must mean it's time to dip into the sordid world of transfer rumours to see who's being linked to Liverpool to replace you-know-who, as focus shifts from talk of luxury acquisitions and South American starlets to Liverpool's sudden need for a bit of steel in midfield. And preferably for a bit of steel in midfield that will still be useful down the road when Lucas returns to action…
Starting off with the linked player nearest Liverpool turns up Newcastle's Tiote. Less of a technical, shielding player and more a high-energy destroyer in defense, though at times he can pick a decent pass and contribute in the attacking third. Statistically he isn't in the same class as Lucas, making fewer tackles per minute and with a lower success rate, passing backwards and sideways more often yet completing fewer of his attempted passes, and creating an offensive chance just over half as often as Liverpool's injured Brazilian. He also has five and a half years remaining on his current contract and Newcastle will be desperate to remain in contention for an unlikely Champions League berth, though with Mike Ashley involved any player has a price—even if it might mean Liverpool having to go £10M above their valuation if they really want him.
In any case, as one of the few holding midfielders in the Premier League who might be able to do Lucas' job without embarrassing himself and also one who in theory might be pried away from his current club, his name has been a near constant in the land of rumours since Lucas was stretchered off against Chelsea in the League Cup. And just in case Liverpool looking to raid Newcastle for yet another player wasn't enough, the rumours get an extra dose of crazy via the suggestion that part of any deal could involve Andy Carroll heading back to the Toon on a six month loan. Whether that would actually be in anybody's best interest is open for debate, and in reality it seems nearly as likely as the ludicrous rumours suggesting Torres could return to Liverpool from Chelsea at a cut-rate price, but that's the way it goes with transfer rumours.
Back with Tiote, it's easier to see the player as an upgrade to Jay Spearing more than a replacement—stop-gap or otherwise—for Lucas. However, it would fit with the club's current focus, for right or wrong, on targeting talent with Premier League experience.
Of the pair of French midfielders linked to the club since Damien Comolli took on the Director of Football role, Toulouse's Sissoko is generally the less highly regarded, though with his club out of European competition and fewer sides tracking him a January move seems possible. As a youth player he competed at every level for France, though since cracking the senior squad in 2009 he has found himself mostly on the outside looking in, having only made two appearances following his debut.
While he would seem a project rather than a quick-fix, he would also offer a good deal of positional flexibility, having at times performed effectively in both attacking and holding roles in midfield. With 17 goals in 144 games for Toulouse—or a goal every eight and a half games—speaking to his offensive potential, he's a player who seems capable of developing into a good partner for a more dedicated holding midfielder over the longer term. Whether he has it in him now to step into the starting eleven at Liverpool as that holding midfielder is an open question.
With Stade Rennes failing to advance past the group stages of the Europa League, M'Villa too seems a possible January target, though as is so often the case with players who have been linked before it is difficult to tell if there is genuine interest or if it's simply lazy rumour mongers recycling old stories. Still, even if Liverpool isn't seriously interested in M'Vila, his certainly seems a name they should be linked to. The 21-year-old is one of the brightest rising stars in French football, having made 17 senior appearances for the national team while continuing to compete with their u21 side. Unlike the more flexible Sissoko, he is also thought of as a defensive specialist, a destroyer with a huge upside who has been seriously linked to not only Liverpool but also Arsenal and Manchester City.
Whether M'Vila leaves Rennes in January or not, a move in the coming year seems nearly inevitable, though given the player's skill and potential suitors there is a feeling that Liverpool is at best running third when it comes to the sides likely to acquire him. Still, if the reds were to move in January with the right offer while other clubs held off until the summer, it's not beyond the realm of possibility to think they might be able to nab him. The problem then, though, becomes that M'Vila, for all his promise, isn't the finished article quite yet. He seems a lock to develop into on of Europe's top holding midfielders in the coming years, and he's further along in his development than Sissoko, but if Liverpool is most concerned with finding a player who can step in and make a difference from day one against the Premier League's top sides then M'Vila likely isn't top of the list.
He has experience and flexibility, but asking him to become a destroyer in the Premier League doesn't exactly match with what he's done as Barcelona's Mister Everything. Still, if he truly is dissatisfied with life in Catalonia then there are far worse short-term solutions out there for Liverpool to consider. However, as we've discussed before, Liverpool and lazy links to Barcelona are the cornerstone of the rumour mongering industry. And they never actually come to pass.
The man who was a work visa away from joining Everton in 2009 has been linked to Liverpool on and off ever since, and though he would likely have no trouble gaining permission to ply his trade in England these days, there are suggestions the player has gone from football's next big thing in the centre of the park to a bit of a thing that never quite was. Of course, before he was the next big thing Valencia couldn't give him away—and they certainly tried—and so whether Banega is a superstar in the making or not could depend entirely on who you ask and the month in which you ask them.
At his best he's been compared to the classic Italian deep-lying playmaker in his approach, an Andrea Pirlo sort but with a love for sliding tackles and more than a touch of pace when given the chance to build up a head of steam. At his worst he's been accused of being disinterested in football, a hedonistic personality who had to be assigned a bodyguard by Valencia they were so worried about him getting into trouble. His talent is undeniable, but whether he will fulfil his promise is an open question, as is whether the speed and bustle of the Premier League would be a natural fit for him.
A player near the top of the list when it comes to holding midfielders in Europe, and one of the names bandied about alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sergio Busquets, Javier Mascherano, and—lately—Lucas Leiva when it comes to who a team would want screening the defence. And unlike the vast majority of top holding midfielders out there, Martinez might just about be available. The cost would be high, the competition would be steep, and Bilbao competing in the Europa League at present would make things more difficult, but of all the names linked to Liverpool in recent weeks there is none better than Javi Martinez when it comes to both short- and long-term potential. There's no player better suited to step in and face Manchester City on January 11 should he arrive at the club on the tenth, and none as certain of reaching the level Martinez seems assured of.
However, as tantalising as the possibility of his acquisition might be, with Manchester United considered the most likely English club to land the talented Spaniard and Liverpool having been linked to him for the past few years, it's far easier to imagine any dreams of Martinez heading to Liverpool ending in disappointment. More than even Suarez last January, getting him would be a major statement of intent from Liverpool—by far the biggest under the new owners—but reality tends to have more bumps and disappointments than Football Manager, and the safe money would be on the player joining the likes of David Villa, David Silva, and Juan Mata in the pantheon of Spanish stars who in another world all ended up in Liverpool red.