Why Liverpool simply must buy a new defender this summer

Sam McGuire
12 months ago

Liverpool’s midfield rebuild is shaping up nicely.

Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai have already debuted for the club and the Reds are working on a deal to sign Southampton’s Romeo Lavia. There is still potential for a fourth new arrival with both Fabinho and Jordan Henderson heading to Saudi Arabia.

After all, Liverpool have lost five midfielders this summer – seven, if you include Arthur Melo and Fabio Carvalho. So there is space within the squad for an additional signing for the middle third. However, there is a bigger issue to address. Once the deal to bring Lavia to the club is sealed, the Reds should focus on the defensive situation.

According to The Athletic, Jurgen Klopp is after a centre-back aged 23 or under with the potential to improve. The report goes on to claim that if the right player can’t be found, the Reds were prepared to wait until next summer to address the situation.

This would be a gamble that Liverpool simply cannot afford.

The defensive situation at Anfield is dire. That isn’t an exaggeration either. Not including Nat Phillips, who may yet depart this transfer window, Klopp has four senior centre-backs at his disposal in Virgil Van Dijk, Ibrahima Konate, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip.

Matip, who turns 32 next month, is not the player he was a couple of years ago. He’s unreliable both in terms of availability and performance. At his peak for Liverpool, he was winning over 70% of his aerial duels, last season, in his limited time on the pitch, he won just 52% of his aerial battles. That stat alone epitomises his drop-off.

Injuries really had an impact on Gomez.

He put in a big performance against Manchester City last season but, unfortunately for both the player and the club, that was the exception. Liverpool lost nine times during the 2022/23 Premier League campaign and Gomez started at centre-back in four of those. He was also at centre-back in the final match of the season, a 4-4 draw with Southampton. The 26-year-old didn’t cover himself in much glory for Kamaldeen Sulemana’s second goal as he kept backing off and allowing the forward to carry the ball to the edge of the area under no real pressure.

It may only be pre-season but neither Matip or Gomez covered themselves in much glory in the 4-4 draw with Furth either.

Van Dijk isn’t as bulletproof as he once was. His performances weren’t great last term and he spent time on the sidelines with a hamstring injury just after the turn of the year. That isn’t to say it will happen again but it is something to consider moving forward.

READ MORE: Will incoming Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk silence the doubters? 

By comparison, Konate is much more susceptible to injuries. When fit, he’s a guaranteed starter and one of the best in the Premier League – but he missed 13 matches last season. There needs to be adequate cover for him and, right now, there just isn’t. Cover in terms of quality and playing profile.

The new 3-2-2-3 shape forces Konate to cover wider areas and though that should be Gomez’s forte, he isn’t really physical enough to dominate all of the space like the Frenchman, while Matip doesn’t have the pace or the agility to excel in the hybrid role.

Liverpool need depth in that role. But, perhaps more importantly, they also need a proper left-sided centre-back.

Andrew Robertson and Kostas Tsimikas have played as a third centre-back in the new-look system and neither look natural. Both were shoehorned into the left-sided centre-back role and you could tell.

In this new shape, the outside centre-backs are really important for balance. Konate, as brilliant as he is, can be a little limited in possession and it is noticeable when he’s tasked with progressing the ball as he was as the right-sided centre-back. Similarly on the left, whoever occupied that role needed to be able to dominate opponents in wide areas in one-on-one duels. They also needed to be composed and calm in possession to aid the build-up phase.

Robertson is a lot of things but you wouldn't really describe him as composed or calm in possession, would you? He is frenetic and chaotic. He wants to carry the ball and scurry forward. He is being asked to go against his natural instincts and I’m not entirely sure who it benefits.

If you compare how he plays the role to how Nathan Ake and Aymeric Laporte play it for Manchester City and the difference is night and day. Granted, City have a different approach to this system so their instructions may differ, the point is both Ake and Laporte are very confident getting involved in building out from the back. They don’t treat the ball like a hot potato.

Not only do Liverpool need better defenders, but they also need better ball-players so they are able to implement their new system and control the game to a higher level.

For the 3-2-2-3 shape, the midfield options are more than good enough, especially when you consider Cody Gakpo and Harvey Elliott can play as attacking midfielders if required. The attack looks pretty stacked too. The defence, however, is a weak point and this needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

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