In the weeks preceding the 2022 Champions League Final, reports began to surface that Liverpool forward Sadio Mané wanted to leave the club for a new challenge. Bayern Munich has been noted as one club that could bring the 30-year-old in if he were to leave England. The loss of Mané would be a big one for Liverpool, leaving a hole in their frontline. I have one player in mind who feels like the perfect replacement if Mané does leave this summer.
Christopher Nkunku has really blossomed as a footballer during his time in Germany with RB Leipzig. The 24-year-old graduated from the PSG (Paris Saint-Germain) academy in 2015 before getting his move to the Bundesliga. Nkunku has had some really good seasons for Leipzig, but none were better than this past year.
The 2021-22 campaign for the French international was the best of his young career. Nkunku was voted as the Bundesliga Player of the Season after scoring 20 goals and getting 13 assists in 34 league appearances. Prior to last year, the most goal contributions the attacking midfielder/forward had in one league season was 18 during the 2019-20 campaign.
While his goal contributions from a numbers standpoint look really good, the advanced analytics in a lot of different departments show how much of an all-around forward Nkunku has become. If you compare his numbers to those of other forwards from over the last year, he ranks in at least the 89th percentile in passes attempted, pass completion %, progressive passes, progressive carries and dribbles completed. Nkunku has not only started to get more goals and assists, but has become a much better passer and dribbler during his time in Germany.
Under the management of Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool has really emphasized versatility amongst their forwards. Players like Luis Díaz, Diogo Jota and Sadio Mané have all been capable of playing every position across the frontline. Nkunku has mostly played down the middle for Leipzig, both as a second striker and an attacking midfielder, but he has played out wide in the past. The ability to play on the left or right of the attack would allow him to fit right into what the club asks of their forwards.
Something that could help this move materialize is the relationship Liverpool and RB Leipzig have built over the last couple of years. The two clubs have completed two transfers over the last five years, both of which resulted in players moving to England. During the 2017 summer transfer window, Liverpool paid £52.75m for central midfielder Naby Keïta. In May of 2021, the Premier League side paid £36m for central defender Ibrahima Konaté.
Both Keïta and Konaté have been successful signings for Liverpool. Keïta has probably not had the impact people expected for his price tag, mostly down to his injury record. Regardless, when he has been on the pitch, the midfielder has shown what he can do, both on and off the ball. Konaté has only been at Liverpool for one season, but has already become a consistent starter alongside Virgil van Dijk at the back. The French international has quickly become a favorite in the dressing room as well.
The success of those two signings in particular would make it much easier for Liverpool to get a deal done for Nkunku. Of course, this all depends on whether or not RB Leipzig is willing to sell the player for any fee this summer. But in a scenario where the club is willing to cash in on the forward, Liverpool looks like one of the more likelier options.
Finding a good replacement for a player like Sadio Mané would not be easy for Liverpool. The Senegalese international has provided so much quality in his six years at the club. If he were to leave Liverpool this summer, finding an immediate alternative will be necessary. Christopher Nkunku of RB Leipzig would be a great player to bring in if both clubs can agree to a transfer fee.