by Tanner Pruitt
Ugh. That properly encapsulates the collective feelings of Liverpool fans everywhere this International Break as the news continued to pour out of injuries to Liverpool players. It’s not like Liverpool have had it easy this year. A season-ending injury to Virgil Van Dijk at the Merseyside Derby was a heartbreaker. New-signing Thiago Alcantara was also injured during that game and prior to that he had COVID-19. Oh, did I say COVID-19? Sadio Mane, Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri and now Mo Salah have all tested positive so far this season with Salah being the most recent while away on International Duty while goalkeeper Alisson Becker and striker Roberto Firmino were both exposed to the virus over the same two week period. In addition, star right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold was injuried prior to International Duty, Club-Captain Jordan Henderson and defender Joe Gomez were both injured during International Duty (with Gomez requiring surgery that will likely keep him out for a significant portion if not the remainder of the season) and star left-back Andrew Robertson also has had an injury scare while away with England and Scotland respectfully.
So yeah, terrible. Jurgen Klopp has had to turn to Youth Academy defenders Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips to fill in the blanks, Neco Williams is promising at right-back but is no TAA, and Joel Matip is an excellent steward for the club and a wonderful defender, but spends more time in the physio room (i.e. the doctor’s training room) than I personally feel comfortable with.
So because it is defense that wins championships, and because Liverpool has the depth in other positions to see through the majority of these injuries (and COVID-19), the following is a list of defenders Liverpool should be targeting in the Winter transfer window.
Edmond Tapsoba- Bayer Leverkusen
Edmond Tapsoba is a very, very classy young defender plying his trade in the Bundesliga and boy is he great. He’s said it himself that he draws inspiration from Virgil Van Dijk (but also oddly, John Stones) and it really shows. He’s able to use his six-foot-four-inch frame to impose himself in games. Now, the stats he’s had so far are not out of this world: 1 tackle and 1 interception per game are not mind-blowing for a centerback, while 2 clearences per game is decent. This could be down to Levekusen’s style and how they use Tapsoba, but there’s alot of upside here. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp doesn’t tend to sign-off on purchases with the short-term in mind. The 21-year-old Tapsoba could learn a lot in the shade of the learning trees that are the very experienced Van Dijk and Matip. This young-gun from Burkina Faso is certainly one for the future.
David Alaba- Bayern Munich
Love this picture, makes me think he’s surprised he’s made it on this list. But honestly, it really shouldn’t be all that surprising. David Alaba’s been playing for Bayern Munich since the stone-age (ok, fine, 2010), but recent reports and rumors seem to indicate that his stay in Bavaria may be coming to an end. Tensions over his contract seem to be the root-cause of the conflict, which is set to expire at the end of the year. Thus, the logic of the rumor-mill seems to be that Liverpool could take advantage of bringing Alaba in on a cut-price deal as they did with Thiago Alcantara as Bayern would likely rather make some money from a transfer for him than lose him on a free-transfer.
The brilliance of Alaba is his flexibility and skillset. Alaba played at centerback when Bayern defeated PSG in the Champion’s League, but historically has also played at left-back for Bayern Munich and even occasionally as a central midfielder for Bayern and for Austria. Alaba is also a master at free-kicks, but can also hit a ball from distance and has even scored the occasional goal from build-up play. Most importantly, he’s an experienced winner who doesn’t have a worrisome injury record.
Ozan Kabak- Shalke 04
Sound familiar, Liverpool fans? Kabak certainly should as we were very much linked to him immediately after the transfer of Diogo Jota was confirmed. The young man from Turkey is yet another Bundesliga talent that Klopp has seemingly had his eye on to fill the centerback void and carries a lot of promise. The stats-line for Kabak is a pretty interesting read as well, averaging 1 tackle and 3.7 clearances in the Bundesliga this year. The worrisome part is that he also averages 3.3 fouls per game as well.
So what makes Kabak a particularly unique target on this list? Well, besides him being a promising player, Shalke’s former manager happens to be David Wagner, a close friend of Jurgen Klopp. Wagner and Klopp see football very much the same way. Sure, Klopp has connections in Germany like NBA player PJ Tucker has shoes, but none would probably give Klopp the full scoop like the man who managed Kubak earlier this season.
Ben White- Brighton
Yes, of course his name was going to come up at some point. Liverpool have been closely monitoring Ben White along with practically every Premier League club out there with the money to spend. Clearly one of the most promising English centerbacks around, White is more Jamie Carragher than he is Virgil Van Dijk. He doesn’t have the size or the mass to control games with sheer physicality. Instead what White brings is very good anticipation, the willingness and ability to step up in to the midfield and snuff out a problem as well as a keen eye for a pass.
Making 9 appearances so far this year, White averages 2.3 tackles, 1.9 interceptions, and 1.2 clearances, very good stuff. He also has an average of roughly 83% successful passes but also has an eye for a long-ball, completing an average of 2 per game.
Well, I’m sold. But are Liverpool sold? That’s not quite an easy answer. Because he is English, White will cost ANY Premier League club a hefty premium to transfer as we found out during the Summer with some indications he would cost upwards of $60million. But that’s not all. Rumor has it that Liverpool’s scouting and analytics department weren’t too keen on a particular flaw in his game: aerial-duals. As we said earlier, he is much more in the mold of Jamie Carragher and Liverpool are acutely aware there are many more centerbacks out there that are taller, can jump higher, and win balls back at a better rate. In addition, if you buy White it’s a signal that Liverpool don’t fully trust Joe Gomez partnering with Virgil Van Dijk when fit, and I’m not sure Klopp’s ready to make that decision. Ben White coming to Liverpool would be a big deal and certainly one that has major upside and promise for the future, it just seems like it will take more convincing. Or stilts. Or a portable trampoline. Let’s get the R&D team on that.
Perr Schuurs- Ajax
So, we don’t get Ben White. No more pie-in-the-sky, he’s too expensive, blah blah blah. I get it. Look, I really get it. So what’s next? Well, you could look no further than Ajax’s Perr Schuurs who not only has a great name, but is also from Ajax and we all know that Ajax doesn’t make bad players. Schuurs has stepped up and stepped-out in the wake of Matthijs de Ligt leaving for Juventus a few seasons ago. Ajax’s asking price for Schuurs is also about half of what Brighton would ask for Ben White, but how does he stack up on the stats line.
Schuurs has made a total of 12 appearances in all competitions this year, averaging 1.1 tackles, 1.4 interceptions, 2 clearances and 0.4 blocks per game. Not bad at all. He also averages an 87% successful pass-rate, which is really good. What’s clear is that Ajax really do rely on him. And again, at half the price of Ben White there’s a lot to like in this player. But that’s not where the similarities to White end. He also appears to have the same weakness, aerial duals. Now, Schuurs does appear to be slightly taller than White, and it’s not like aerial duals is something neither man can overcome. It’s certainly something that can be trained and developed.
With options like Schuurs available if White is out of reach, Klopp could do much worse.