By Connor Varnish – @cvarn4
Liverpool’s defeat to Wolves in the third round in the FA Cup was a detrimental one to the Reds in more ways than one – mid season injury woes have seemed to finally taken their toll on the Reds, as we now only have one fit senior centre back in Virgil van Dijk.
Whether you love or hate Dejan Lovren, there’s certainly no doubt that his latest affliction puts Liverpool in a rather unfavourable predicament. Liverpool’s defence has been nothing short of exceptional thus far, and although the Croat hasn’t featured regularly this season, you can’t argue that he doesn’t provide quality depth as an option for rotation or as a feasible option in the starting lineup.
Seeing as it is unlikely that Jurgen Klopp will reinforce his squad over the January transfer window, it appears the Reds must again look from within to replace the fallen defenders in Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip, and Joe Gomez.
While van Dijk remains the Reds only sure fire option at centre back at the moment, Liverpool have two practical options left at their disposal to fill the position. The man most likely to partner Virgil at the back is Fabinho, even though the Brazilian has finally emerged as a vital component to Liverpool’s midfield.
Considering Fabinho is the highest-ranking senior player capable of playing in defence, it would almost come as a surprise should Klopp consider anyone else as a viable option at centre back for the time being.
I, however, would like to argue for the more unlikely hero of the two in consideration for centre back. Enter 16-year-old Ki-Jana Hoever. Let me preface this by saying that it’s a huge risk that could have massive implications on the young Dutchman’s future career.
If Hoever comes in and does the job alongside van Dijk – great – we’ll certainly be sure that we’ve got a young star in the making on our hands for many years to come. But should he underperform under the tremendous pressure of a Liverpool side currently in a tightly contested title race, then I hope he’s got the mental fortitude to take it on the chin and grow from the experience.
Besides, even if Ki-Jana Hoever doesn’t prove to be the short-term answer at the back I’m sure nobody could blame him – he’s a kid. If anything, should this next stretch of games go horribly wrong for Liverpool, I think all the blame would have to fall on the manager for not strengthening the defence in the January window when the back line is obviously stretched so thin.
Let’s get back to the topic at hand. Hoever should be given the opportunity at centre back until one of Gomez, Lovren, or Matip return to full fitness. Fabinho appears to have finally made an argument for himself as our best midfielder and I personally don’t think Klopp should move him back even now.
The young Dutchman was a revelation against Wolves in a game that produced essentially no other positives besides the prospect of the young Hoever’s potential in a red shirt. If he can show composure on the ball in a makeshift backline away from home in a hostile environment, imagine what he could do next to the best centre back in the world with some of the best fullbacks in England on either side of him.
I’m not calling for Hoever to become the partner to Virgil van Dijk for the rest of the season of course, but I think it’s an option that Jurgen Klopp should explore while we figure out this crisis at centre back. Liverpool’s next two fixtures against Brighton away and Crystal Palace at Anfield provide a suitable opportunity for experiment in the back line.
Seeing as the fitness of all our other centre backs are in doubt for a few more weeks, Jurgen has limited options when constructing a back four – and I think Ki-Jana Hoever has a chance of breaking through should he be given the chance to impress for the Reds.