JAI SINGH | 4th October 2020

Liverpool have suffered the injury they arguably feared the most. A Rolls Royce of a player, the best centre-back in world football and inarguably in the top 10 footballers on the planet, Virgil van Dijk sustained ligament damage earlier in the month in the 2-2 draw against Everton. The debates about Jordan Pickford’s mindless challenge raged on and it’s best to leave them as they were but the main talking point is that this leaves Liverpool with only 2 recognised senior centre-backs in Joe Gomez and Joël Matip.

Quality defenders, however, both of them are injury prone as proven by the latter’s latest niggle and the Scousers simply cannot rely on the pair. Fabinho has been brilliant since he stepped into the role before falling to injury as well and Nat Phillips, despite his heroics on the weekend has a lot to prove considering he has only a single senior start under his belt. With the January transfer window on the horizon, the question is- who do Liverpool buy to replace VVD?

Whilst there is no centre-back like the Dutch man-mountain in the world, Liverpool do need to strengthen. Whilst his leadership skills cannot be quantified, here’s looking at other aspects that can be such as ball-playing ability, positioning and pace.

Liverpool should be targeting a centre-half who has at least 2 of those qualities and should be under £50m to fit in with their budget. Here’s taking the scouting responsibilities from Michael Edwards and doing the same.

Ben White

Arguably the defender least like van Dijk, Brighton’s Ben White was a name that was strongly linked to Liverpool last summer. The 23-year-old defender enjoyed a wonderful season at Leeds, not only for emerging as a tank in defence but catching the eye with his ability to spray diagonals, bring the ball out with ease and pass around the corners into midfield. During VVD’s time at Liverpool, he has often operated as quarter-back with his signature long switches of play to isolate either Mohamed Salah or Trent Alexander-Arnold against the opposing defenders. White’s ability on the ball makes him perfect for this role.

Both players averaged around 60 passes per game last season (Ben White 60, VVD 68) and whilst the Dutch skipper had a higher completion rate (90% to 80%), this can be put down to Ben White playing in a Leeds side who are arguably more expansive out of the back than Liverpool.

Whilst relatively quick, he does not have the speed of Virgil and as a result of his lack of pace, he may have his struggles operating as a part of Klopp’s highline. There are questions also about his physicality and how good he is in the air as well. However, for around £40 million and at just 23 years of age, there is potential for a player to be moulded by Klopp. Add in the fact he is English and we could be looking at England’s centre-back partnership for the next 10 years playing week in, week out at Anfield.

Edmond Tapsoba

The option on this list that is bound to be the easiest on the wallet and is valued at £20 million is Bayer Leverkusen’s Edmond Tapsoba. Having recently arrived in Germany, the young central defender has been one to keep an eye out for. The Burkina Faso international is quick on the ground and is an adept passer, capable of breaking the first line and getting the ball quickly into the midfielders. At 21, he would be another option for the future and we know how Klopp loves to develop and nurture young talent into superstars. However, similarly to White, there are questions over his aerial dominance. Whilst in Vitória Guimarães during the 19/20 season, he only had an aerial success rate of 56.5%. Compare this with van Dijk who had a success rate of nearly 75% and the difference is stark. Without VVD, Liverpool have one of the worst aerial duel success rates in the league.

While Tapsoba is a top talent and one Liverpool may move for in the future, a move may be too early in the 21-year old’s fledgling career.

Ozan Kabak

Another defender from the Bundesliga, Ozan Kabak was also heavily linked with a move to Merseyside in the summer transfer window, with rumours of fees ranging from between £25m to £40m. The youngest defender on the list, it is obvious to see why he was linked to a move to Anfield. Although only 6’1’ and we say only when you look at the stature of centre-halves in general, the defender is dominant in the air, bullying players his senior. His success rate is in the air is the closest to VvD, at 67%. It is an area where as mentioned, Liverpool struggle without VVD so the Turkish football’s dominance in the air certainly ticks one box.

He very rarely makes mistakes and is excellent on the ball with a wide range of passing that fits the Virgil van Dijk-sized hole. You wouldn’t be surprised if he does make his way to Merseyside, considering how he considers VVD as his idol.

“My personal aim is to become a top defender in maybe 2-3 years, like Virgil van Dijk. He’s my idol, I really like him. I like his style and how he plays.”

Again as we’ve mentioned with White and Tapsoba, at only 20 years old, a move to the Premier League champions in a starting role may be too soon. As well as that, there are questions about his attitude. The young defender suffered some backlash after spitting at an opponent which Klopp would not be too happy with to say the least.

However, a lot of the talk about one’s attitude is relative to the club they’re at and their tutelage and things may well change at a club of the stature of Liverpool. A move would make sense, considering the lad is an absolute beast and would be high on the list for reinforcements as this may potentially be a high risk, high reward acquisition.

Ibrahima Konaté

Adding to the list is another one of France’s unstoppable conveyor belt of young ballers- 21-year old Ibrahima Konaté. The youngster has been impressive alongside Dayot Upamecano this season at the heart of Leipzig’s defence and has warranted the £37m valuation that is synonymous with the young buck’s name. At 6’4’, he is a giant of a man and expectedly dominates in the air against his opponents. He is also rapid along the turf, suiting Liverpool and their high line. Whilst not too expensive as well, the only issues are over his fitness.

Konaté seems to pick up niggly injuries very easily and that would be a worry for Liverpool’s scouting team. With Gomez and Matip already prone to injury, the last thing they need is another centre-back they can not rely on. Let’s take a look at his injury record at Leipzig for example. In just over 2 years, he has sustained 5 separate injuries which have caused him to miss 37 games in total, which accounts for almost one whole season.

This recurrence of niggly injuries would worry Klopp and would not be what he looks as he needs reliability at the back. However, there are rumours that he is the Reds’ top target and possibly a change in training regimes by Liverpool’s world leading backroom staff will help some of those injuries. Remember, VVD was injury prone before his arrival at Anfield.

Keep your eyes peeled for how this one plays out.

Diego Carlos

The oldest and most experienced player on this list, the Brazilian centre-back would arguably be the one most ready to fill the shoes of van Dijk. At 27 years of age, Diego Carlos is just about to enter his prime. As well as that, following a successful season at Sevilla, which saw him burst onto the scene and become integral part of their Europa League success, he’s shown he has all it takes to become a thoroughbred winner (and also, the only defender on this list to win a major honour). And his winner in the final shows you that he’s a man for the big occasion.

Whilst Carlos is not the strongest in the air, with an aerial success rate of only 58%, it isn’t his height that is his major strength. His speed allows him to play as a part of a high line and therefore make recovery runs and sweep in behind like we have become accustomed to seeing VVD do during his time at Liverpool.

He averages 0.7 interceptions per game (van Dijk makes 1 per game) which shows he isn’t a defender who plays on the front foot but rather one who reads the game and uses his pace to ensure the opposition can not penetrate in behind. Keeping these attributes in mind, it made complete sense why Manchester City were hot on his heels when scouring the market for a top central defender.

Valued at £45m, it isn’t a signing that should be too expensive and Carlos would definitely be an option worth considering given his experience at the top level of football.

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