Following Virgil van Dijk’s anterior cruciate ligament injury in the Merseyside Derby – ruling him out for at least 7-8 months – many central defenders have been linked with the Reds. The two often touted as potential targets for the January transfer window are Schalke 04’s Ozan Kabak and RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano, however there are many other options at contrasting price ranges, Liverpool may look to balance risk and cost, as they seek to dampen the blow of van Dijk’s long-term injury.
1. Ibrahima Konate
Firstly Upamecano’s compatriot and teammate at Leipzig, Ibrahima Konate has represented France at all youth levels and was a regular for the German outfit from the age of 18, following a move from FC Sochaux in France.Embed from Getty Images
An impressive Bundesliga breakout season in 2017/18, was improved upon, as he was a vital part of Leipzig’s defensive unit, starting 28 of their Bundesliga fixtures in 2018/19 while still in his teen years.
It was summer 2019, when knowledge of Konate’s talent was widespread, his composure, controlled aggression and athleticism at such an early stage of his career, had Europe’s elite beginning to circle, the Frenchman continued at Leipzig however, then under Julien Nagelsmann, but unfortunately has struggled with injury issues the past season.
Konate has struggled with hip issues, but if he can move past them, he can truly become one of the world’s greatest, boasting a skillset many centre halves dream of, as well as the ability to look the calmest man on the pitch, even when pressured the most. Konate would likely cost in the region of £30-40 million, a bargain if he can return to, and build off the form he shown in 2018 and 2019.
2. Jerome Onguene
An option from another Red Bull club is one Liverpool have faced in the UEFA Champions League, Jerome Onguene of FC Salzburg – a key but understated figure in their impressive UCL appearance.Embed from Getty Images
The Austrian Champions are known for their counter-pressing style, meaning gaps are left in abundance, as sometimes Salzburg overpressed. Onguene has shown he is extremely capable of playing in such an expansive system, suggesting he could be suitable for Jurgen Klopp’s League champions.
The Cameroonian can play on the right or left side of central defence and possesses an admirable aerial ability, which make him a huge threat at set pieces.
Onguene arrived at his current club from FC Sochaux, like Konate, and the similarities don’t stop there, as Onguene also vaunts an exceptional physical ability in terms of athleticism, for his age.
Strong and fearless in the challenge, the African defender also is very competent when playing out from the back under pressure, a trait Jurgen Klopp demands from the likes of Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk, in order to control the game. Deployed in numerous different systems at Salzburg, including a back four with overlapping fullbacks, Onguene has showcased an ability to seamlessly fit into any tactical structure, an invaluable asset for any coach.
Salzburg would likely demand around £20 million for the defensive powerhouse, a reasonable fee for a glowing prospect in the early stages of his career.
3. Jules Kounde
A more expensive, albeit a seemingly perfect option, would be Jules Kounde from Sevilla. The French-born defender was influential in Sevilla’s Europa League victory, as well as their ascent into La Liga’s top four.Embed from Getty Images
Relatively short for a central-defender at 5’11, Kounde doesn’t seem to be phased by physical opponents, his frightening leap ensuring he often dominates both boxes, he could perhaps be likened to Italian great Fabio Cannavaro, in that aspect.
Another composed defender well capable of withstanding pressure, the former Bordeaux man was subject to interest from Liverpool’s rivals Manchester City, prior to the extended summer transfer window closing, a fee of around £50-60 million was touted, suggesting if the Premier League Champions were to target him, he would be far from a bargain acquisition.
Liverpool are widely expected to be monitoring the market, to possibly mitigate the effects of the best defender in the world being injured. There are many young defenders on the market, that stylistically would be perfect for the Reds style and defensive structure, however Klopp could still insist on utilising in-house options such as Rhys Williams and Billy Koumetio.