If you analyze Liverpool’s transfer business over the last few years, one thing sticks out: they are not shy of signing players from relegated clubs.
Georginio Wijnaldum, a key cog in the club’s recent successes, arrived from relegated Newcastle United in the summer of 2016. Likewise, Andy Robertson — arguably the world’s finest left-back — joined Liverpool from the demoted Hull City in the summer window of 2017. To complete the hattrick, Xherdan Shaqiri swapped Championship bound Stoke for Anfield in 2018.
And now, looking ahead to the summer 2021 window, Jurgen Klopp and Michael Edwards could repeat the trick for a fourth time by signing Sheffield United’s Sander Berge.
The Blades — who recently parted ways with their manager, Chris Wilder — have endured a miserable campaign and all the good work of last season has been reversed with relegation from the league now inevitable.
There was a time where followers of the Yorkshire club were worried that their club would set records for all the wrong reasons by registering fewer points than Derby County’s 11 in their infamous 2007/2008 season. That won’t come to fruition, however, with Sheffield United having 14 points on the board at the time of writing but their season — after the highs of finishing ninth last term — has been an unmitigated disaster.
From the smoldering mess at Bramall Lane, Liverpool can pick themselves up a potential bargain in the shape of Berge.
The giant Norwegian — who stands at 6’5″ — has made 13 Premier League appearances for the Blades this season but missed three months of action due to what Wilder — his former coach — described as a “freak” injury sustained in a home defeat to Manchester United.
Despite his team sitting at the foot of the table and his injury absence, Berge — who Liverpool both played against in the Champions League and scouted extensively during his time in Belgium with Genk — has scored relatively well in several metrics and has looked like he belongs in the Premier League.
The powerful 23-year-old, per data from FBRef, completes 1.3 dribbles per 90 which is in the 82% for midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues. These figures are important, in the light of Georginio Wijnaldum’s impending departure. The Dutchman, whose role at Liverpool is to act as a midfield safety valve and to retain possession and hand the creative reins to the full-backs, is similarly adept at dribbling the ball and it would make sense that the Reds would look to replace him with a player with similar attributes.
Berge’s role at Sheffield United is to be the energetic, box-to-box midfield general who contributes to all facets of the game. The Norway international is in the 90% percentile for touches in the opposition penalty with 2.42 per 90. With.10 assists per 90, the Norwegian international has proven — even in a poor, goal-shy team — that he can add a creative thrust to proceedings.
A player’s abilities off the ball are a key consideration when Klopp and the Liverpool recruitment team weigh up a signing. Berge is proactive, hard-working, and efficient against the ball and this is sure to tick several boxes in the Reds’ corridor of power.
The ex Valerenga player unsurprisingly uses his height to good effect and wins 75% of his aerial duels, doing so more often than 75% of midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues. Berge looks to pressure opponents regularly, registering 18.97 pressures — the number of times applying pressure to opposing player who is receiving, carrying or releasing the ball — per 90 which is better than 69% of midfielders in the top European leagues.
The Reds have suffered in the attacking set-piece department this season, only scoring six to date while they scored 17 last season, without the height of the injured Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip. While the towering Norwegian may not regularly attack headers from set-pieces, his height alone could fix opposition defenders and make space for others. Additionally, having such height is clearly beneficial when it comes to defending corners and free kicks.
There are areas for the Norwegian to improve upon — especially his passing, but this is an area where Wijnaldum, through doctors orders to play safely, doesn’t excel in either — but working under the Reds’ coaching ticket could see Berge, who is still young enough to improve, fulfill the potential that made Liverpool scout him regularly when he played in Belgium.