Would Lewis Holtby be best suited to Arsenal or Liverpool?
He might turn out to be one of the best players England never had. Lewis Holtby is firmly cementing his place in the heart of Schalke’s starting XI, gaining rave reviews for his Bundesliga performances this season and prompting interest from Arsenal and Liverpool.
Earlier this month, the 22-year-old was in outstanding form as Schalke came from behind to snatch a point against Arsenal at the Veltins Arena. Gunners boss Arsène Wenger is an admirer of Holtby – as well as his teenage team-mate Julian Draxler – and it is reported that both he and his Liverpool counterpart Brendan Rodgers are set to swoop for the midfielder, most likely in the summer.
The Germany international, whose English father hails from Merseyside, learly has his heart set on playing in the Premier League at some point in his career. “I have always said that I want to play in England one day,” he says. “Even Liverpool I do not rule out, even if that for my father would be a blow as a diehard Everton fan.”
The possibility of Holtby joining Rodgers’ revolution at Anfield raises some interesting questions. He has many similarities with current captain Steven Gerrard and could be seen as a long-term replacement for the England international, whose powers are clearly on the wane. Like Gerrard, he is a high-impact, high-intensity midfielder, capable of dictating the tempo of the match – characteristics that have clearly interested the Liverpool heirachy.
In the midfield area Holtby is adept at various roles, from a deep-lying playmaker – a position in which he performed well with Schalke last season – to a traditional midfielder or further forward as a No10, or Zehner as the Germans say.
A loan spell at Mainz in 2009-10 showed his creative talents to their fullest. He formed one third of a superb three-prolonged attack alongside Sami Allagui and André Schürrle, and helped take the Carnival Club briefly to the top of the Bundesliga thanks to a seven-match run of wins that featured a victory over Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.
The trio stole the hearts of German football fans thanks to their quick, direct style of football. Their popular goal celebration, which saw them imitating a rock band and earned them the nickname the Bruchweg Boys (after the Mainz stadium, Bruchwegstadion), probably didn’t hurt either.
Holtby played on the right of that attacking triumvirate, using his excellent left-foot to good effect, but he is a central midfielder by nature, which may make him a more likely target for Liverpool than Arsenal. Given the defensive deficiencies in the middle of the park for the Gunners, it is highly unlikely that a three-man midfield of Holtby, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla would be effective, given their similarities as creative players.
Holtby became a regular in the Germany Under-21 squad between 2009 and 2011, winning 20 caps and captaining the side in his most comfortable attacking-midfield position. His performances saw him promoted to the full German national side, for whom he made his debut against Azerbaijan in June 2011.
Speaking after a recent clash with Sweden, Germany coach Joachim Löw was suitably impressed by Holtby’s cameo appearance, opening the door for a regular berth in the midfield. He said: “He is technically good. He has good creativity, a good eye for a pass and great ball control. I was absolutely satisfied.”
Holtby has not ruled out the possibility of a move to England next season, with the German press claiming it is 50-50 that he could leave Gelsenkirchen in 2013. A Zehner is certainly not a priority for Wenger – but considering the age of Gerrard and the ideology of Rodgers, there is every chance that Holtby could be wearing the famous Liverpool red in 2013-14.
Follow Ross on Twitter @RossDunbar93
Follow Life’s a Pitch on Twitter @BTLifesapitch
Watch Liverpool and Arsenal live on BT Vision:
Arsenal v Tottenham, midday, 17 November, Sky Sports 2
Swansea v Liverpool, 1pm, 25 November, Sky Sports 1
Don’t have BT Vision? Find out how to get it