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What makes Nice’s Jean Michaël Seri the perfect alternative to Naby Keïta at Liverpool?

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Jean Michaël Seri

It is no secret that Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has been looking to strengthen his hand in midfield over the summer. Having allowed Lucas Leiva to leave Anfield already this transfer window, the German is now faced with remedying a midfield that has suffered with a severe lack of depth.

Long-term injuries to Jordan Henderson and Marko Grujic left Klopp short-handed during the course of last season in the centre of the park, and with Adam Lallana now set for a spell on the sidelines, the former Dortmund chief has been under immense pressure to add another playmaker to his armoury.

For much of the transfer window, Klopp has looked to his homeland in search of a solution. The target: Guinea international midfielder Naby Keïta, who helped Bundesliga newcomers RB Leipzig to a second-place finish in their first-ever stint in the German top-flight.

However, having had a bid of £66 million rebuffed back in July, the Reds have become increasingly frustrated in their efforts to prise the creative midfielder away from the Saxony outfit.

According to The Guardian, the club are ready to concede defeat in their attempts to bring in Keïta and resume negotiations in 12 months time, when a clause will be triggered in the Guinean’s contract which would allow him to leave for the sum of €55 million.

Nonetheless, this does not offer Klopp a solution in the here and now, and so it has been back to the drawing board for the Anfield hierarchy as they rush to strengthen their hand before the end of the transfer window, and the source suggests that the club are already looking elsewhere for a playmaker of Keïta’s mould.

This hunt has taken them to the Mediterranean in a bid to sign classy OGC Nice midfielder Jean Michaël Seri, as per the aforementioned report.

The Ivory Coast international has been one of the stars of a revolution at the Riviera club ever since being brought to France by Claude Puel – a familiar face to English football fans through his short stint with Southampton – from Portuguese outfit Paços de Ferreira back in 2015.

Seri starred as Puel’s Nice finished fourth in the 2015/16 Ligue 1 season, before enjoying another influential season with Les Aiglons as new boss Lucien Favre led the club to a third-place finish last term.

The Reds will be well used to negotiating with the Ligue 1 club by now, having sold Mario Balotelli to the Allianz Riviera side during the summer transfer window 12 months ago, but are expected to face competition for Seri’s services, with the article claiming that Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona had scouts present at Nice’s 2-1 defeat at home to Troyes to run the rule over the midfielder.

Arsenal and Merseyside rivals Everton are amongst the contingency from the Premier League also thought to be weighing up a move for the 25-year-old.

But what does Seri have to offer a Liverpool side in terms of creativity? On their way to their first ever Champions League qualification, a venture that has been two years in the making, the Nice side Seri has starred in has picked up some quite remarkable results.

A 3-0 triumph in 2015/16 over Lyon initially signalled their intent as they rallied to a Europa League qualification place, and it has just gotten better and better over 2016/17 with a 4-0 demolition of Monaco, who eventually won the league, and a 3-1 home win over big-spending Paris Saint Germain.

Seri has been an ever present throughout the last two campaigns, and pulls the strings in midfield alongside up and coming French U21 international midfield man Wylan Cyprien. The statistics, however, certainly earmark Seri as the main man.

His tally of nine Ligue 1 assists was the second-highest total in 2016/17, and he completed 90% of his passes throughout the season, with Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti of PSG the only players to have attempted more passes than him, on average.

He is a versatile midfield man who has played in a three, four, and five-man midfield system in different matches under the tenures of both Claude Puel and Lucien Favre. He is not only an asset in retaining possession, but also in bringing play forward, enhancing his growing reputation as one of Ligue 1’s finest playmakers.

His hunger to be a regular-starter has also been a huge contribution to his success. Having burst onto the scene back in his homeland with Abidjan club ASEC Mimosaa, Seri was then starved of first-team opportunities at Portuguese giants FC Porto, who signed him back in 2012 and immediately discarded him into the B-Team pile.

Thus, Seri was soon on the move lower down the Portuguese Superliga to Paços de Ferreira, where he enjoyed a two-year spell and was voted the club’s Player of the Year in 2014/15. Nice soon came calling and secured his signature for a cut-price €1m. The rest, as they say, is history.

It is rather fitting that his footballing idol is former Barcelona great Xavi Hernandez, and it is clear that the influence former skipper of the Catalan club has rubbed off on Seri.

He retains possession and slows the game down in a manner reminiscent of the World Cup winning midfield man, always looking to play the simple ball to create chances. Though he has often found himself in midfield roles more typically occupied by another Barcelona star, the more dynamic Andrés Iniesta.

That night in November 2015, the night that Claude Puel’s Nice took apart Lyon, a game which I was fortunate enough to witness, was not only a turning-point for the club, but of Seri’s rise to prominence in European football.

Featuring on the left of a central-midfield three and flanked by two wing-backs, the Ivorian looked unplayable at times in a spellbinding team performance.

In truth, they picked apart a Lyon side that looked far superior on paper, featuring Mathieu Valbuena on the left-flank and Arsenal’s new big-money signing Alexandre Lacazette up-front. T

hanks to Seri’s influence in retaining the ball in midfield and linking play from the back four to the forward line of Hatem Ben Arfa (now of PSG), and Valere Germain (a 2016/17 Ligue 1 winner with Monaco), bar seeing a one-on-one come back off the right post, Lacazette rarely had a sniff at goal.

From then on, Nice truly put themselves on the French footballing map as European qualification contenders, and they have never really looked back. Their star talents, Seri included, beginning to be touted as the next big things in French football.

Granted, there has been some upheaval over the past two seasons. Both Ben Arfa and Germain were on the move over the summer of 2016, as was manager Claude Puel, who left for Southampton, with Swiss coach Lucien Favre taking the helm.

Attacking stars Ben Arfa and Germain were shrewdly replaced with Mario Balotelli and Younes Belhanda, whilst Jérémy Pied and Niklas Hult in the full-back positions were sent out in place of Arnaut Souquet and Dalbert Henrique.

Dalbert, who enjoyed a fine campaign with Nice last season, is already on the move, having sealed a move to Inter Milan earlier this summer.

In spite of all this upheaval, the club have continued going from strength to strength, but a blend of consistency has undoubtedly helped the club power forward with the extra quality that Favre has brought in. The role of one such constant, ‘Mika’, as Seri is affectionately known, is therefore not to be overlooked.

The versatility of Seri is one attribute that may just make him a fit for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. The Xavi comparisons almost seem akin to a player already at Anfield, the figure of Georginio Wijnaldum.

However, Seri, despite his admiration of Barcelona’s former captain, who was usually stationed in front of the back four, Seri has far more often found himself pushed further forward in a three-man midfield.

Certainly in Seri’s first season with Nice, the defensive role was occupied by then club captain Nampalys Mendy, now a Premier League player himself with Leicester City, which allowed Seri the freedom to operate in a more attacking role under Claude Puel.

Under Lucien Favre, he has more often featured in a flat four-man midfield, partnering Wylan Cyprien – another who has already been tipped for the top in future – or Vincent Koziello, another promising young midfielder in the club’s ranks.

In fact, it is relatively unknown as to what Seri’s strongest position in the midfield actually is, the player having excelled in the deep-lying ‘Xavi’ role, impressed as a box-to-box midfield-man, and also having looked dangerous operating as a Number Ten behind the forward line.

Although not typically a tough-tackling midfielder who specialises in breaking-up play, he is nevertheless also improving in the defensive side of his game by winning more and more balls in midfield, and looks an increasing threat with his efforts from distance and his set-piece taking.

His ability to play in a midfield-three may be the attribute that has Klopp rubbing his hands the most.

With the German a known advocate of the 4-3-3 formation, such versatility renders Seri a perfect understudy for Lallana and Henderson amidst injury and suspension, and a good figure to have in the dressing room to fight for a place in the first-team and push other individuals in Klopp’s squad such as Marko Grujic.

Having secured a fee of €20m for Dalbert’s switch to the San Siro, Nice are under no real pressure financially to part with the Ivorian, but are understood to be unprepared to stand in his way when the right offer arrives.

After Barcelona sealed the signing of former Tottenham Hotspur man Paulinho, it is unlikely that Blaugrana boss Ernesto Valverde will mount a bid for Seri, despite the player’s admiration of the club thanks to his hero, Xavi.

Such circumstances may just open the door for Liverpool to make their move for the midfielder, with initial talks already thought to be underway.

The reckoning at the Guardian is that Arsenal have been in contact with the player’s representatives, but must offload players to balance the books before any official bid is forthcoming. With Liverpool not bound to such an obligation, their chance may now have presented itself.

The Reds may need to be prepared to bide their time if they are to bring the Ivorian to Anfield, however, with Nice keen to have him at their disposal for their Champions League qualifying clash with Serie A giants Napoli. But if they are to land their man, they need not worry with regards to his capabilities.

Seri has made his mark as an up and coming talent and now looks ready for a big-money move to prove himself at the next level. The onus is now on Liverpool as to whether they will hand him the opportunity. He would certainly be a welcome addition in my side.

Scott is a Port Vale fan who writes regularly for The Boot Room as a freelancer. He is a fan of several sports but most of his experience in journalism comes from football and volleyball. He has produced several works on major Championships for both the FIVB and CEV in the volleyball world out in Switzerland, and is currently studying for a BA Hons in Modern Languages at the University of Oxford.

Barcelona

Who are the five most valuable players under the age of 21?

Jake Jackman

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The CIES Football Observatory have produced a list of the 100 most valuable players under the age of 21 and it makes for interesting reading, with three Premier League players in the top five.

CIES are a research group based within the International Centre for Sports Studies. It was created in 2005 and has looks to specialise in the statistical analysis of football, which is a growing field within the sport.

A lot of their studies are based in the financial side of the game and given the continued increase of transfer fees, they produce a lot of information that is of interest to clubs.

This particular study focuses on the top five leagues and it won’t come as a surprise that the Premier League features heavily.

Here are the five most valuable under-21 players according to the CIES study:

5 – Marcus Rashford (€116.7 million)

Amid all the spending that Manchester United have done in recent seasons, the value of producing your own players through your academy continues to be shown in the Manchester United squad. It is important to their supporters to have homegrown players and Marcus Rashford is one of the best that they have produced in recent seasons. According to CIES, he is already worth more than £100 million and it is remarkable to think that he may not have been given a chance if it wasn’t for injuries to Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial.

It has been a good start to the season for Marcus Rashford as he continues to get significant minutes, despite the arrival of Romelu Lukaku. Across the Premier League and Champions League, he has contributed six goals and four assists. His goal involvement is one every 113.8 minutes. Considering he has been used in various positions and not played every week, this is impressive. United need to continue showing faith in him. If they do, the sky is the limit.

4 – Ousmane Dembele (€120.4 million)

The French winger made headlines during the summer, as he was selected to be the replacement for Neymar at Barcelona. There is a lot of pressure on the 20-year-old to live up to his price tag, which was £135.5 million. There were clauses included in the deal, but the overall value is more than the £120.4 million that he has been estimated at by CIES. However, there were circumstances driving that. Namely, the desperate position of Barcelona.

Last season, he was one of the best players in the Bundesliga as he contributed eight goals and 18 assists across the two major competitions. His goal involvement was one every 108.2 minutes, which underlines why Barcelona were keen to buy him this season. An injury has hindered him at the beginning of his La Liga career, but he remains one of the most exciting young players in the game.

3 – Leroy Sane (€124.5 million)

The £37 million that Manchester City paid for the German international is looking more and more like a bargain with every passing day. CIES value the winger at €124.5 million and that underlines the improvement he has made under Pep Guardiola. He is now one of the most devastating attackers in the Premier Leaguer and it will be fascinating to see how much further he can go, as he is only 21.

His record in the Premier League this season has been remarkable and he is well on his way to contributing at least ten goals and ten assists. Sane is already on six goals and six assists, with a goal involvement every 78.75 minutes. The quality of the team helps him, but his own performances have contributed significantly to the success of City.

2 – Dele Alli (€180.2 million)

It has been a difficult start to the new season for Dele Alli, but he remains one of the most exciting players in the world. In the list of these five players, the England international is the most attainable for the biggest clubs in Europe, as Tottenham have the lowest chance of winning major trophies. It will take a huge fee to secure the midfielder and the valuation of €180.2 million from CIES is around the fee that Spurs would expect.

Since joining Tottenham as a teenager, he has been a revelation and scored 28 goals during his first two Premier League seasons. This season has been harder as he has only three goals in 15 matches, but he was always going to go through a drop-off in form at some point. The test will be how he recovers. The next few months will show us how far Alli can go in the game.

1- Kylian Mbappe (€182.8 million)

The valuation from CIES is fractionally higher than the reported fee that PSG will pay for the teenager next summer when his transfer is made permanent. He was a revelation last season and played a major role in Monaco winning Ligue 1 and reaching the Champions League semi-finals. PSG have made the move to sign him and he could become the best player in the world at the club if he is managed correctly.

This season hasn’t been as eye-catching as his debut season in senior football, but he has been very impressive still, especially when his age is taken into consideration. He has contributed nine goals and seven assists across the two major competitions, with a goal involvement of 86.5 minutes. This is incredible, but there have been some critics as he isn’t as noticeable playing alongside Edinson Cavani and Neymar. He is clearly the best young player in the world and this list from CIES reflects that.

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Arsenal

Should Monaco’s Thomas Lemar opt for a move to Liverpool or Arsenal?

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Lemar

With just hours left of the summer transfer window, Monaco’s Thomas Lemar has a decision to make. The Daily Mail claim that Arsenal have made a £90 million offer, whilst the London Evening Standard say that Liverpool are still prepared to pay over £70 million for the 21-year-old.

Goal claimed this morning that Lemar has made it clear to Monaco that he wishes to move to Anfield, but now with the choice of Merseyside or the Emirates, he will have to choose between Liverpool and Arsenal.

In the short term, the most obvious factors would suggest that Liverpool would be the better move. A squad full of young players signing improvements seems a much happier place to be than Arsenal, who are seeing an exodus of their key talent after the departure of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with Alexis Sanchez potentially following in his footsteps.

The Reds also boast Champions League football this season, something that the Gunners cannot. It is hard to see why Lemar would abandon a Champions League campaign with Monaco to join Arsenal, who are far from certain to qualify next season either, even if they do sign Lemar.

The lure of playing under Jurgen Klopp may be more appealing than Arsene Wenger too. Whilst Wenger is a popular figure in France, he lacks the energy and the track record of having developed players in recent years that Klopp has. It was a key part of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s move, and Lemar may be thinking along the same lines.

With Liverpool yet to match Arsenal’s bid, it seems that he may not even have the choice. Monaco are clearly prepared to hold out for a high price, and if the Gunners meet that then it will put huge pressure on Liverpool to match the £90 million bid. If they refuse to do so, Lemar may well opt to stay at Monaco and pursue a move in January or next summer if he doesn’t want to drop out of the Champions League.

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Arsenal

Is Monaco’s Thomas Lemar good enough to replace Alexis Sanchez for Arsenal?

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Lemar

Arsenal have revived their interest in Monaco midfielder Thomas Lemar as they eye up potential replacements for Alexis Sanchez. The Daily Mail say that the Gunners have launched a £90 million bid for the Frenchman.

The role of replacing the Chilean would be a huge weight upon the 21-year-old’s shoulders, particularly after just one season at the very highest level. However, he has already shown in his short career that he will not shy away from a challenge. His fine form for Monaco in the Champions League last season showed that much.

Lemar is very much a player of a similar mould to the current Arsenal number seven. Both players have immense technical ability and love to dribble with the ball. Lemar’s pace and drive down the flanks is one of his biggest assets and few full-backs know how to handle his trickery.

He is also a good deliverer of the ball. His crossing is almost unrivaled in Ligue Un, and with centre forwards like Alexandre Lacazette, Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck feeding off his chances in the middle, he could become a prolific assister for the Gunners.

Like Sanchez, Lemar is also capable of playing in a number of different roles. Usually, again like the Arsenal man, he plays on the left wing or left hand side of a front three. However, he can also play on the right or behind a central striker. At times he has even featured as a centre forward.

With youth on his side, some could easily argue that by signing Lemar to replace Sanchez, the Gunners would only be replacing the former Barcelona man with a younger version of himself. Lemar has many of the same attributes and will look to one day reach the level of consistency and quality that Sanchez has produced, and if he can then he will more than justify a £90 million fee.

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