Liverpool’s defence has been much maligned over the years with a lot of the criticism deserved. Pundits have accused the defence of holding back Jurgen Klopp’s revolution. Yet, unquestionably, Virgil van Dijk’s introduction has already made a difference to the solidity of Liverpool’s back line. His stoppage time foul, leading to Tottenham’s equalizing penalty, should not distract from his positive performances. Against Porto and Southampton, with van Dijk soaked up pressure and helped destroy teams on the counter-attack.
Van Dijk’s leadership qualities have also had a positive impact of Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren. The two error-prone defenders have looked reborn next to the Dutchman. Yet, their propensity for errors still leaves a need for the reds to invest on their defence.
However, this will not be easy to do. Steven Gerrard confirmed that Emre Can is leaving for Italy. His loss, alongside Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana’s injury record and James Milner near the end of his career, shows Liverpool’s weakness in midfield. Without a doubt, Liverpool need to bring in more than one midfielder this summer. Liverpool have already secured the services of RB Leipzig’s Naby Keita. The Guinean has fantastic potential and is characteristic of the quality Klopp is trying to bring to the club. However, at £55m he is not a cheap signing, neither will another midfielder of similar quality be.
On top of this, Goalkeeping and attacking reinforcements means any centre-back singings will have to be done cheaply. Liverpool already have Joe Gomez and Ragnar Klavan added to van Dijk, Matip, and Lovren. Therefore, any new signing would likely mean the end of Lovren’s Liverpool career. At 28 and vastly experienced, Liverpool could still command a large fee for the Croatian Defender. Mohammed Sakho moved from Liverpool to Crystal Palace for £26m. Liverpool will be looking to bring in a least a similar amount again. This would provide a limited budget for Liverpool’s defence but allow money to be spent on more key positions.
With ever-growing transfer fees, finding a quality defender for this fee would seem hard to do. However, there are bargains out there. Here are four options that Liverpool should be looking at.
Stefan de Vrij:- SS Lazio
Lazio President Claudio Lotito recently confirmed that contract discussions between Lazio and star defender de Vrij had broken down. Immediately, publications have linked de Vrij to Liverpool. Originally, they had put forward the Dutchman as the potential Virgil van Dijk alternative that Liverpool, in the end, chose not to go with. Therefore, returning to this link was inevitable after the announcement.
Bringing in de Vrij would make financial sense for Liverpool. As a free transfer, he would allow the summer transfer budget to be spent on other key positions.
His style of play would fit in well with the demands of playing for the Reds. De Vrij is a well-rounded centre-back, strong in the air and skilful with the ball at his feet. He would be just the type of defender Klopp would look to bring in. De Vrij defends on the front foot and anticipates and intercepts play. This enables him to stay on his feet and not have to dive into tackles. The fact that he has already played alongside van Dijk for the Netherlands, only makes him more appealing.
Yet, Liverpool are not the only team who would see de Vrij as an improvement on their current centre-backs. Both Manchester United and Arsenal have also been rumoured to be interested in the Dutchman. Manchester United were heavily linked with de Vrij prior to his move to Lazio. With Louis van Gaal in charge, it was believed that de Vrij was keen on a move to Old Trafford. However, Liverpool will hope, with van Gaal gone and his Dutch centre-back partner at the club, they could entice him to pick Anfield.
Jonny Evans:- West Bromwich Albion
Evans is not a flashy centre back. However, there’s a reason both Arsenal and Manchester City have been linked with the Northern Irishman. He simply defends, and he does it well. He is an extremely experienced defender but at 28 still has four or five seasons left at the top.
Evans importantly has the potential to be an absolute bargain. West Bromwich Albion are currently seven points adrift from safety. Evans has a relegation release clause in his contract which means he could be snapped up for only £3m. At this price, and with the experience he would bring it is hard to object to the transfer.
Yet, there are arguments against him aside from his links to Manchester United. Evans has excelled in WBA’s defence that sits deep and is supported by two defensive midfielders. This is the complete opposite to how Liverpool play. Liverpool’s defenders are more exposed to one-on-one situations as the midfield pushes to assist the attack. This is similar to the work he did at Manchester United, where he was deemed to be not good enough.
At £3m this is a transfer Liverpool couldn’t lose with. They could snap up an experienced player and If it didn’t work out, they would make a profit on him the following summer.
Jonathan Tah:- Bayer Leverkusen
By the age of 22, most centre-backs will just be beginning to break onto the first team. Tah, in contrast, has played first-team football from 17 and has 100 first team appearances. Tah has played for all levels of the German national youth system and will hope to make the World Cup squad for Russia.
A top talent, Tah has a huge physic which allows him to dominate in the air. He is also an athlete and can bring the ball out of defence. Tah is a hybrid of Liverpool’s two centre-backs. He combines the dogged defending of Lovren with the quality on the ball of Matip. He has the potential to develop into a top-level player. However, he has one other quality that both Matip and Lovren have, and that is a lack of concentration. He is prone to defensive errors. This is normal with a 22-year-old, and will hopefully disappear from his game as he gains further experience.
With the recent reporting of a €21m release clause in his contract, he would offer Liverpool the chance to bring in a young and exciting talent without investing more money than they could bring from sales. Yet, if Liverpool are serious about a title challenge next season, they may not be willing to spend a year developing Tah.
Toby Alderweireld:- Tottenham Hotspur
It seems crazy to mention arguably the best defender in the premier league as an option. However, with his contract situation at Tottenham, Alderweireld could be available this summer. With a release clause, the Belgian would be available for only £25m in the summer of 2019. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is unlikely to allow a prize asset to leave for such a price. Therefore, he may be willing to accept higher offers from the summer of 2018. As Alderweireld’s current contract only pays the star player £50k a week, it would not be difficult for Liverpool to treble his wages.
At 28 years old Alderweireld is at the upper age limit of Liverpool’s transfer policy. Yet, he is everything that the reds would want from a centre back. Alderweireld is fast and has a great ability to read the game. He rarely gives away fouls and his record for booking means he is always available. He can play out from the back while also firing 60m cross-field passes to the wing. Alderweireld ‘s flexibility would open up the option for Liverpool to play with three at the back. He is also powerful in the opposition box. Pairing him with van Dijk would give Liverpool one of the best centre-back partnerships in the world.
Alderweireld wouldn’t meet the standard of costing Liverpool nothing. Even with his contract situation, he will not come cheap. Yet, Tottenham will not be able to hold out for a van Dijk size fee. To bring him in would reduce the money available for midfield reinforcements. However, to land a player like Alderweireld, it would still be a bargain.
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