By Matthew Ramirez – @Matt_J_Ramirez
So everything is still very much up in the air regarding Matthijs de Ligt, and what team he will choose to join after a truly phenomenal season with Ajax.
The 19-year-old defender is already club captain of the Amsterdam side and has established himself as Virgil van Dijk’s defensive partner with the Holland national side. He has been linked with a host of top European sides such as Barcelona, Manchester United and, of course, Liverpool.
There is no doubting the young stars amazing ability and even greater potential. I would love de Ligt link up with his compatriot at Anfield as I believe it would be one of the Premier League’s all-time greatest centre-back pairings.
With this being said, my unpopular opinion is that we might not need De Ligt.
Before you all demand my immediate resignation, hear me out!
Look at the centre backs Jürgen Klopp has at his disposal at the moment – Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren are all competent defenders at the very minimum.
The stand out in our defence is, without question, Virgil. He is the leader, he is the mountain, he is the best defender in world football at the moment. So for the basis of this article, we will not be discussing our Dutch colossus – he will hopefully fill one of the slots for years to come.
Following van Dijk in the current pecking order is his end-of-season central defensive partner, Joel Matip. I have gone into detail as to how impressed I have been with the Cameroonian, and how much I believe he has improved – probably our unsung hero of the season. Therefore Matip is also out of this discussion as given his current form it wouldn’t surprise me if he started next season as Klopp’s preferred choice for the second slot.
Next in line – through no fault of his own – is Joe Gomez. At the start of the season he was on fire. I distinctly remember his name being tossed around for the Golden Boy award before his injury. This is the thing, I feel some people have forgotten just how good a partnership Gomez and Virgil struck up. At the start of the season the Englishman was probably ranked as a better defender than de Ligt.
Unfortunately for Joe, he picked up a serious injury and the Ajax starlet went on to almost conquer Europe. It is impossible to say where Gomez would be in terms of progression had he not got injured, and I won’t say he would be as good as de Ligt, but I am willing to say that he probably would have been very close to his level at the least.
I believe his future is very much at Anfield, and i’m convinced he will fight his way back into the team so, for this reason, we will also remove Gomez from the discussion.
Weirdly enough the only reason I don’t think we need to sign De Ligt is because of our fourth choice central defender, the much-maligned Dejan Lovren. Is the Croat as good as De Ligt? No, but it doesn’t matter to me because I don’t believe he is as poor as many make him out to be.
Look at our squads of years gone by and pick out the fourth choice centre back from that era and i’m pretty sure that Lovren is already better. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be happy if the Croatian – a World Cup finalist – decides to stay at Anfield. And that in itself is a big IF.
Although he is far from being one of the best defenders in the world, despite what he’d have you believe, it must be said that on his day he is somewhat unplayable. A player of Lovren’s quality is more than capable of starting for a Champions League outfit, and it wouldn’t come as a shock to me if he wanted to seek pastures new to get more guaranteed game time.
If he leaves, then Liverpool should be in the market for a centre back and hopefully that centre back is Matthijs de Ligt. Naturally, in this scenario many would expect the young Dutchman to start alongside van Dijk, which would in turn see Matip and Gomez provide cover as the back up central defenders. However, If Lovren stays, then there is no need to sign the Ajax captain.
At the moment, Liverpool have just won the Champions League and put up one hell of a title race. In fact, in all honesty, Liverpool were probably a couple of squad players short of claiming the Premier League title. This summer transfer window is important in terms of improving the squad and, although De Ligt would do that, central defence isn’t the position that needs strengthening at the moment.
It would require a princely sum to pry him away from Ajax. This isn’t FIFA 19, it’s not a video game, it’s real life with real money. That cash would be better invested signing players in different positions, such as left back, midfield and in attack.
If it came down to either a move for de Ligt or Nicolas Pep, for example, then the attacking option would be the smarter way to go at this point.
Either way, Jurgen Klopp and Michael Edwards have proven themselves to be excellent users of the transfer market in the last couple of years, so I would be inclined to trust their decision whichever way they choose to go.