Liverpool are reportedly at the forefront of clubs eyeing Sporting Lisbon star Manuel Ugarte, who is being linked with a summer move away from Portugal.
What’s the latest on Manuel Ugarte to Liverpool?
According to Portuguese outlet Record (via Sport Witness), Liverpool have ‘advanced’ negotiations for the signing of Ugarte and now leads the race for his signature over divisional rivals Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur.
The publication states that after observing Ugarte’s progress in his homeland, Reds manager Jurgen Klopp is prepared to instigate formal discussions as he looks to replenish his midfield ranks this summer.
The 22-year-old has a €60m (£52m) release clause wedged into his contract, with makes him a relatively affordable option given his skill set and the inflated nature of the current market.
As such, the sharks will be circling and Liverpool will need to move quickly to tie up a deal.
How would Ugarte fare at Liverpool?
Despite his relative inexperience, Ugarte has swiftly asserted himself as one of the most exciting midfield talents on the European scene, having played 83 matches for Sporting and been hailed a “warrior” by talent scout Jacek Kulig for his exploits.
The eight-cap Uruguay international was also called up to the 2022 World Cup squad, though he failed to make an appearance and was stuck to the bench for all three of the nation’s group matches, unsuccessfully qualifying for the knockout phase.
As per Sofascore, Ugarte boasts a 7.04 rating in Liga Portugal this term, starting 26 times and impressing with his 91% passing accuracy, 3.9 tackles, 1.9 interceptions and 0.5 key passes per match from his anchoring deployment in the midfield, also succeeding with 60% of his dribbles and 57% of his contested duels.
Liverpool are stuck in fifth in the Premier League with just three matches to play this season, underwhelming with just 62 points on the board and the ignominy of nine defeats – for reference, Klopp’s outfit lost just twice in the top flight last year.
The midfield has been illuminated as the area of primary concern, and Fabinho’s place at the foot of the centre is no longer untouchable after a stark decline, with the Brazilian described as a “liability” by journalist Daniel Bach earlier this year.
His failure to protect his back-line has been clear: an average of 1.6 tackles, one interception and 0.6 clearances per match falls well below his imperious career average of 2.5, 1.6 and 1.6 of the same metrics, as per WhoScored.
This has severely affected the influence of the Reds’ starring centre-back Virgil van Dijk, who has been embroiled in a lacklustre campaign after years of world-class success following his £75m transfer from Southampton in January 2018.
While the £220k-per-week titan is not blameless himself, with Samuel Luckhurst remarking at his “staggering” seasonal decline, his ball-playing prowess is the crux of his skill set, with FBref ranking him among the top 6% of centre-backs across Europe for passes attempted per 90.
He has been unable to implement his “Rolls-Royce” arsenal – as he was once hailed by Zach Lowy – due to the barrage of defensive mishaps and sustained pressure on Liverpool’s defensive third – the Merseyside outfit conceded more goals by February this term than in the entirety of the 21/22 campaign, conceding the fewest strikes in three of the past four seasons.
Ugarte, who ranks among the top 1% of midfielders across Men’s Next 8 divisions for pass completion and the top 1% for tackles and interceptions per 90, can be the “midfield machine“, again as lauded by Kulig, to whir the Anfield side back into life.
Liverpool’s current six-match winning run has reminded the footballing world that form, however poor, is temporary, and the class of Klopp’s creation is stroking the city once more. The blocks are in place for a bright future, and with several well-placed signings, a return to the very top could be forthcoming.