How does a back four of Andy Robertson, Virgil van Dijk, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Trent Alexander-Arnold sound? Stuff of dreams right there, right?
Napoli’s 28-year-old defender is rumoured to be keen on a new challenge after spending six years in Serie A, with Liverpool apparent favourites to land the Senegal international’s signature this summer according to 10 Sport in France.
While the prospect of having arguably the second best centre-back in the world joining forces with Virgil at the back is a mouth-watering one, it’s important to consider the effect that any deal may have one the Reds’ current options in the heart of defence.
Let’s entertain the thought of a van Dijk/Koulibaly partnership for a moment — the combination of sheer strength, athletic ability, ball-playing skills, and positional awareness would make even the best strikers in the world shudder with fear just thinking about trying to get past the huge pair.
Van Dijk and Koulibaly are both built like freight trains, yet both men possess the ability to put their foot on the ball and pick out a pass, or even dribble to safety if need be — when playing together, these two would leave virtually no weakness for any attacker to exploit.
Former Red Don Hutchinson told ESPN: “I think if Koulibaly comes through the door at Liverpool and he plays alongside Virgil van Dijk, I think you wrap the title up right there.” Assuming he means the next five years’ worth of titles, I would have to agree.
Let’s head back to reality — Liverpool won’t be signing Kalidou Koulibaly, and that’s for a good number of reasons.
Perhaps the biggest and most important is Joe Gomez. Signed in 2015 from Charlton Athletic, the England international made an instant impact as he filled in mostly at left-back under Brendan Rodgers in his first season.
The 22-year-old has come on in leaps and bounds since then, and we saw last season just how formidable a partnership between van Dijk and Gomez can be. They were head and shoulders above the rest of the league as they complimented each other well in a duo that had everything you wanted in a modern centre-back pairing — power, pace, discipline, and a natural understanding of one another.
At this point in his career, Gomez is entering a phase where he really could establish himself as one of the world’s top defenders over the course of the next few years. The only chance we’ll ever get to see the best version of him on Merseyside, however, is in a world where Koulibaly does not make a move to Anfield.
No matter his undoubted ability, the purchase of a man who turns 29 in June just doesn’t really make sense at this point. So long as Gomez can steer away from injury, he’ll be a staple in Liverpool’s defence for years to come.
If not, Liverpool can count on Joël Matip to step in should the opportunity arise. The Cameroonian has been one of Liverpool’s most underrated players in recent times — he has proven that he is good enough to partner van Dijk and would likely walk into most of the Premier League’s so-called ‘top six’ teams. I think most would be quite content with Matip as a backup option should Gomez pick up a knock.
Koulibaly is a superb defender, and in the short term would certainly start over both Gomez and Matip should by he end up in a Liverpool shirt this summer. Of course, the Senegalese would cost mega money and wouldn’t necessarily fit Liverpool’s current player recruitment module, while also severely limiting the opportunities that players like Matip and certainly Gomez need at this point in their careers.
If Liverpool do have that kind of money to spend this summer it should be invested more wisely, perhaps in an attack-minded midfielder or forward. We’ll just have to wait and see what tricks are up Michael Edwards’ and Jürgen Klopp’s sleeves.