Lionel Messi gives ‘spectacular’ Liverpool transfer target his seal of approval - Jude Bellingham alternative?

“He can finish, he can score goals, he’s got a lovely strike on him.”

Liverpool have been linked with a January move for Benfica midfielder Enzo Fernandez and his incredible goal in Argentina’s 2-0 World Cup win over Mexico on Saturday night highlights why.

The 21-year-old midfielder was key to a vital victory after coming off the bench. He began the move that led to Lionel Messi’s opener and then sidestepped a defender to curl a wonderful shot into the top corner. The strike sealed a win that kept his nation’s World Cup hopes alive following defeat to Saudi Arabia in the opening fixture in Group C.

After the match, eight-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi gave the youngster his seal of approval. "I’m not surprised by Enzo,” he told Ole. “I know him and I see him train every day. He deserves it because he’s a spectacular player."

A league champion with River Plate in Argentina, Fernandez only made the move to Europe in the summer, for a fee of around €12 million. However, Benfica’s tried and tested business model of buying cheap South American imports and selling them on for huge profits could mean they are ready to do a deal in January. His contract has a £90 million release clause.

Portuguese outlet O Jogo first reported back in September that Liverpool are interested in Fernandez, who can play in both defensive and attacking roles in a midfield three.

“He’s a very box-to-box player, he’s got energy,” former Liverpool midfielder Joe Cole told ITV after watching Fernandez in action for Argentina on Saturday. “He can finish, he can score goals, he’s got a lovely strike on him.”

Midfield is certainly an area that Liverpool need to strengthen. There was strong clamour the Reds should have recruited in the middle of the park last summer. Manager Jurgen Klopp eventually agreed but by that time it was too late. Liverpool had to settle with Arthur Melo on loan from Juventus. He’s now injured long-term.

Enzo Fernandez curls in Argentina’s second goal against Mexico. Image: KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images

Borussia Dortmund and England star Jude Bellingham remains Liverpool’s number one transfer target but, according to The Telegraph, Bellingham is valued at north of £100 million and already beyond the club’s means.

That is unless a new investor is found by owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG), who have confirmed they are looking for one, or another star player is sold.

Liverpool could only buy Darwin Nunez and afford Mohamed Salah’s new contract because they allowed fans’ favourite Sadio Mane to move to Bayern Munich. There is no obvious candidate for Liverpool to offload to free up substantial funds this time.

Fernandez could provide an alternative option should the Bellingham deal move out of Liverpool’s grasp.