Written By: Danny Corcoran (@calcio_danny)
Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joel Matïp, Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara, Alisson Becker and now Joe Gomez. Liverpool have been hit by an almost unfathomable number of casualties on the pitch in a season when the games don’t stop coming. As the news started to break on social media that Gomez had been injured in England training and that it was potentially serious, Liverpool fans went into meltdown. The immediate response was a rage of disgust at FIFA, The FA and International games in general in such an already condensed schedule. It then quickly turned into debate as to what Klopp was going to do as the defence was down to its bare bones (Robertson is the only fit defender out of the mainstay back four of last season).
One suggestion was to bring another, more experienced player to assist a now youthful looking back line. As we are out with the transfer window, the club are constrained as to who they can bring in. However, two names have kept popping up in discussions due to their availability as free agents – Argentinian Centre Back Ezequiel Garay and former Watford Right Back Daryl Janmaat.Embed from Getty Images
One name that has been suggested numerous times is seasoned Argentinian central defender Ezequiel Garay. The 34-year-old has had a trophy filled career across Europe, winning league titles with Benfica and Zenit, as well as Copa Del Rey’s at Valencia and the title winning machine of Real Madrid. With 34 caps for his country, including a World Cup Final in 2014, he is a player that comes with immense experience.
On the surface Garay may seem like a great short-term, stop-gap option for Jürgen Klopp. He offers title-winning experience to a back line that is down to one fit central option in Joel Matïp. Unfortunately for the Rosario born defender, the latter years of his career have not been kind to him. After featuring in twenty-four La Liga and Champions League games for Valencia last season, Garay suffered a horrific Cruciate Ligament Rupture before lockdown brought football to a halt and was subsequently not retained by Los Murciélagos in the summer.
Even if the defender was able to return to some form of his former self, and this is not a guarantee after such a sobering injury towards the twilight of his career (combined with Valencia’s decision to not offer him a new deal being quite telling), his play style and stats don’t seem to fit in with what this Liverpool side needs.
While Garay posted similar tackling statistics to Joe Gomez last season – 0.44 successful tackles per 90 to Gomez’s 0.45 – Garay is a vastly different type of defender to Gomez (as well as Matïp and Van Dijk). He is a defender that is suited to sitting deeper than the Reds backline does, with high levels of concentration and a particular strength in clearances. When it comes to successful pressures, something any Liverpool defender has to thrive in as they press from the back, Garay falls way short of expectations with only 1.13 successful pressures per 90 last season, compared to Gomez averaging just under three a game at 2.69. Placing the Argentinian in Liverpool’s defensive setup would be football suicide, as he does not have the pace or skillset to cope with such a high, pressing system.
The other name that has been prominent around rumour mills and social media, even going as far as one source suggesting Liverpool had been offered the former Premier League player, is Daryl Janmaat. The Dutch Full-Back has been a feature in England for the past six years, through spells with Newcastle United and Watford, before being released from the Hertfordshire club upon their relegation to the second tier. While he has been an adequate servant to the clubs he has played for, Janmaat is not what Liverpool need, even in terms of depth.Embed from Getty Images
The defender featured in just ten games last season as Watford ended a five year stay in England’s top division. This was through a combination of an injury that kept him out of 16 games and losing his place to the much-favoured Kiko Femenía. Although he is available now, would be on low wages and Alexander-Arnold is only out for a limited amount of time, Janmaat should not be a short-term option for the club.
While Janmaat particularly thrives in interceptions and blocks, he is not the type of full back that Klopp requires in his system. When it comes to defending vs. dribbles, the Dutchman posted a 47.2% success rate per 90 in the 18/19 season (his last season as the first choice Watford RB). Although it is greater than Alexander-Arnold’s last season numbers (40% per 90), the English defender has started this season off on fire defensively, with 63.6% successful tackles vs. dribbles per 90. Where Janmaat particularly struggles, and an area that is particularly important to Liverpool’s high energy system, is in successful pressures per 90. Janmaat falls way short of Alexander-Arnold’s 33.8% success rate, at 26%. This would leave the defence exposed more often as the opposing attack manages to beat the press.
Though Alexander-Arnold is important to Liverpool’s defence, he is also vital to the way the team attacks. Most of Liverpool’s creativity comes through their full backs, and this is something Jürgen won’t want to lose too much of while his first choice right-back is out. This is where Janmaat would struggle in particular. Last season in just 6.7 completed 90 minutes, he produced 2.08 shot creating actions every 90 minutes, and in the full season prior produced just 1.48 per 90. Not only does this fall short of the unrealistic expectation that someone could come in and produce the world class numbers Trent does (4.31 per 90). It also falls short of Milner’s SCA per 90 (2.21 per 90) in the less creative role as one of Liverpool’s midfield three, as well as Neco William’s 1.51 shot creating actions per 90 in very limited game time. Janmaat is not the answer defensively and is certainly not the answer in attack for a team that still holds aspirations to win everything they can.
Waiting for January
Fans can often be impatient, especially when it comes to transfers, and especially when the team has suffered as many injuries as this Liverpool team have. However, it is important that Liverpool fans are patient and let Klopp and Michael Edwards do what they do best. Not since Steven Caulker have we seen the club ‘panic buy’ and even he ended up as a last-minute hold the ball up option, rather than the central defender role he usually plays.Embed from Getty Images
Luckily for the club, management won’t panic. They will take their time to assess the options, whether that be Ozan Kabak, Dayot Upamecano, Jules Koundé or someone else remains to be seen. Until then, Klopp will have faith in Matïp, Fabinho, Nathaniel Phillips, Rhys Williams and Billy Koumetio. The fans need to have that faith too.