Alexis Mac Allister’s move to Liverpool is expected to kickstart the midfield rebuild at Anfield this summer.
While it might not be the most expensive signing, he has the potential to be the most important arrival.
He is one of the most well-rounded midfielders in the world and he will give the Reds a number of options moving forward. Jurgen Klopp needs that following the departures of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner and Naby Keita this summer.
While the trio weren’t first-team regulars in the final years of their stints with the club, their versatility did give the German tactician options. For example, when Liverpool were going for the quadruple during the 2021/22 campaign, Klopp used Keita in different roles.
At the start of the season, he was used on the left side of the midfield three to keep things moving. Then he shifted the club’s most expensive midfield signing over to the right side of the three.
That role allowed the former RB Leipzig man more attacking freedom and Keita’s tactical intelligence eased the tactical transition following the arrival of Luis Diaz in the winter window.
Most of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s minutes arrived on the right side of midfield but he played across the forward line when required. Milner seemed to do a job anywhere and everywhere. He could inject energy into a game in some matches while Klopp trusted him to help regain control in other situations.
Mac Allister can do similar. Though he came through the ranks at Argentinos Juniors as more of an attacker, he’s developed into an all-rounder following the switch to Brighton.
It wasn’t necessarily his choice.
When asked about Graham Potter last season following his departure to Chelsea, the player jokingly replied: “I wanted to kill him… but that's part of football.”
This was in response to Potter moving him into a deeper role in midfield. Prior to this, Mac Allister’s minutes as a professional footballer had come almost exclusively as an attacking player.
Whether that was as an inside forward, as an attacking midfielder or even as a false-nine, he was usually found in the final third.
“He [Potter] was very helpful — improving my versatility and physicality. I'm a much better player today because of it so I can thank him a lot.”
The 24-year-old played in a midfield three for Brighton and really embraced his new role. Prior to the break for the 2022 World Cup, only Declan Rice had recovered the ball (139 to Mac Allister’s 124) on more occasions than the Argentine.
Roberto De Zerbi’s arrival saw Mac Allister’s role change once again.
The Italian used the World Cup winner in a double pivot in his new-look 4-4-2 system alongside the highly sought-after Moises Caicedo. With Brighton looking to play out from the back, Mac Allister was key to the first phase of play for the Seagulls.
It wasn’t highlight-reel-worthy stuff but the way he helped De Zerbi’s team bypass the opposition press was integral to the former Sassuolo boss putting his stamp on things at the Amex.
He was also used as a second striker on occasion too.
One such time was against Southampton towards the end of the campaign in a 3-1 win for Brighton. Mac Allister put on a show, creating seven chances, completing 80% of his dribbles and winning eight of his nine duels.
The one-time Boca Juniors loanee has proven he can be a controller, a playmaker and a facilitator.
He did the latter after forcing his way into Lionel Scaloni’s starting XI at the World Cup, playing on the left side of a midfield three. It was a completely different role from any of the ones he excelled in for Brighton this season.
Mac Allister himself has spoken about his versatility in the past: “I like to play as a No. 10, I like to play as a No. 6. The most important thing for me is to help my team-mates, win football games and try to be as central as I can so I can be as close to the ball to get on it as much as possible.”
An interesting stat, however, shows that Mac Allister seeing more of the ball wasn’t always a positive for Brighton.
Last season, the No10 attempted 50 or more passes in the Premier League on 14 occasions and the Seagulls won just half of those games.
Obviously, there are a lot of things to consider and plenty of external factors play a part in the outcome of a game, but this is just something worth noting.
The Argentine isn’t a high-risk taker in possession and won’t sacrifice the ball. He will only play high-value passes when he thinks there’s a real possibility they will be completed.
This doesn’t help his team if they are losing and trying to get back into the game.
This could dictate where he is used by Liverpool.
The Reds start in a 4-3-3 shape but shift into a 3-2-2-3 system when in possession. The new shape allows Trent Alexander-Arnold to get into central areas. He’s the creator in the middle third.
Mac Allister wouldn’t be burdened with that responsibility and instead could play his natural game as someone who aids his team in retaining possession.
Curtis Jones made the left-sided midfield role his own towards the end of the campaign. The hybrid position meant he would at times fill in on the left side of the pitch when the attacker took up a central position but then a lot of the time he would find himself almost as a left-sided No10.
He was tasked with ensuring the ball wasn’t carelessly lost and in a number of games he finished with a pass success rate of over 92%.
Mac Allister could comfortably play that role.
He could also play on the right side of the midfield three though. This position was filled by Jordan Henderson and Harvey Elliott last season. The idea is for whoever is in that role to create space for Mohamed Salah and Alexander-Arnold on that side of the pitch.
A lot of the time, Elliott and Henderson would take up central positions as a right-sided No10 and there was a lot more emphasis on combination play with the No11 and the No66.
The Argentina international has the technical ability to slot into that role and elevate the use of the ball on that side of the pitch. It would get him into the final third and make the most of his short passing game.
The 24-year-old is perfect for a number of roles throughout this Liverpool team and this is what makes him such a smart signing for the club.