Over the past two and a half seasons, we've witnessed a marked decline in the skills of the venerable Steven Gerrard. That's made the search for a successor all the more important as time has gone on, and now might be the time to strike.
At first it was hoped that Jordan Henderson could be Gerrard's heir, but even with his recent run of form in mind, it seems more like Henderson fits better as a supporting midfielder rather than the creative focal point. Joe Allen is better deeper, and neither Luis Alberto nor Suso are sure things at this stage. Bringing in someone who's already proven their abilities could be a huge boon to the squad both for the rest of this season and for the next year or two as well while some of the younger players cut their teeth.
Ivan Rakitic, 25, Sevilla
Rakitic is a wonderful and under-appreciated player. The Croatian midfielder has significant playmaking talents, and while Sevilla would be loathe to let him go, the Spanish side is in poor financial shape and needs the money from his sale to fund themselves.
With a significant variety of passes in his back pocket and a wicked shot from deep with his right foot, it's easy to draw comparisons between Rakitic and a younger Gerrard, and indeed it's one that's been made at times in the past. Rakitic generally prefers to operate a bit deeper than Gerrard did in those days, though given how Rodgers has used his captain that makes it seem like a fairly apt fit.
Another mark in Rakitic's favor is that he's not afraid to get dirty and do some defensive work. He's not as good going back as a holding mid, but for a man who's primarily a playmaker he can put in a good shift without the ball. He also presses well and maintains a lot of defensive energy throughout a match. There's an awful lot of reasons to love Ivan Rakitic, and I earnestly hope that the Anfield faithful get the chance to find out why.
Javier Pastore, 24, Paris Saint-Germain
A couple of years ago, Pastore was one of the hottest playmaking prospects around. There were rumors of interest from Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, and a host of other big clubs. In the end, the Argentine international wound up with Paris Saint-Germain to try and help lead their attempt to build the next superclub. Unfortunately, things have not been all sunshine and lollipops for Pastore, and now it sounds as though he'll be searching for a destination for a plane ticket away from Paris.
Pastore is about as much of a "pure number ten" as you'll find in modern football. He's quick rather than fast, can spray passes all over the pitch, and has a wonderful eye for a through ball. Pastore's skillset has made him a valuable linking player on the counter as well; as soon as possession shifts, he finds space to make himself available. Once he has the ball he instincts allow him to quickly pick out a runner and put the ball at his feet. He also presses well up and down the pitch and serves up decent set pieces, certainly better ones than we've grown used to seeing in Liverpool.
He has limitations, though. Beyond his pressing, Pastore doesn't give a lot of contribution defensively. Positionally speaking, he's a central attacking mid through and through. He doesn't operate well from deeper areas, and while PSG has tried him on the left wing, he's not good out wide at all. He thrives on the space he can get operating behind a striker, and when put in to positions where he can't get it, his usefulness declines dramatically. Still, if acquired he could have a lot of use and do a lot of good in Liverpool's lineup.
Ever Banega, 25, Valencia
Banega's star has fallen a little since his younger days, and indeed as recently as two years ago I wouldn't have considered him for a creative player list. He appeared to be becoming more of a holding mid than the tricky point man that he had looked to be as a teenager. However, things have been changing for Banega for the better over the last year and a half, and has taken on much of Valencia's playmaking responsibilities. The change has done him a lot of good, and now I feel that he's a strong candidate for such a role elsewhere.
Thanks to his earlier days as a more attacking mid, Banega is very strong on the ball compared to most deeper-lying midfielders, and he uses it well to keep himself out of trouble in possession. He also can put in a wonderful deep ball to his squad's more advanced players, and has a sweet foot on set pieces.
Banega is also a valuable player out of defense. He has the legs and work rate to harry a player coming through midfield in possession, and has a very good tackle to try and win the ball back. He's a little small at 5'9" so won't be a lot of help defending set pieces, but considering everything else he can bring a side that can likely be overlooked.
In truth, Banega would ideally be more of a secondary playmaker for a top club, but with how Liverpool's squad is structured, that could actually work out fine. With his strong distribution from deep areas, Banega could provide service to Luis Suarez, Phillipe Coutinho, and (hopefully) in the future Suso as well. From there, they can do their thing. Joe Allen already does this to some extent, but Banega is in many ways a much more well-rounded version of the little Welshman.