Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson is a potential candidate for a swap deal with Saul Niguez of Atletico Madrid. But who are the real winners in this deal?
Following a disastrous title defence in the 2020/21 campaign, Liverpool are bracing themselves for a summer of change in their bid to restore their supremacy at the top of English football. It has led Jurgen Klopp to scour the market for reinforcements, with the midfield unit particularly viewed as a weakness.
For one, the departure of Georginio Wijnaldum has left a massive void in the middle of the park. And in an attempt to replace the experienced Dutchman, Liverpool have been credited with a long-standing interest in Saul Niguez, who is likely to leave Atletico Madrid in the summer.
However, the Reds aren’t willing to meet Atleti’s demands for the player, while their attempts to include Xherdan Shaqiri or Divock Origi in a player plus cash deal have been knocked back by the club. But, according to El Gol Digital, the Spanish champions are open to having Jordan Henderson in a potential swap deal, with coach Diego Simeone particularly keen on securing his services.
It has left the Englishman in contention to leave Anfield as Liverpool look to acquire the signature of Saul Niguez. And here, at the Hard Tackle, we will take a look at how this swap deal stacks up for all parties involved.
Liverpool’s desire to sign Saul Niguez is hardly surprising as they lack proper depth in the creative department. In recent years, they have appeared far too over-reliant on the services of the two players like Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Trent Alexander-Arnold, as far as chance creation is concerned.
Other options such as Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain, Naby Keita, Takumi Minamino and Xherdan Shaqiri have either struggles to impress or suffered from relentless injuries. The addition of Saul, in that regard, should serve as a breath of fresh air for Jurgen Klopp.
The Spaniard should be an ideal cog in Wijnaldum’s position in central midfield. His offensive prowess should combine well with the more balanced nature of Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara. Not to mention, the Atletico Madrid playmaker can effortlessly move out wide, if required, making him a potential alternative for the likes of Mane, Salah or Diogo Jota.
But to acquire Saul, Liverpool have to part ways with one of their longest-serving players in Jordan Henderson. A member of the Merseyside outfit since 2011, the Englishman’s potential departure will mark the end of an era at Anfield, perhaps for the better, as the club is in desperate need of a new lease of life.
Although there is no doubt that Henderson is an able leader, whose influence was critical behind their success in UEFA Champions League and Premier League in recent years, the Reds need more youthful exuberance in the middle of the park. And while the addition of a new holding midfielder remains unlikely, options like Thiago and Fabinho are more than capable of replacing him in the short term.
However, for a club like Liverpool, retaining some sort of identity is critical, and Jordan Henderson is perhaps the single most important representative of that identity. Hence, the departure of the 31-year-old in exchange for Saul is a shrewd option for the club. It is one that might make sense from a sporting perspective, but lead to a massive role of morale within the camp, perhaps even forcing the Reds to toothlessly begin the search for a long-term successor.
The departure of Thomas Partey was a bigger blow for Atletico Madrid than Diego Simeone might have anticipated. The Argentine mastermind has struggled to properly replace the current Arsenal midfielder, with new faces like Geoffrey Kondogbia, Lucas Torreira and Hector Herrera failing to make a lasting impression.
In Henderson, Los Colchoneros will find themselves a seasoned veteran whose leadership, aggression and work ethic are tailor-made for Simeone’s tactical philosophy. He could thus be an ideal cog in Atletico’s midfield unit, alongside the more all-rounded Koke, ultimately adding a new dimension to the club’s second line of press.
As far as Saul’s departure is concerned, it is unlikely to faze Atletico Madrid, thanks partly to the player’s steady decline in the past couple of years. There has been a massive dip in his overall fitness, thus affecting his performances in Simeone’s tactical setup that requires a lot of athleticism.
Although the Spaniard has not fallen behind in the pecking order, his importance in Atletico’s creative department has certainly taken a hit. It is largely thanks to Marcos Llorente’s rapid rise to prominence, with the former Real Madrid starlet even becoming one of the best chance-creators in Laliga. Thomas Lemar and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco have also done well to make themselves for Simeone, further decreasing the club’s reliance on Saul.
His move to Liverpool, therefore, is unlikely to create too many problems, especially after the arrival of Rodrigo de Paul from Udinese this summer. It makes Atletico Madrid the clear winners in this deal.
A potential move to Atletico Madrid is a weird prospect for Jordan Henderson. But English players moving to foreign leagues have been mainstreamed in recent years, with Jadon Sancho, Chris Smalling and Jude Bellingham enjoying a lot of success. In fact, the midfielder can unite with national teammate Kieran Trippier at Atletico, although the right-back has been linked with a return to England.
From a sporting perspective, Henderson will undoubtedly be given a significant role in the club’s midfield department. Although facing competition from Kondogbia and Herrera, the Englishman shouldn’t have too many difficulties in getting regular game-time under Simeone, who is known to be a huge admirer of the Liverpool captain.
Unfortunately, the move still doesn’t suit Henderson, who may find problems settling into the Spanish culture. A prolonged stay at Anfield, on that note, appears to be the best option for him personally, even if it forces him to take a small paycut.
As iterated earlier, Liverpool’s interest in Saul Niguez stems from their lack of options in the creative midfield department. But for the player, a move to Merseyside should force him to deal with a new set of challenges.
There is no secret that the Premier League requires a higher level of athleticism. It could be a major issue for a player that suffered a serious kidney injury not long ago. His overall physical prowess has also taken a hit in recent years, making things even more challenging for the Spaniard.
One thing that might play in Saul’s favour is that the Reds do not have an array of creative players competing for places. The likes of Shaqiri, Chamberlain and Minamino all face an uncertain future at the club, and should Henderson’s sale get sanctioned, he would virtually walk into the Liverpool first-team.
With that in mind, it is perhaps fair to conclude that a move to Liverpool does bring a sense of risk for Saul Niguez. But the Atletico Madrid star has never backed down from a challenge. And if he can settle into Spanish football quickly enough, he can indeed turn out to be a massive asset for the club in years to come.