by Dominic Chandler (@Frankly2Shankly)
Dejan Lovren’s £10.9m switch to Zenit St Petersburg last month means we can now reflect upon mixed memories of his six-year spell at Anfield. Yet despite the defender becoming an increasingly peripheral figure at the club, his former boss reiterated the Croatian’s value to the squad just weeks before his departure.
The 31-year-old’s exit means that the Premier League champions now have just three senior centre backs at the club. Joël Matip missed most of the previous campaign through injury, while Joe Gomez has previously had fitness woes of his own. Such concerns justify Jürgen Klopp’s admission that Liverpool need four options in that position.
With the new season fast approaching, here’s a look at four possible solutions.
Go Big in the Transfer Market?
Lovren’s departure sparked fresh speculation on who could (or would) fill that void in the Liverpool squad. One name to re-emerge in the media was Brighton’s Ben White, a player who impressed while on loan with Leeds United last season.
The Reds have been linked with the Englishman for some time, with Liverpool said to have scouted the defender on numerous occasions. Young, talented, and home-grown, the 22-year-old ticks several boxes when it comes to the club’s approach to recruitment.
However, acquiring the young star may prove difficult. Leeds have already tried to bring White back to Elland Road this summer but have reportedly had several bids knocked back by the Seagulls. Liverpool are seemingly monitoring the situation, but whether that interest becomes more concrete remains to be seen.
It could be the case that the Anfield outfit are waiting to offload more players before bringing in any further acquisitions. Schalke youngster Ozan Kabak has been mooted as another potential target, with reports in Germany claiming that Liverpool are tracking the Turkish international.
Think Outside the Box?
Jürgen Klopp has demonstrated his ability to improvise on numerous occasions since he arrived at the club in 2015. Whether it be re-shaping Wijnaldum into a deeper midfielder or deploying Milner at left-back, the German is willing to get creative when utilising his options.
Using holding-midfielder Fabinho as a makeshift centre-half could be another instance of his resourcefulness; something Klopp has tried before. With van Dijk and Gomez unavailable ahead of Liverpool’s last 16 Champions League clash with Bayern Munich in 2019, the Brazilian international stepped in and helped Liverpool keep a vital clean sheet.
It’s also a solution Klopp’s counterpart Pep Guardiola turned to with Manchester City last season, using Fabinho’s compatriot Fernandinho to similar effect.
However, this stop-gap fix isn’t ideal for the club – at least not in the long-term. Fabinho has become a key component in a Liverpool side which has won the Champions League and Premier League in the space of 14 months. So any prolonged positional shift would leave a noticeable gap in such a finely tuned midfield unit.
Trust the Next Generation?
Another internal solution for Klopp could lie within Liverpool’s current crop of promising young stars. Teenage duo Curtis Jones and Neco Williams will replace the departed Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne next season, while Harvey Elliott is being eased into the first team picture.
Hoping to emulate Trent Alexander- Arnold, those in the Reds’ academy will be encouraged by the fact that their manager has created a clear pathway to the senior set-up.
Dutch duo Sepp van den Berg and Ki-Jana Hoever are highly rated by the club, particularly the latter, who has already made four first-team appearances Reds. French defender Billy Koumetio is held in equally high esteem and has been included in Liverpool’s training camp in Austria this summer. Meanwhile, fellow academy graduate Nathaniel Phillips has also been present, but given his age (23), he could well be leaving the club again this window.
While Liverpool have reaped the rewards from putting faith in their academy set-up, throwing one of the young guns into the deep-end next season is a risk. Experimenting a player out wide or from the bench is one thing, but starting in the heart of defence is a totally different proposition. Even with the guidance of Van Dijk, playing in such a scrutinised role for a side expected to win every game is a tough ask for a player with no Premier League experience.
A Stop Gap in the Market?
If the right target isn’t attainable this summer, scouring the market for a temporary solution could be another viable option.
It’s not something we have seen much recently, but it proved to be an adequate option in Klopp’s first summer window with the Reds. In 2016, Liverpool signed a 30-year-old Ragnar Klavan from FC Augsburg for a modest £4.2m. The Estonian arrived at Anfield with over 100 Bundesliga appearances on his CV, with his role as a squad player apparent from the outset.
Unspectacular but decent at his duties, the experienced defender played 39 league games for the Reds as they achieved back-to-back top-four finishes. Once Liverpool had signed their long-term target van Dijk, Klavan moved on with a brief but respectable Anfield stay behind him.
Experienced and affordable, Liverpool may be looking for someone of a similar ilk this summer. One such player could be Real Betis defender Aïssa Mandi, who was linked with the club earlier this summer.
The 28-year-old has played over 100 games in Spain, and with the Algerian entering the final year of his contract, he could be available at a cut-price fee. Reports in Spain suggested that Liverpool had already made a move for the player, but such links have gone cold in recent weeks.
If Liverpool want to continue to challenge on multiple fronts next season, strength in depth is essential. The club have already moved to sign a back-up for Andy Robertson and need to follow suit in the centre of defence. While Fabinho can do a job in that position, the Reds really require his presence in midfield. The capable Matip missed nearly three-quarters of the previous campaign, and with Lovren now gone, that short-term fix may become a lengthy one.
Meanwhile, despite having some promising youngsters in the ranks, prematurely delegating such responsibility may be detrimental to their development. Therefore, I believe the answer to this conundrum lies in the transfer market. Whether it’s a player with top-level pedigree or one who has showcased their potential at senior level, Liverpool need that extra option. If the Reds must sell before they can buy, then once they have sufficient funds, a central defenser should sit top of the agenda.