Liverpool have once again been the subject of the early summer transfer rumour mill as word is abound that Brendan Rodgers wishes to strengthen his squad, possibly in preparation for talismanic striker Luis Suarez’s departure later in the summer.
Rodgers has already secured the signature of Kolo Toure to provide cover and experience at the back, while a deal has been agreed in principle with Celta Vigo for the signing of goalscorer Iago Aspas.
The club are also said to be closing in on the signature of Sunderland’s Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, so outstanding last term, and a £5m deal for Sevilla attacker Luis Alberto. Ghana winger Christian Atsu is also believed to be on the club’s radar.
Rodgers is intent on improving upon Liverpool’s seventh-place finish last year and make a genuine push for Champions League football.
His principle transfer target, however, is Shakhtar Donetsk’s Armenian attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The 24-year-old has been making waves in Eastern Europe and enjoyed a fantastic season last year, scoring 25 goals in 29 appearances.
He is said to have a £20m release clause in his contract with the Ukrainian club, a clause which Liverpool are believed to be prepared to meet.
On Wednesday, Liverpool completed the £15m sale of Andy Carroll to West Ham, freeing up funds for a possible move for a bid for Mkhitaryan.
So, who exactly is Mkhitaryan?
Mkhitaryan was born in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, in January 1989. He started his career at Pyunik in his home country and scored 30 goals in 70 appearances there. In the summer of 2009 he joined Metalurh Donetsk, and after a promising debut season, moved to Shakhtar the following summer.
Since then he has scored 38 goals in 72 outings for the Ukrainian champions. He has also scored 11 goals in 39 appearances for Armenia since his debut in 2007. As his country’s star man, Mkhitaryan is already used to the level of expectation that he would feel as one of Liverpool’s big players.
Liverpool are not the only club on the hunt for Mkhitaryan’s signature. Jurgen Klopp is said to see him as a potential replacement for the Munich-bound Mario Götze at Borussia Dortmund, while Juventus have also been linked to the Armenian. Rodgers, however, seems intent on capturing the 24-year-old and reportedly sees him as essential part of his strike force for the coming season.
Mkhitaryan’s form last year appears to make him ready to go straight into the Liverpool team, whose slick style and passing game caught the eye last year and would suit the Armenian's own style of play.
If Suarez does stay, an outcome that looks increasingly unlikely, he would still miss the first six games of the season due to his 10 match ban for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic.
As a result of Suarez’s absence and Rodgers’ lofty ambitions, Mkhitaryan would be expected to slot in immediately and Liverpool to hit their straps from the opening game of the season against Stoke at Anfield.
Mkhitaryan’s preferred role is behind a main striker, as a classic No. 10. He’s a player who finishes well, especially from long range, a skill Liverpool fans will cherish after some profligate finishing has seen them draw or lose games that they certainly should have won over the last two years.
Like January signing Coutinho, he passes well and drifts into the channels. He is known in Ukraine for his driving runs into the box and movement off the ball, which often goes unnoticed by opposition defences.
If Rodgers gets his man, Liverpool can expect an industrious attacking midfielder with no shortage of skill and guile, who will chip in his share of goals.
To join the Reds he will be foregoing Champions League football this season but will be buying into Rodgers’ vision, which he hopes will see Liverpool back in Europe’s premier club competition in 12 months time.
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