Theoretically speaking, Liverpool have already stolen from Inter Milan once before.
It could be classed as little less than theft now that the Reds only paid £8.5m for Philippe Coutinho in January 2013. The Brazilian is both footed, a great dribbler and was only surpassed by Alexis Sanchez and David Silva for through balls in the Premier League in the past season.
However, based on the attacking influence that he has, Liverpool would be right to demand more than five assists from Coutinho. Meanwhile, he sits below others in the top flight who play a similar role in terms of pass success.
Brendan Rodgers clearly needs to bolster his striking options to profit from the creativity provided by the likes of Coutinho, with Danny Ings already signed from Burnley and the hope that Daniel Sturridge will return to full fitness.
Extra creativity would be no bad thing either from the deeper positions, with Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen somewhat safe with their passing, Adam Lallana unlikely to be utilised too deep and James Milner at his best with his off-the-ball movements rather than unpicking defences with probing passes.
Two seasons ago Chelsea had a similar problem in terms of creativity from deeper midfield and it was this that was blamed for a number of below-par late-season results that effectively cost them the title by four points.
Jose Mourinho acted on the problem last summer and signed Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona for an undisclosed fee, thought to be in the region of £27m.
Fabregas slotted in perfectly alongside Nemanja Matic, especially in matches where the Blues were going to have the majority of possession and faced opposition that lacked a significant attacking threat themselves.
In the bigger matches it was noted that Fabregas lacked the defensive attributes to form part of a double-defensive pivot and could leave Matic isolated. Mourinho often played the Spaniard slightly further forward in such circumstances.
The results at Chelsea speak for themselves, with Fabregas’ creativity and powerful runs responsible for 18 assists, seven more than anyone else in the Premier League and a title won early by eight points.
Fabregas was given the licence to press forward from a fairly defensive starting role, he initiated quick passing combinations that carried the Blues up the pitch and created ample chances when his team were on the front foot.
Before his arrival, Chelsea’s build up could be slow and weaker opposition found ways to stifle them by getting bodies behind the ball and preventing passes into the forward players.
Liverpool cannot be criticised for needing this type of operator as much as Chelsea did before the start of last season, but a lot of their current midfield can count work rate as their leading attribute and are not overly creative in terms of their passing.
Mateo Kovacic can bring this extra dimension to Liverpool’s attacking set-up and it is the Fabregas role where he can excel if Rodgers does secure the Croatian’s signature from Inter Milan. It is 1/1 that Kovacic is a Liverpool player by September 2nd, when the summer transfer window has closed.
Kovacic was brought to Inter five days after Coutinho’s sale, almost as his direct replacement, albeit as a midfielder who could create rather than a forward.
However, there is the feeling that his potential still hasn’t been reached, with the fact he has played under three different managers in Italy not helping his cause.
Andrea Stramaccioni often used him at the base of midfield in a quarterback role, but Kovacic didn’t have the defensive qualities to protect the defence, especially with adventurous full-backs in the line-up.
Walter Mazzarri was determined to play 3-5-2 and picked Kovacic as the most advanced midfielder. The problem here was that he continually came deep to collect possession and so wasn’t influencing play in the desired area of the pitch.
Roberto Mancini has now picked the 21-year-old on the left side of a central midfield trio and this has shown signs of working, linking well with Hernanes in the attacking midfield position. But a lack of true width does limit his passing output somewhat.
Having only finished eighth in Serie A last season, Mancini is already taking big steps to make Inter visible Champions League challengers again. It is quite surprising that they haven’t qualified for the competition in four years, despite lifting the trophy in 2010.
Geoffrey Kondogbia is a big acquisition from Monaco for €35m to offer more midfield protection and he may soon be joined by Marseille’s Giannelli Imbula to play alongside him.
With Fredy Guarin and Hernanes also at Inter, it is suddenly looking less obvious where Kovacic fits in and he seems the obvious player to cash in on to recoup some of the recent expenditure.
Reports so far indicate that Liverpool are £5m shy in their valuation of Kovacic, with Inter thought to want £20m for his services.
Although not cheap, Liverpool could soon be believing that they have stolen from Inter Milan for a second time.
No player completed more passes in the final third in Serie A last season than Kovacic and he would be a great ball carrier for Liverpool from the deeper midfield positions.
The only real problem with using Kovacic in the Fabregas role would be who his partner would be in the double midfield pivot.
Liverpool have no real Matic-type option, with Henderson’s all-action game not suited to the restraint needed to play in holding midfield and Milner similar to his fellow England international.
Given the promises supposedly given to Milner that he will be able to play centrally at Anfield and Henderson only signing a big-money contract extension last season, it seems difficult to foresee either being left out.
Maybe the plan will be to play Kovacic as a number ten and move Coutinho to either a wide or a false nine role? Maybe he is seen as Gerrard’s replacement, dictating passing from deep to launch attacks?
Both could work, but surely don’t present the best hope of Liverpool breaking back into the top four next season, which can be backed at present at 2/1.
Chelsea made the necessary improvements when signing Fabregas and using him right, Liverpool have a similar player in Kovacic, but are not guaranteed to utilise him in the same manner.