Liverpool plans to sign £43m Aston Villa target as Salah successor presses Unai Emery into drastic action

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp and Unai Emery, the Aston Villa manager, are both keen on Nico Williams

Jurgen Klopp and Unai Emery are both keen on Nico Williams

A strong Liverpool candidate to replace Mohamed Salah at Anfield next summer could be whipped away from under Jurgen Klopp’s nose if Aston Villa and Unai Emery get their way.

The Merseysiders faced something of a sumer battle to retain the services of Salah amid a hefty bid from Al-Ittihad. And while a British record £150m offer was turned down, Liverpool can expect the Saudis to come back in with a revised offer this summer.

Indeed, with his deal entering its final 12 months come the summer window, Liverpool have been told the brutal reality of the Egyptian’s likely exit, though with his fee likely to hit £200m – and a new world-record fee – there may be some crumbs of comfort for the Reds.

As to whom Liverpool move to replace Salah with is anybody’s guess. The 31-year-old has smashed in an astonishing 188 goals during his six full seasons on Merseyside; claims that he is a selfish star are wholly unfounded given he also has 76 assists – the latest two in Saturday’s 3-1 win at Wolves – to his name.

Speculation has indeed emerged over who Liverpool will turn to as a replacement for Salah. Indeed, three Liverpool Echo journalists had a healthy debate over the topic, in which they outlined five potential options, two of which currently ply their trade in the Premier League.

However, one name that is gathering pace, in Spain at least, is that of Athletic Bilbao star Nico Williams.

The 21-year-old is far from the finished product but did enjoy a solid breakthrough season last time out when he managed nine goals and six assists from 43 appearances.

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Villa desperate to sign Liverpool target Nico Williams

The winger’s deal at Athletic Club is currently due to expire in summer 2024, making him eligible to discuss a free-transfer move overseas come January 1 if he does not agree an extension with the LaLiga side.

His situation has reportedly alerted Barcelona, who are keen on his services, particularly given his potential free-agent status.

However, as per AS, it is Liverpool who are now the leading candidates to sign Williams, with Klopp on the prowl for his signature.

Indeed, it is claimed that Klopp and Co are ready to reach out to his entourage in a bid to persuade him that his future lies at Anfield. Given Salah’s potential departure, he could get a rapid path into the Liverpool first team were he to make the move.

However, the plan also comes under threat from Aston Villa.

They saw a move to prise him from Athletic Club fail in the summer window despite suggestions they were willing to meet the €50m (£43m) exit clause in his contract.

Despite that failure to sign him, Villa boss Emery reportedly remains keen on a deal. And the Villa boss is pushing his side to spend big on his signing in January, despite knowing he can be negotiate terms on a free-transfer move elsewhere.

Athletic hope to persuade star to sign new deal

Emery hopes and believes the project he can offer Williams could yet persuade him to move to the West Midlands instead.

And with Villa reportedly readying a sizeable offer, they will hope a big-money offer will convince Athletic to try and push the star to join them, as opposed losing the player for nothing a matter of months later.

Athletic Bilbao, for their part, are refusing to give up on the star either. They still hope to persuade him to sign a new long-term deal in the Basque country that will put an end to speculation over his future.

Providing an update on the saga and expressing his confidence that Williams will stay, Athletic president Jon Uriarte recently stressed they are working hard to convince the 10-times capped Spain star his future must remain with Bilbao.

“Nico, like his family, Inaki, his mother, are very happy in Bilbao. They love Athletic. They love our project. We are working hard on both sides so that he can stay.”

Indeed, as Uriarte points out, Nico is not the only Williams on the club’s books. His brother Inaki is also a long-time star of the LaLiga club, with Williams senior also finding himself the subject of Liverpool interest in the past.

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