Liverpool must challenge Real Madrid again as $42m Joël Matip heir looks like real deal

Murillo of Nottingham Forest interacts with Nuno Espirito Santo, Manager of Nottingham Forest, after the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Nottingham Forest at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on April 07, 2024 in London, England.
Liverpool has been credited with an interest in a Premier League defender also attracting glances from Real Madrid. -Credit:Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Liverpool might need to take a deep breath before diving into another transfer battle with Real Madrid. Over the past couple of years, it has come out battered and bruised.

On the pitch, of course, Real Madrid is responsible for Jürgen Klopp claiming one Champions League triumph rather than three. And the misery has extended to shared transfer targets, where first Aurélien Tchouaméni and then Jude Bellingham got away.

The lure of the Spanish giant is never easy to beat. But given the spotless recruitment record at the Bernabéu, it's no bad thing to be going for the same players, and Liverpool is sure to win the fight one of these days.

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It must steel itself to try again this summer. The battle may not materialize, with Real Madrid's number one target for the center-back role being Leny Yoro of Lille, but another option under consideration in the Spanish capital would be an excellent heir to Joël Matip at Liverpool.

To some extent, Matip can be replaced from within, with Jarell Quansah stepping up into exactly that capacity since the Cameroonian succumbed to injury. But it would be foolhardy not to bolster the central defensive ranks, especially with Virgil van Dijk the wrong side of 30 as well.

And it would be a gross disservice to Matip to suggest that Liverpool simply needs to make up the numbers with another signing. It's hard to think of many more reliable performers in the Klopp era, with only his injury record letting him down.

Results stayed strong for a while, so Matip's injury is rarely discussed as a turning point this season. But he had been a regular presence early in the campaign, looking as assured as ever at the back — and going forward, there can be little doubt that his marauding runs have been missed, with Liverpool looking clueless at times recently when tasked with breaking down a stubborn defense.

It's in this aspect of the game where Murillo of Nottingham Forest looks to be a really intriguing option. Per Mundo Deportivo, Real Madrid has him on the radar, but so too do Liverpool, Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester United.

Contracted until 2028, the 21-year-old would not come especially cheaply. But Nottingham Forest has well-publicized FFP issues, and it's thought that $42m (£34m/€40m) would suffice.

In this day and age, that's really not much to pay for a young player who has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water. Nottingham Forest's defensive record is not stellar, although it's not really much better or worse than a whole host of teams below the top four — Newcastle, in sixth, has conceded the same number of goals.

But it's the value Murillo brings on the ball that makes him really exciting. Quick across the ground and strongly-built, he more than holds his own in individual ground duels, but it's what he does in possession that marks him out as someone who should one day be playing for a club like Liverpool or Real Madrid.

There's the highlight reel stuff, for one thing. Multiple times this season, Murillo has come outrageously close to scoring from deep within his own half, forcing a good save out of Luton keeper Thomas Kaminski and seeing other efforts drop agonizingly wide with goalkeepers stranded. Not in itself a reason for signing a defender, it nonetheless shows his confidence, and indeed his technical mastery and incredible power.

And it's not all long shots, either. Murillo loves to run with the ball; he's above average for progressive carries, albeit not quite in Matip territory yet, but he outstrips the Liverpool man and almost everyone else when it comes to successful take-ons. The Brazilian is in the 97th percentile for this metric among positional peers in the top five leagues (FBref), a skill-set destined for an elite team intent on playing out of pressure and starting attacks from the back.

With an expected assists tally in the 85th percentile, Murillo's on-ball value is simply undeniable. There's just one problem.

Under Klopp, his underwhelming aerial duel win percentage (a little way under 50 per cent) would have been a red flag for Liverpool. Matip, Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konaté are all in the league top 10 this season, with Quansah not far behind. But this may not be so fatal to Murillo's chances of a transfer under a new manager.

For instance, under Rúben Amorim this season, the Liverpool-touted Gonçalo Inácio has only won 52.4 per cent of his duels. Admittedly, the rest of his back line have shown aerial dominance, but the same would be true at Anfield. In a back three, the duties can be shared out a little more.

Ultimately, Murillo's positives justify overlooking this one potential issue. That's why so many big clubs are taking an interest. And Liverpool should risk getting hurt again for a really exciting young defender.