No-one said defending the Premier League title would be easy.
Many Reds fans were optimistic that, with this set of players, Klopp’s side would be able to accomplish a feat that only a handful of teams have managed to achieve. Unfortunately, a tsunami of injuries have struck throughout the early part of this season, leaving Liverpool’s back line looking very thin.
The latest injury to strike the Reds is of young centre back Joe Gomez. With van Dijk’s injury against Everton, it was thought that the young Englishman would step up and lead the defence through the rest of the season. With this injury however knocking him out for the majority, if not the rest of the campaign, it is a precarious position that Liverpool find themselves in with Joël Matip now the only fit senior centre back available to Klopp.
With Fabinho set to return to full fitness by the end of the international break, it will give the German some solace that he has two senior options available. However, if either Fabinho or Matip were to get injured before January, it could easily turn into a catastrophic situation for a side who were arguably targeting English and European silverware at the start of the campaign.
Rhys Williams and Nathaniel Phillips have stepped up in recent weeks to put in impressive performances, but I feel that Klopp will not want to rely on either option for a prolonged period of time. With this is mind, Michael Edwards will now be targeting major centre-back or two in the upcoming transfer window to keep Liverpool’s season viable.
He will have a major task on his hands. Lauded for getting serious value for money up until now, every club in Europe will know that the Reds will be seeking a centre-half in the upcoming window. Defenders prices will then understandably inflate once Edwards and co approach their clubs for their services. As much as Liverpool need a player, it is just as important that they are not being ripped off.
With this major decision now on the horizon, we look at the potential options Liverpool could be targeting to bolster the backline this winter:
Dayot Upamecano – RB LeipzigEmbed from Getty Images
The 22-year-old has appeared at the top of most people’s wish lists across Europe with a plethora of clubs eyeing him up as a potential transfer target come the summer of 2021. With his rumoured release clause at around €50 million euros according to transfermarkt.com, it is clear that this will only intensify the competition for his signature.
The French international has been long linked with a move to major European club, but with his performances last season for RB Leipzig, especially in their run to the Champions League semi-finals, has seen his stock rise considerably.
His performance in the quarter final in particular against Atletico Madrid brought rave reviews from every pundit who watched him, each signalling him as the next young superstar in European football. His performance that night exuded composure and strength with Atletico’s front line dealt with comfortably by the Frenchman.
His rise has also seen him make his international debut for his country recently with Didier Deschamps very impressed by the centre backs rise to prominence and overall skill set that he possesses. This skillset has seen European and German champions Bayern Munich heavily linked with him in recent months.
He would be a very solid option for Klopp’s side and would provide the stability the German is seeking. Even at the young age of 22, he has some great experience under his belt that can be built upon perfectly by Klopp and his backroom staff.
With so many clubs circling ready for summer 2021 to sign him at his modest release clause, Liverpool would have to pay a high price for his services to get him in January. This significant output is something that the club no longer do lightly with the transfer system they now have in place. However, if Klopp and Edwards feel that he is the right man, Fenway will back them with the funds to make the transfer happen.
David Alaba – Bayern MunichEmbed from Getty Images
A renowned world class player who has proven his quality season after season at the German side. Regarded by many as the best left back in the world a few seasons ago, the last couple of campaigns has seen the Austrian move across into the heart of the defence due to the injury problems Bayern have suffered.
This adjustment in his positioning has seen the 28-year-old given a new lease of life in a young Bayern team. With him alongside either Jerome Boateng or Niklas Süle he has provided clarity and composure that previous centre back incumbents had lacked. This combined with the power and height of Boateng and Süle has seen promising partnerships flourish between the three.
Whilst he currently finds himself at the centre of defence, his adaptability is ideal with him being able to cover in at left back and centre midfield like he does for the Austrian national team. His free kick prowess further combined with his passing ability and understated pace; means he is a valuable asset to Hansi Flick’s side.
However, he is currently finds himself in a stand-off in regards to his contract situation, with the length of his new deal a major talking point. With this regarded as his last major contract in his career, the Austrian international wants to make sure he is subsidised fairly for his services, and thus has refused to sign anything the Bayern hierarchy has put in front of him.
With this opening the Reds could attempt to take advantage of this situation and offer the player a route to the Premier League and join back up with his former colleague Thiago. His skills would add further world class talent to an already impressive Reds team, whilst filling the massive void left by Gomez and van Dijk’s injuries.
A couple of things are currently up against this transfer however. With him being 28, he is no youngster and completely goes against the transfer model that Liverpool have introduced. We have seen though that there are exceptions with the recently acquired Thiago a major example. The other potential barrier is that there are rumours that Alaba has already agreed to join another European club in summer 2021, with Juventus and Real Madrid potential landing spots.
If Liverpool were able to pull this transfer off it would be another major boost to the squad. I for one would be happy to see this highly experienced, world class player marshalling our back line during the second half of the season.
Kalidou Koulibaly – NapoliEmbed from Getty Images
The Senegalese international has been linked to the Premier League for as long as I can remember, with Manchester City the last team to try and acquire him from Napoli during the 2020 summer transfer window. The asking price once again proved too much even for the extremely wealthy blue side of Manchester as they moved for other targets.
It’s not hard to see why many of Europe’s top clubs are interested in the 29-year-old. His strength, pace, leadership, aerial presence and composure is an all-round package that not many defenders currently hold in world football. This combination of skills has seen him produce excellent performances season after season for Napoli, with his name consistently among the Serie A team of the season candidates.
Liverpool know what he is like. They have had first hand evidence of his ability, facing him several times over the last five years in multiple Champions League fixtures and friendlies. Each time he took the field he has impressed Liverpool supporters as he generally kept our amazing front three quiet, apart from that all important Salah goal in 2018.
Like I previously stated he is not short of his suiters with a plethora clubs attempting to sign him over the last 3-4 years. All offers however fell short of Napoli’s chairman, Aurelio De Laurentiis, valuation each time. With Koulibaly’s contract starting to run down De Laurentiis’ stance has softened recently, with him appearing to be more open to negotiate with clubs on his prized asset.
With Liverpool now desperate for that all round figurehead at the back, this could be an avenue that the Reds will now explore. Having someone of this calibre come into the defence would solidify it for sure, whilst giving that vocal presence that is now missing with van Dijk on the sidelines.
Once again there are a couple of barriers to this signing. He is 29 and thus is in the latter half of his career. No one can doubt his world class ability, but his age would mean that he would be a short-term fix and go against the club’s transfer policy. His participation in the 2022 African Cup of Nations is another factor that the Liverpool hierarchy would have to think about. With Salah, Mané and Keïta already missing at that time, having another potential starter vacate his role to go the tournament would cause major disruption to the Reds season.
If purchased, there is no doubt he would bring a major boost to the team and to that Liverpool defence. With him just in front of Alisson, it would seriously solidify the team and would make it extremely difficult for sides to score against the Reds. If the price can be negotiated to a decent fee, with the Napoli owner now willing to listen, this transfer could potentially go under the radar as a bargain.
Ben White – Brighton & Hove AlbionEmbed from Getty Images
The young Englishmen has thoroughly impressed since his breakout campaign on loan at Leeds United. His season in the Championship was that good, Leeds were willing to pay a rumoured fee of £40 million to acquire him on a permanent basis. However, Brighton were unwilling to deal with the side from Yorkshire as they knew the potential this young man has.
Whilst Brighton haven’t started the Premier League that well, White has stood out with his positive displays continually gaining recognition from his manager, colleagues and opponents during interviews after the games. Several clubs been thoroughly impressed with these displays and this has led to even more teams registering their interest in his services.
His swift rise is all down to his key attributes being perfect for the English game. His pace, strength, power in the air and distribution from the back have the landmarks of a promising player. This has already been acknowledged by the Reds with a number of news outlets noting the interest in him from Klopp’s side.
At the age of 23, he is at the ideal point in which Klopp and his staff can work on his promising skill set and mould him into the player they want. He is very similar to Joe Gomez and I have no doubt that he would be able to slot into and deliver on the tactical set up that Liverpool currently have.
As much as there is lots to like about the Englishman, he lacks experience generally. He has only had a season in the Championship and played a handful of games in the Premier League. This lack of experience mightn’t suite what Liverpool are currently looking for, as they are searching for an experienced leader who can guide the Reds through European knockouts and a testing Premier League run in. With no European football experience either, this could prove problematic when it comes to high intensity ties against some of the game’s greats.
He has also recently signed a new contract with Brighton. This means that the Seagulls hold all the cards in terms of any transfer that would take place. He would not go on the cheap. With a £40 million offer rejected from Leeds during the summer transfer window, it would take a similar, if not more substantial bid, to bring him to Anfield.
Ben White is a very good young player who will be one to watch for the upcoming campaign as his impressive performances have top clubs circling. With Liverpool in this precarious position, is the young inexperienced Englishman the right man to guide the Reds to silverware in the latter half of the season? Time will only tell if he is the one chosen to take on this task.
Other potential targetsEmbed from Getty Images
If none of these players are available, Edwards and Klopp would have to seek elsewhere. Other names that have popped up include Conor Coady (Wolves), Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona) and Milan Škriniar (Inter Milan).
The latter two mentioned have been out of the first team pictures at their respective clubs recently and are now searching for exits for the opportunity for more first team football, which Liverpool could provide at a high level for at least the next six months.
Connor Coady on the other hand would be a very interesting choice as he came through the Liverpool youth teams, before leaving for pastures new when his path to the first team became non-existent. With his impressive performances for Wolves and England over the last couple of seasons, it wouldn’t be too surprising if the Reds went for the scouser as a short-term fix until the end of the season.
The decision that Klopp, Edwards and Fenway will have to make in January is huge. Liverpool are normally very inactive in the mid-season transfer window with limited acquisitions during Klopp’s tenure. However, with how this season has so far played out for the defending English champions, this transfer window could be one of Liverpool’s busiest and most important in recent memory.
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