Liverpool’s £35m Bargain Buy From Rival Club is the Premier League’s Signing of the Season

Whether deployed in front of the back four or in a more advanced role, the Argentine World Cup winner has been outstanding this season.

Before the season began, Jurgen Klopp suggested the nickname ‘Gary’ for new arrival Alexis Mac Allister. It didn’t catch on (‘Macca’ inevitably won out), primarily because not everyone at Liverpool got the manager’s reference – which is hardly surprising.

Several members of Klopp’s squad weren’t even born when Gary McAllister arrived at Anfield on a free transfer in the summer of 2000. Little was expected of the veteran Scottish midfielder. He was 35 at the time. It was thought that his best days had long since passed – and yet McAllister made an immediate impact on Merseyside, playing a pivotal part in the Reds lifting five trophies the following year.

Former manager Gerard Houllier considered him the “most inspirational signing” of his managerial career. Funnily enough, Mac Allister is already looking like one of Klopp’s.

Indeed, as we approach the conclusion of a gripping 2023-24 campaign with ‘Liverpool Reloaded’ surprisingly leading the Premier League, it’s already clear that no club made a better buy last summer.

Cole Palmer, James Maddison, Mohammed Kudus and Declan Rice are all having terrific debut seasons at their respective clubs – but when it comes to value for money, nobody comes close to matching Mac Allister.

A World Cup Winner for a Knockdown Price

Even considering the agreed £20 million ($25m) in potential add-ons, Klopp was aware that Liverpool were securing a steal when they activated the £35m ($45m) release clause in Mac Allister’s contract at the Amex. “He was a player that I desperately wanted,” the Reds boss confessed. “Thankfully, we got him!”

The rapid action by Liverpool’s former sporting director Julian Ward facilitated the conclusion of the deal shortly after the conclusion of the 2022-23 season. This swiftness was aided by the club’s positive and enduring relationship with his agent, Juan Gemelli, who played a role in Philippe Coutinho’s transfer to Anfield in 2013.

It was peculiar, however, that Liverpool didn’t encounter fiercer competition from clubs like Manchester United for a proven Premier League player who had just finished as top scorer for Brighton, propelling them to European qualification for the first time in the club’s history. Moreover, Mac Allister had notably performed alongside Lionel Messi as Argentina clinched the 2022 World Cup in Qatar six months earlier.

Despite Klopp’s elation at securing one of his primary transfer targets, he harbored some uncertainty about how quickly Mac Allister would adapt to life at Anfield. Given that the No.10 was just one component in a completely revamped midfield, Klopp speculated that he might require time to acclimate to “the different environment” and a “slightly different role.”

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‘It Was Clearly Not the Idea’

Mac Allister effortlessly adapted to his new environment, swiftly bonding with Liverpool’s South American players and seamlessly integrating into the team thanks to his fluent English.

Yet, doubts arose in the early season about his suitability for Klopp’s No.6 position, with concerns that it might hinder his attacking prowess, prompting speculation about its counter-productivity.

He admitted himself he hadn’t expected to be given a deeper role at Anfield. “It was clearly not the [original] idea,” Mac Allister said in February. “But things changed. At the beginning of the season, we didn’t have a proper No.6, so I had to do the job.”

And he got better and better at it.

‘Better Than Any Other Six You Can Imagine’

By the season’s midpoint, Klopp delighted in Mac Allister’s emergence as one of the Premier League’s top defensive midfielders.

“You (journalists) can all tell me what you want but he is an outstanding six on the ball – better than any other six you can imagine,” the German said after Mac Allister’s remarkable ability to retain possession, no matter the pressure, proved invaluable during a torrid first half for his team-mates at Bournemouth.

In his next Premier League match against Chelsea at home, Mac Allister showcased a midfield masterclass, particularly shining against Moises Caicedo, his former teammate from Brighton who opted for Chelsea over Liverpool last summer.

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Mac Allister and his teammates

Displaying a seamless performance, Mac Allister wasn’t solely composed with the ball, but also excelled off it by repeatedly regaining possession for his team.

‘I Really Like These Kinds of Players’

Currently, the midfield is reaping the rewards of pushing a versatile midfielder into a more advanced position. The delayed but understandable rise of Wataru Endo as Liverpool’s top choice in shielding the defense (a role Fabinho struggled to master initially in Klopp’s system) has enabled Mac Allister to thrive as a No. 8. The outcome has been remarkable: three of Mac Allister’s four Premier League goals this season and four of his five assists came in his last six appearances.

Nevertheless, Liverpool’s team members are not at all surprised. They recognized Mac Allister’s exceptional precision and vision reminiscent of Andrea Pirlo from his very first training session.

“I really like these kinds of players, I have to tell you,” Diogo Jota said during pre-season. “They just see these passes. It’s almost like you just need to make the run and they will see it.”

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‘Very, Very Special’

Both De Zerbi and Klopp credit Mac Allister’s father Carlos, a former Argentina international, for instilling in his son a sharp understanding of the game through their shared analysis of matches during his youth.

“I cannot thank the dad enough for that knowledge and education,” Klopp admitted. “The way Macca plays his position is very, very special. He is super-smart and his contribution to all our play is extremely important.”

There’s no denying the assertion. He’s emerged as a standout performer this season in the Premier League, leading his team with 39 tackles won and ranking second at Anfield for several key defensive metrics, including possession won, duels won, interceptions, touches, and successful passes. Notably, he hasn’t committed a single error leading to a shot, let alone a goal.

‘A Football Doctor’

As Liverpool prepare for Sunday’s crucial match against Manchester United, Mac Allister has emerged as one of his team’s most potent attacking threats. This was evident in Thursday’s game against Sheffield United, where he scored a stunning goal, marking his 10th goal involvement in the last 11 matches.

While still capable of dropping deep and delivering pinpoint passes to the likes of Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, and Luis Diaz, Mac Allister’s increased ventures into the opponent’s final third are causing headaches for rival defenders. In the recent victory over Brighton, his assist to Salah in a crowded penalty area sealed the win.

Former manager De Zerbi acknowledged Mac Allister’s remarkable progress at Anfield, describing him as “a great, great player.” Indeed, Mac Allister’s transition to more advanced positions has not only been seamless but also effective, as he continues to excel even in tighter spaces where retaining possession is challenging.

“I’ve never seen someone retain the ball so well,” Liverpool right-back Conor Bradley told the club’s official website. “He’s so calm and so composed. He’s just a wonderful footballer and a joy to play with. I can’t praise him enough, to be honest.”

Klopp is also running out of superlatives for the multi-talented midfielder. Since trying to nickname Mac Allister ‘Gary’, he’s also called him “a rhythm-giver”, “a difference-maker” and “a football doctor”. At this stage, he may as well add ‘signing of the season’ to the list. We may have all touted Mac Allister as a bargain buy last summer but, as Klopp has correctly pointed out, he has “fulfilled all of our expectations – and more!”

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