Liverpool have confirmed the signing of Brazil midfielder Arthur Melo on a season-long loan from Juventus; the Reds found themselves light in midfield following injuries to Thiago Alcantara, Naby Keita, Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Comment and Analysis @nicholaspwright
Friday 2 September 2022 14:17, UK
Jurgen Klopp had already confirmed Liverpool were in the market for a midfielder before Wednesday’s win over Newcastle but Jordan Henderson’s hamstring injury added to the urgency.
Henderson joined Thiago Alcantara, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the sidelines when he was forced off in the second half at Anfield but Liverpool acted just 24 hours later, confirming the loan signing of Arthur Melo from Juventus.
The Brazil international joins with an option, rather than an obligation, to make his move permanent, making the deal a relatively low-risk solution for Liverpool, but can the 26-year-old give them what they need?
Arthur brings plenty of pedigree having spent the last four years playing for two of the biggest clubs in Europe in Barcelona and Juventus. He has won a total of 22 caps for Brazil and played a key role in his country’s Copa America triumph back in 2019.
His talent has been known to European audiences since his £35m arrival at Barcelona from Brazilian side Gremio in 2018, when he signed a six-year contract at the Nou Camp which included a £355m buy-out clause, taking on the No 8 shirt vacated by Andres Iniesta.
It was Xavi rather than Iniesta, though, who Arthur came to resemble at Barcelona, owing to his similar build and, more significantly, his similar style of play. The youngster described himself as an “organiser” of play and it was evident on the pitch.
Indeed, in a game against Valencia a few months into his first season in Spain, Arthur completed a staggering total of 135 passes, the most by any player in La Liga that season.
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It was a Xavi-esque performance and even the man himself agreed.
“I think we’re looking at a player that can mark an era at Barcelona,” said Xavi. “He has the Barca DNA. You can already tell by the way he plays, how he conducts the ball, the way he thinks, how he makes his turns. He is a very quick thinker.”
Arthur looked to have a brilliant future in Catalonia at that point but it never quite came to fruition for him.
Over the course of his first season at the club, he only started more than three consecutive games on two occasions. By the end of his second, he had fallen out of favour altogether.
His move to Juventus that summer, for a fee of £66m, with Miralem Pjanic moving the other way for £54.8m, provided a change of scenery but ultimately not a change of fortunes.
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Arthur impressed in patches in his first campaign in Italy but featured sporadically under Andrea Pirlo and it was a similar story under Pirlo’s successor Massimiliano Allegri last season.
His talent has never been in doubt – Allegri described his technical ability as “extraordinary” earlier this year and Pirlo was similarly complimentary – but other factors held him back.
Injuries have been a persistent issue for Arthur and they leave question marks hanging over him as he arrives at Anfield.
Liverpool’s absentee list is such that Arthur will be needed immediately but does he have the robustness for the Premier League? Does he have the robustness to play under Klopp?
Liverpool’s breathless approach demands high levels of stamina and physical resilience and there is little in Arthur’s recent history to suggest he possesses those qualities.
He has not featured at all for Juventus this season and arrives at Anfield having not played a single minute of competitive action since Juve’s Coppa Italia final defeat to Inter Milan four months ago.
It is not exactly ideal preparation for a side about to embark on a run of five games in 15 days.
It is not ideal, either, that Arthur has never started more than 19 league games in a league season in Europe, the percentage of fixtures he has started in fact declining every year since his arrival from Brazil back in 2018.
It is a worrying trend which goes part of the way to explaining why Arsenal decided against moving for him in the January transfer window. The hope for Klopp and Liverpool is he will succeed in reversing that trend in his new surroundings.
If he can, it may yet prove an inspired piece of business.
Thankfully for Liverpool, Arthur’s susceptibility to injury is not the only quality he has in common with Thiago.
Until now, Liverpool have not possessed another midfielder capable of influencing proceedings quite like Thiago in possession but Arthur might just be that man – providing he can stay fit.
While he has not featured nearly as regularly as he would like during his time with Juventus, his influence on the ball can be seen in his statistical output.
He has averaged more touches per 90 minutes than any other Juventus player over the last two seasons and also ranks top in terms of passes and pass success. Only one player, Manuel Locatelli, has averaged more passes in the final third.
Much like Thiago, whose off-the-ball work is underrated, Arthur offers plenty out of possession too, the statistics showing he has won possession in the middle third of the pitch at a higher rate than any other Juventus player over the last two seasons.
Chiefly, though, he is someone who can help his team dominate possession and unpick opposition defences. Like Thiago, he is not known for racking up goals and assists. He is more likely to be found starting attacks than finishing them.
But his “extraordinary” technical ability coupled with the Xavi-like distribution which marked him out for a big future at Barcelona could help ease Liverpool’s reliance on Thiago, and give them a much-needed alternative in an area of the pitch in which they too frequently find themselves short on numbers.
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