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French Ligue 1

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

Scott Challinor

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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.

23 year old from Stoke-on-Trent. Avid Port Vale fan. Also follow Derby County & OGC Nice closely. BA Hons Modern Languages Graduate (University of Oxford). My prior experience in Sports Journalism comes from Volleyball & Floorball, having worked on major tournaments with the CEV, FIVB, & IFF. Have been contributing pieces to The Boot Room since 2016. Views are my own.

PSG

West Ham boost: PSG plotting Stanislav Lobotka as Javier Pastore replacement?

The Parisian’s business could suggest West Ham’s saga is coming to an end.

Jamie Watts

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West Ham have potentially recieved a boost in pursuit of marquee target Javier Pastore, as Paris Saint Germain are lining up a move for another play-making midfielder in Celta Vigo’s Stanislav Lobotka, according to reports from Spanish outlet ElDesmarque.

Pellegrini has been tasked with getting West Ham back to playing attacking and progressive football next term, and has identified a midfielder as the key to ushering in his new philosophy. The Chilean boss has named Javier Pastore as the fleet footed technician capable of spearheading this transition, according to reports from Sky Sports.

However, talks have been on-going for weeks, and it appears a move could break down due to disagreements over the player’s weekly-wages. But the club seem determined to get this deal over the line. Roma are also incredibly interested in the player’s services, according to ESPN, so the Hammers will have to move swiftly.

Photo: Getty Images

It now look as though one way or another, Pastore is set to leave the French capital though, with Paris Saint Germain looking to land Lobotka from the La Liga outfit, and the most reliable sources have pointed towards the Premier League thus far.

However, should the Argentine star choose Roma, Pellegrini will likely revive interest in Yaya Toure or Jack Wilshere (Daily Star), with the player announcing his imminent exit from Arsenal.

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Manchester United

Tottenham should use opportunity to land PSG star Angel Di Maria

The Argentine superstar could be available this summer.

Jamie Watts

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Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino is undoubtedly looking to bolster his attacking options this term, and a number of stellar names have been linked with moves to north London. But so far nothing has gathered any real traction on that front.

Reports from the Sun last month claimed Pochettino made Manchester United‘s Anthony Martial his priority target, but weeks later nothing is any closer to materialising with United asserting that the Frenchman remains in their plans for next season, in reports from Sky Sports.

Photo: Getty Images

Ironically, Tottenham may now have a brief window to land another star previously associated with United. Angel Di Maria could potentially be sold by French champions Paris Saint Germain this summer, as the club need to raise £52 million from player sales to conform with Financial Fair Play regulations, according to reports from Mediaset Premium.

Serie A giants Inter Milan and Napoli are said to be keen on bringing the ex-Real Madrid star to Italy next term, after the Argentine international’s role changed in Paris, due to the acquisitions of superstar forwards Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.

Currently, it seems Carlo Ancelotti is favourite to land the player’s signature should he leave, as Di Maria enjoyed the best period of his career under the Italian boss at the Bernabeu, and he could be keen to reunite with him in the near future.

Photo: Getty Images

However, Pochettino would be foolish to let a move for the 30-year-old go uncontested, as he looks to improve the supply line to Harry Kane this summer. Few are as creative as Di Maria, and he could instantly elevate Spurs to new levels next season.

After struggling and leaving Louis Van Gaal’s United in 2015, Di Maria has rediscovered form reminiscent of his best days, bagging an impressive 21 goals and 12 assists despite a limited role in the Parisians’ outfit last campaign.

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Atletico Madrid

Will Liverpool regret missing out on Thomas Lemar last summer as Atletico agree deal?

Liverpool’s long-spanning target is set for a move to Spain.

Jamie Watts

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Atletico Madrid are said to have agreed a deal with Monaco to sign French winger Thomas Lemar this summer, according to a statement from the official club website, which will leave a number of Premier League sides feeling disappointed.

The 22-year-old is currently away on international duty ahead of the World Cup, but both clubs are reportedly keen on finalising the transfer before then, according to Sky Sports.

The news will come as a blow to Liverpool, who have closely courted the player for a number of years – notably throughout last season – with reports from the Express suggesting Lemar had chosen a move to Merseyside over Arsenal in January.

Photo: Getty Images

Jurgen Klopp reportedly made a £55 million bid for the player’s services last summer, but Monaco were unwilling to lose more key members of the team, having already lost Tiemoue Bakayoko to Chelsea, Benjamin Mendy to Manchester City and Kylian Mbappe to Paris Saint-Germain. That meant Lemar and new Reds midfielder Fabinho had to remain at the Stade Louis II for an extra season.

The Reds were likely to revisit their interest in Lemar this summer (the Express), after the collapse of Nabil Fekir’s highly anticipated switch, as Klopp looks to bolster his attacking options having been reminded that squad depth is a powerful thing in the Champions League final.

Rumours surrounding the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri (the Mirror) and Ousmane Dembele (the Express) suggest Liverpool are still prioritising bringing in high-profile attackers and Lemar certainly belongs in that bracket.

Photo: Getty Images

His best return came a year ago, with the former Caen forward amassing an impressive 14 goals and 17 assists in all competitions, sparking the initial interest from Europe’s elite.

A year on, the Europa League champions appear to have won the race, and Liverpool will have to look elsewhere.

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