While the recent form of Raheem Sterling has been wonderful, Liverpool could use additional top-shelf quality out wide. Facing a battle for the title down the stretch, an injection of talent in the final third could go a long ways to helping assure our boys in red of success in securing a Champions League place at the least.
Mohamed Salah, 21, FC Basel
As last time, let's get a recently persistent transfer rumor out of the way first (ed. note - this was written before rumors started to spread this morning that a deal for Salah had been agreed). The Egyptian winger, hailed as the brightest star in the making that his nation has seen in a long time, and has drawn the attention of a number of European sides with his performances for Basel, the defending Swiss champions. It's rumored that Liverpool has a deal all but wrapped up for the young winger, so what might they be getting should Salah arrive at Anfield?
Salah is quick and dribbles well, and is good at cutting in to the edge of the box and firing at goal with his left foot. And... that's about it, really. While that skillset certainly has it's place and value, it's one that finds limited success in the English Premier League. Especially since Salah isn't so fast or trick as to get the better of most EPL fullbacks, it's difficult to see him finding long-term success on the British Isles.
It'd be one thing if Salah had lit the world on fire during Basel's Champions League campaign, but he didn't. In fact, other than his pair of goals against Chelsea (who didn't take Basel particularly seriously and played incredibly poorly in their two matches), the Egyptian was pretty underwhelming. He's done well in his league, scoring four goals in 18 matches, but to say that the Swiss top division is of much lesser quality than the EPL is to be fairly generous.
All of this isn't to say that Salah is a poor player. In the right situation, he could be a wonderful asset to a club. But as a major attacking asset for Liverpool, in the EPL, in a title race? Let's just say that it looks a little dubious of a fit.
Jeremy Menez, 26, Paris Saint-Germain
Menez is a French winger of wonderful talent, using pace and a considerable bag of on-ball tricks to keep defenders off balance. After spending his formative years with Sochaux and Monaco, Menez moved to AS Roma in Italy for a new challenge at just 21 years old. After three impressive seasons in Rome, Menez was one of the first big pieces that PSG picked up as they started their ascent back to the top of French football, and it's a move that's paid significant dividends.
A very versatile attacker, Menez can operate on both sides of the pitch, and even through the middle if called upon. His right is his stronger foot, but he's not significantly weaker with his left, and shoots well with both feet. Of particular importance for a team like Liverpool is his passing; he sees the angles well from out wide, and can pick out gaps between the fullback and center back to put the ball through for his striker to latch on to. He's got a fair cross on him, though it's more of a chipped-to-the-near-post cross rather than the driven-to-the-far-post cross that's more traditional in England.
The downside to Menez is that his work in the defensive phase can be lacking. He presses fairly well, but he doesn't track back as reliably as you want to see. When he does track back, the results are often not all that pretty. While a younger winger could be coached and drilled on the defensive phase of the game, with Menez being 26 years old, you're unlikely to see a whole lot of improvement for him there.
While there's only been vague rumor connecting Menez with a move away from the French capital, such a move could make sense for him. With his place in the French national team for the World Cup hardly assured at this stage, Menez would want to find a new home to secure playing time and a better chance at World Cup glory.
Douglas Costa, 23, Shaktar Donetsk
While Shaktar stole Bernard out from under Liverpool's nose over the summer, their fall from the Champions League to Europa might give Liverpool the chance to get one back in Douglas Costa. He's been with the club just shy of four years now, which means that by the Ukrainian giant's usual pattern means it's about time for him to be sold anyways, and Liverpool should be near the front of the line of bidders for this talent.
The Brazilian dynamo has a certain electricity to him with the ball at his feet, able to dart around while maintaining possession and keeping defenders guessing as to what he's going to do next. With a smart eye for a pass, Costa is a good creative presence out wide much like our Phillippe Coutinho, but is also more than capable of generating his own threat, as evidenced by his four goals and eight assists in 24 matches across all competitions this season. The assist total is actually threatening his career high of 11 across all competitions from the 2010/11 season, his second with Shaktar.
Costa might not be one of my primary targets this winter, largely because of the always unknown difficulties of dealing with the potential vagaries of multi-party ownership, but I would be far from unsatisfied if he were to land at Anfield. The idea of him and Coutinho partnering and forming a creative balance along both wings is salivating, Even moving forward, the two of them linking with Sturridge and Suarez with Suso and Sterling able to spell them as needed.... it's hard not to want that a little bit.
Nicolas Gaitan, 25, SL Benfica
Benfica's Argentine sensation tends to fly under the radar thanks in no small part to the tremendous attacking talent his nation produces, but Gaitan is an exceptional winger in his own right. With pace to burn and a hip-flip that has left many a defender flat on his face, Gaitan is arguably Benfica's best attacker and one of the finest wide men in Portugal. Connected to Manchester United several times over the last year, it seems that the time for Benfica to capitalize on their asset has come, especially in light of their drop from the Champions League to Europa and its significantly lower prize money.
With pace, power, trickery, and a wicked cross, there's not much to dislike about Gaitan. Like many wingers, especially those from South America, he has shortcomings in the defensive phase, but coaches are learning how to work around that from their wingers. Fortunately Gaitan isn't so bad as to have to completely carry as deadweight like some wingers are. While he may not be a "name" target like some might desire, Gaitan is someone who can give an awful lot of value and impact to his club.