The perfect back-up to Fabinho

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It’s difficult to impress when your side loses 6-2 over two matches but Genk midfielder Sander Berge certainly caught the eye against the European champions. According to reports, the Reds are interested in signing the 21-year-old.

Though this isn’t confirmed, talk is he has an £18million release clause in his deal. To Genk, that is a massive fee. To a Premier League club, however, that is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. Especially when Berge has many traits which make him an ideal No.6 in England.

At first glance, Liverpool look fairly stacked in midfield but as mentioned recently, the middle third will need freshening up in the not so distant future.

Jordan Henderson is 30 at the end of the current campaign, Gini Wijnaldum has just turned 29, James Milner is 34 in January and Adam Lallana is 32 in May. They’re no longer spring chickens and those four players make up over half of the midfielders available to Jurgen Klopp.

The Premier League leaders have been linked with Gladbach midfielder Denis Zakaria while Marko Grujic is believed to be in the plans for next season. It’s clear Klopp and the recruitment team believe some fresh legs would be a good addition.

Zakaria is a talent but the Bundesliga table-toppers want in excess of £40million for the Switzerland international. Genk’s demands are much more modest. Dimitri De Conde, the club’s Sporting Director, recently confirmed Liverpool’s interest in the Norway international.

“Napoli are interested in Sander, it’s a possibility a deal could be done,” De Conde told Radio Punto Nuovo. “We also know that Liverpool are interested and [Jurgen] Klopp, after the game at Anfield [in the Champions League], complimented him on his performance.”

The interest in Berge dates back to late 2017. Reports suggested Arsenal and Everton were keen on making him the latest Genk player to move to the Premier League and Liverpool reportedly had eyes on him, too. However, he’s been tracked by Europe’s elite for quite some time.

He came through the youth system of Asker and made his debut for the club, then in the Norwegian third tier, in 2013. He immediately stood out and it wasn’t long before Valerenga made their move and brought him to the club. 

There he broke through into the first team and played regularly in his country’s top tier, attracting interest from clubs all over Europe.

It was Genk who secured his signature. The Belgian side were flush after selling Wilfried Ndidi to Leicester City and needed someone to replace the Nigerian in their middle third. They parted with around £1.7million to land him. 

He immediately impressed in Belgium. Why wouldn’t he? It isn’t often you see a 6ft 5ins behemoth who can pick a pass like Xavi.

Berge is primarily a deep-lying midfielder but he’s got the awareness to be considered a defensive midfielder. He could anchor a midfield or play as part of a midfield two or as a box-to-box midfielder in a three. 

He’s got a good touch for a big man. So much so that it’s his technique and intelligence that catches the eye when he’s playing, and not the fact he’s a physical specimen.

In possession, Berge is a subtle but penetrative influence from the base of midfield. He likes to drop deep between the centre-backs to act as a first receiver before turning and looking to play vertical passes through the opposition’s defensive block.

He is comfortable receiving the ball with his back to goal and doesn’t falter easily under pressure, showcasing composure beyond his years along with graceful ball control and an ability to resist pressure using his awareness of space and positioning.

Something all top midfielders need to be able to do these days with so many teams now looking to execute a high press in an attempt to win the ball back in dangerous areas of the pitch. 

However, it’s his sometimes risky play which sets him apart. With teams now being possession-orientated, many midfielders now pass up the opportunity to thread an incisive pass into the feet of their attackers because there’s a risk it doesn’t come off. It’s considered patient play but at times it can be nothing more than sterile possession. Berge doesn’t fall into that category and if there’s a pass on he’ll look to take it.

He was one of the standout performers for Genk in both defeats to Liverpool. He patrolled the middle third well, popped up in wide areas to support the attack when required but, more importantly, he was just calm when in possession. Not an easy thing when you’re up against a busy Reds midfield.

Klopp and the coaching staff could turn him into Fabinho’s back-up. It’d give Liverpool the chance to manage the Brazilian’s minutes without losing that physicality in that area of the pitch.

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