Liverpool have a bit of a crisis at left-back - but they do have options as the January transfer window opens. Here are some of those that the Reds could move for.
Things are going well at Anfield. Despite two draws in a row at home to Manchester United (probably the most disappointing result of the season to date) and Arsenal, Liverpool are well placed to challenge for the title this season, and fans are more optimistic than ever about Jürgen Klopp’s self-anointed “Liverpool 2.0”. One area of concern, though, is the injury to Kostas Tsimikas that occurred against the Gunners. While there were some rumours that it would keep the Greek international out for the rest of the season, these seem to be wide of the mark…
— David Lynch (@dmlynchlfc) December 28, 2023
However, the length of his injury is still unknown, and it won’t be a short spell on side-lines. With Andy Robertson not expected back until the end of January/start of February at the earliest, it leaves the club without a fit senior left-back in a period where they have a two-legged semi-final, an FA Cup tie away at Arsenal and Newcastle, Chelsea, and Arsenal again in the league.
With the transfer market opening on Monday (January 1st), still-in-charge Jörg Schmadtke has the opportunity to bring reinforcements in to aid Liverpool’s attempt to secure league title number 20. I’ve taken a look at some potential options that he could look to bring to the club.
Rayan Aït-Nouri (22), Wolves
The first name on this list is someone that has been loosely linked to the club previously, dating back to his days at French club Angers. Instead opting to move to Wolves (initially on loan) in 2020 and has since played just under 100 games for the Midlands club.
He’d offer Liverpool an attacking left-back, someone who has predominantly played as a wing-back in Wolves more-often-than-not back three system. His biggest strength is his ball carrying, something that we know Klopp likes from his defenders, an ability to break the first line of press with ease and open up the game for his side. While he ranks in the 63rd percentile for progressive carries (2.29 per ninety), he ranks in the top one percent for successful take-ons (2.42 per ninety). He is a very accomplished dribbler who can create space for himself.
His chance creation does let him down, he only creates 0.07 expected assists and 2.23 shot creating actions per ninety, which ranks him on the lower end of his position. He does, however, make up for this on the defensive end. He’s a proactive and good 1-vs-1 defender, ranking in the 89th percentile for tackles per ninety.
He is one of the best options out there, but with a contract to 2026 and a market value of 28 million euros, it’s hard to see ex-Liverpool coach Gary O’Neil doing his old club a favour in the January window.
Gonçalo Inácio (22), Sporting CP
Another familiar name on the list, much rumoured target Gonçalo Inácio from Sporting. This is something of a more out there suggestion – given that the Portuguese youngster is a centre-back rather than a left-back. Yet Inácio would kill two birds with one stone – Liverpool lost Joël Matip for the season and Ibrahima Konaté is injury prone, leaving them slightly lighter in that department.
Inácio would offer Liverpool a more defensive option. While he has never played as a true ‘left-back’, he plays on the outside left of Sporting’s back three, and is naturally left-footed. He’s an excellent ball carrier, ranking in the 97th percentile for progressive carries (1.81) and 93rd percentile for successful take-ons (0.6) in Men’s Next 14 Competitions amongst his positional peers. He’s also an excellent passer of the ball, ranking in the 99th percentile for progressive passes (8.44 per ninety).
As a centre-back, he seems like the perfect option – a young defender with huge upside that can already contribute at an elite level. The issue is that putting him in the left-back position at Liverpool is a risk. He’ll be defending different angles and he’d be asked to attack (which he does do) more frequently than he does in Portugal.
He’d also be very expensive, with rumours of a £51.5m release clause.
Antonee Robinson (26), Fulham
Antonee Robinson was recently linked with a move to Anfield, and after his exceptional performance at the beginning of December, it was clear to see why. He locked Mo Salah up that day, reading the game exceptionally well and cutting out numerous passes to the Egyptian.
Robinson’s skillset is limited compared to the first two names on the list. He’s a solid defender, ranking in the 67th percentile for tackles (2.24), 99th percentile for interceptions (2.37), 68th percentile for blocks (1.35), 71st percentile for clearances (2.52) and 80th percentile for aerials won (1.3). He’s an extremely smart defender who knows where to position himself and when to engage. His numbers are particularly impressive given Fulham aren’t a team that are constantly defending, they are a fairly attacking side.
He's also (and spot the theme here) a very good carrier of the ball, ranking in the 84th percentile for progressive carries (2.99). He is a huge part of how Fulham get up the pitch, able to take his man on and create space for himself.
Yet, he is very limited. He is poor in an attacking sense and he’s more inconsistent than the other names on this list. If Liverpool did sign him then you’d expect an increase in how often he puts in good performances.
Pervis Estupiñán (25), Brighton & Hove Albion
The final name on this list is the most unrealistic. Estupiñán has been stellar for Brighton since joining from Villarreal in 2022. He has played as both a wing-back and full-back in several different systems under managers such as Roberto De Zerbi, Unai Emery and Graham Potter.
He’s an attacking force, able to go on the outside or invert inside. His numbers in that sense speak for themselves – with his FBRef profile a sea of green.
His crossing technique is extremely versatile too – he’s as comfortable going to the byline to pull the ball back as he is crossing from deep. His attacking skillset suits Liverpool down to a tee, he would give the Reds something that Andy Robertson gave in his early years, an incredible amount of energy matched with the talent to make a difference.
The big question mark is him defensively, he can often get caught out of position as he is so focused on getting up the pitch. That may not be such an issue when playing for a side as dominant as Liverpool usually are, but when you consider that the Reds do often get targeted in transition in the wide areas, you’d consider that a concern.
Either way, this is an unlikely one for January – even if it would be an incredible coup. Brighton are hard enough to deal with at the best of times, attempting to get one of their best players mid-season is highly unlikely.
There is then the most likely outcome, that Klopp waits until the summer to address the areas of his squad he believes need improvement. The winter break means that there aren’t many games for Liverpool to see through in January and with Robertson coming back soon, you’d expect them to bide their time with Joe Gomez there.