Jürgen Klopp has suffered tremendous losses among his defensive options this season. Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez have long-term injuries, while Joël Matip has had frequent fitness issues as well.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise to hear that the club is reportedly looking for defensive reinforcements in January. There has been a lot of speculation, with Ben White and Ozan Kabak being two names linked with the club on more than one occasion.
But stylistically – and statistically – neither of them fits the Liverpool mould for a centre-back this season. That Reds need a defender who can start attacks from the back, who wins a lot of aerial duels and who reads the game well, among other attributes.
White doesn’t win enough aerial duels and doesn’t average well enough in his long passes to start attacks from back. Whilst Kabak averages well in aerial duels won, he’s only averaging 40pc in accurate long balls – half the 78-80pc standard amongst Liverpool’s current crop of centre-halfs.
To identify other reasonable targets, here at The Kopite we’ve made our own statistical analysis based on the percentage of accurate long balls and aerial duels won, interceptions, errors leading to shot and tackles. As a result, four potential centre-back prospects were found.
The leagues that’s been searched are: Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Liga NOS and Eredivisie.
Benoît BadiashileEmbed from Getty Images
Benoît Badiashile is the latest product to emerge from AS Monaco’s rather successful academy setup , where he has played since the age of 15.
In his three seasons with the Monegasques in Ligue 1, he has grown into one of the league’s most promising centre-backs. Standing at around 6ft 4in, he is a fast and strong defender who has great ball-playing abilities as he averages 90.5pc of his overall passes and 82.4pc of his long-range passes over 25 meters.
He reads the game well, which can be seen by his 26 interceptions in 15 matches. He is dominant in the air, winning 75pc of his aerial duels, and he doesn’t play too aggressively in defence. Speaking of aerial threat, he has scored twice already this season and is a threat on set-pieces with his size, timing of the jump and aerial dominance.
Badiashile is a tremendous talent who has been a regular for Monaco this season at the age of 19. He has also established himself as a regular in France’s u21 team which, given the plethora of defensive talent in France, is a big achievement.
The 19-year-old has played in a possession-based four-at-the-back setup at Stade Louis II, which helps if he were to move to Liverpool as the tactical transition wouldn’t be too big. His age may inflate the price, estimated at around £22.5m, but he seems a reasonable option who could have many years at the top of the game if he realises his potential.
Merih DemiralEmbed from Getty Images
Merih Demiral has impressed since he first set foot in the Serie A with Sassuolo and later signed with Juventus. He is nothing short of a warrior on the pitch, who never backs down from anything.
Out of all the defenders analysed for this piece, Demiral’s stats were by far the most convincing. He wins 85pc of his aerial duels, succeeds in 72.73pc of his long passes and has made 12 tackles and 11 interceptions so far this season. On top of that, he has made a grand total of zero errors leading to a shot or goal.
The 22-year-old was establishing himself as a starter in Juventus last season before he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a game against Roma. But since returning, he has made great strides in continuing where he left off.
Demiral is a strong, fast and tall (6ft 2in) defender with great composure on the ball. His passing foot is very good, and he doesn’t just read the game well in terms of what the opponent’s next step is, but he can read also what his teammates next steps are –something which makes him a tremendous asset to have in your defensive line.
As he has played under both Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo, he has gotten used to playing in a variety of formations and systems, including in a flat back four and with three central defenders. Plus, playing for both Sassuolo and Juventus in Serie A is like an Ivy League education in defending and tactical knowledge.
With an estimated value of around £25m, the Turkey international could be a shrew investment.
Sven BotmanEmbed from Getty Images
Sven Botman is an Ajax product and played for the club between the ages of nine and 20, although his big break came on loan at Heerenveen in the 2019-20 season. In July 2020 he was signed by French side Lille after impressing their sporting director Luis Campos, taking Ligue 1 by storm since.
Botman’s two stand-out qualities are his impeccable reading of the game and his long-range passing. In 15 Ligue 1 matches this season, the Dutchman has managed 28 interceptions and succeeded in 72.2pc of his long-range passes – quite remarkable considering he tends to try a lot of high-risk passes, demonstrated by his four assists for Heerenveen last season.
Aerially, he has won 76.62pc of his aerial duels which is amongst the best in Ligue 1. That, along with his track record of 14 goals in 129 matches, makes him a huge threat at set-pieces. His 6ft 4in frame and great physique are perks as well.
Botman is not as fast across the ground as the other options review in this article, but he compensates for this with his positioning and reading of the game. He rarely ends up in a race against an opponent, as he is usually in the right place at the right time. A big plus is that he is used to playing in a four-man defence and would join from a possession-dominant team.
He received a first call up to the senior Netherlands side this season, which will no doubt push the price up. Lille paid around £7m for him, and would expect a healthy profit if they were to part with their man. But the investment might be worth it to see an all Dutch defensive duo with Botman alongside Virgil van Dijk at Anfield.
Tommy St JagoEmbed from Getty Images
Our original analysis of the Dutch Eredivisie was to take a look at the performance statistics of Perr Schurrs, who impressed this season playing against Liverpool for Ajax in the Champions League, but instead he was overshined by Utrecht’s Tommy St Jago.
The 20-year-old is a product of the Domstedelingen youth setup since joining from Ajax’s academy at the age of 11. He is currently playing his first season in the Eredivisie, where he has caught the eye.
At 6ft 2in, St Jago is a tall and fast defender who plays a bit more aggressively than Badiashile. That said, he has a nice understanding of the game and reads it well. He is a good combat player who doesn’t back down from a battle – he boasts a 69.23pc success rate in his aerial duels. Passing-wise, he averages 63.33pc of his long balls which isn’t optimal, but not too bad either.
The question mark with St Jago is if he is ready to make the step up to a club of Liverpool’s size, as he has only made eight senior appearances for Utrecht so far. It is also quite a big step moving from Eredivisie to the Premier League. Nevertheless, St Jago has great potential and could be a joker in the pack.
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