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TKT Opinion- Three AFCON stars Liverpool should keep an eye on

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By Shrishh Attavar

Three players Liverpool FC should be looking at the AFCON

International tournaments make a lot of the scouting process much easier. Liverpool presently have two major international competitions that our players are involved in. Mohamed Salah is presently out leading Egypt in the Africa Cup of Nations while Wataru Endo captains the Japan side in the AFC Asian Cup.

It is no secret that the Reds are in need of reinforcements. Let’s start with what the Reds need. Following Joel Matip’s ACL injury, the Reds find themselves short of central defenders. While we have quality options in Virgil van Dijk, Ibrahima Konate, Joe Gomez and Jarell Quansah, additional depth is surely not going to hurt the Reds. Moreover, Joe has been makeshifting as a full-back on either flank in recent games which makes the pursuit of central defenders necessary.

Next up, we could do with the services of a full-back. We cannot press the Joe Gomez button always and it is wise if the club looks to reinforce that department. A defensive midfielder and a forward [right-winger at that] would cover everything the Reds need, but it is highly unlikely that Liverpool will make a move for all these departments in the January window. Irrespective of that, let’s take a look at the players Liverpool should keep an eye out for during the current AFCON.

Rayan Ait-Nouri

Three players Liverpool FC should be looking at the AFCON.
Wolverhampton Wanderers and Algeria left-back Rayan Ait-Nouri represents a growing stock in the world of football.

Ait-Nouri has been one of the most consistent performers for both club and country in the last season or two. The 22-year-old Wolves left-back unlike other left-backs in the country, has been a tough nut to crack for Mohamed Salah. Ait-Nouri is the first-choice left-back for Algeria as well. He is a very composed player and is technically brilliant as well. Considering the lack of possession when Wolves generally play, he has higher defensive numbers compared to Andy Robertson [throughout his time at Liverpool] per 90; 1.54 to 2.63. When it comes to shot-creating actions, they are not very far apart. Ait-Nouri is at 2.25 while Robbo has 3.26 per 90.

His technical brilliance and gifted levels of composure make him a prime candidate to not only fit seamlessly into the Reds’ style of play but potentially take over the reins from the seasoned duo of Andy Robertson (29) and Kostas Tsimikas (27).

It is almost a given that these numbers will improve if he moves to a side that plays with much more of the ball than Gary O’Neil’s side. Much credit to him as well, who has brought the best out of Ait-Nouri as it surely does not seem like he is only 22 when you look at him play. There is a sense of calm in him that transcends beyond his age. This season, the Algerian has made 17 appearances in the Premier League and for a player who is yet to score or assist this season, has been very instrumental in how they play. Against Angola in his country’s opening game of AFCON, Ait-Nouri was easily among the best players in a 1-1 draw.

Bilal El Khannouss

Three players Liverpool FC should be looking at the AFCON.
Bilal El Khannouss’ versatility makes him stand out in an already stacked Morocco team.

Meet Bilal El Khannouss, the 19-year-old midfield dynamo from Genk – Liverpool’s potential diamond in the rough, or should we say, in the Jupiler League. This lad burst onto the scene dazzling for Morocco in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, making us wonder if there’s a dash of magic in his Genk water.

Now, what makes Bilal the Moroccan maestro? Well, aside from his knack for doing the chops and cuts on the left wing, he’s like a Swiss Army knife in midfield – central, attacking, you name it! His passing skills are so top-notch; that even the ball wants him to sign it. Set pieces? Oh, he’s got that too, like a secret weapon hidden up Klopp’s tactical sleeve. In 34 appearances, he’s racked up three goals and five assists.

Now, let’s talk stats. We did some Sherlock-level digging (NOT), and Bilal shares a shot-creating bromance with Dominik Szoboszlai – 4.5 per 90 for Bilal, 5.17 for Szobo. But where he outshines our dearly very own Szobo is in progressive passes – 8.54 to Szobo’s 5.33.

With raw abilities hinting at a bright future, Bilal El Khannouss emerges as a player Liverpool should certainly have on their radar. His blend of skills and potential make him a promising candidate for the Reds’ midfield in the years to come.

Ousmane Diomande

Three players Liverpool FC should be looking at the AFCON.
Ousmane Diomande could prove to be a smart investment for Liverpool.

If Jarell Quansah has given us a glimpse of Virgil van Dijk, brace yourself for the potential arrival of Ousmane Diomande from Sporting CP who is a reflection of the style of play of Liverpool star Joel Matip. At 23, this Ivorian sensation is like the Matip sequel, ready to bring his blend of magic to Anfield.

What makes Diomande the defender of our dreams? Well, for starters, he’s like a VIP ball chauffeur, expertly carrying it from the back – the kind of service that suits the Reds’ style like a tailored suit. And if you ever doubted his physical prowess, his tackles per 90 (1.81) are here to drop the mic. This guy doesn’t just defend; he makes it an art form, stepping out of the defensive line, winning tackles, and using his power and pace like a superhero in defensive transitions.

Picture this: a young Ivorian powerhouse with the raw abilities and physique to conquer the centre-back realm. With the right coaching and a career trajectory on the upswing, the player might just evolve into one of Europe’s defensive maestros in the years to come. Diomand(e) is a diamond in the making.

With the right guidance and an environment that nurtures his talent, Diomande could well become a linchpin in the Reds’ pursuit of defensive dominance, adding another chapter to Liverpool’s storied history of formidable centre-backs.

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There’s too much untapped talented in Africa. The AFCON will just let us know in the most AFCON way possible. Let’s see if the Reds keep their scouting glasses active and make a move for a player or two in the coming weeks.