Liverpool’s 0-1 victory away against Stoke City in the first-leg of their League Cup semi-final tie yesterday evening has put Jurgen Klopp’s side in a strong position to progress into February’s final.
The triumph, however, came at a cost.
Both Philippe Coutinho and Dejan Lovren were forced off with potentially long-term injuries before half-time, and their loss has brought to 11 the number of Liverpool first-team players currently unavailable for Friday evening’s FA Cup third-round tie at Exeter City.
The Lovren injury is particularly damaging for Klopp owing to the fact that Liverpool are already without Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho and Joe Gomes in central-defence. Liverpool finished the match against Stoke with veteran centre-half Kolo Toure and specialist central-midfielder Lucas Leiva anchoring the back-four and even Toure was struggling with cramp as the game neared the final-whistle.
“It’s a big shadow over the game for us, the injuries,” Klopp said at full-time and conceded that the club may now be forced to recruit in central-defense before the transfer window closes on 2 February.
“In this moment with no centre-backs fit I would say in this situation maybe we should think about that. Two weeks ago we had three centre-backs – that’s a good situation. When Liverpool started the season they had five with Joe Gomez and now nil in this moment.”
Here follows a list of three “buyable” centre-halves who Liverpool might target over the coming month.
- Joel Matip (FC Schalke)
The German-born Cameroonian international has only six months left to run on his contract in Gelsenkirchen, and although the Guardian reported in mid-December that Liverpool were hopeful of landing the 24-year-old on a free-transfer at the end of the season, the club’s present shortage at centre-half may prompt them to agree a fee with Schalke in order to bring the deal forward.
At 1.92 metres tall, Matip is certainly built to cope with the physical rigours of Premier League football, and with more than 170 Bundesliga appearances to his name allied to Champions League and Europa League experience, he could be reasonably expected to make an immediate contribution to the Liverpool starting side.
When Tottenham paid Schalke £1.5 million in order to sign playmaker Lewis Holtby in January, 2013, they did so despite having already agreed a pre-contract with the player to cope with a shortage in midfield.
Liverpool might do well to follow the North Londoner’s example in the coming weeks amid competition for Matip’s signature from Ligue 1 clubs.
- Neven Subotic (Borussia Dortmund)
Should Klopp hold off on signing Matip, he may need only to cast his gaze across the Ruhr Valley in order to identify an attractive alternative at his old club, Borussia Dortmund.
Subotic is a player Klopp knows inside-out, having given the Serb his Bundesliga debut as a teenager at Mainz in 2007 before signing him at Dortmund a year later. The 27-year-old partnered Mats Hummels at the heart of Klopp’s defence through both of Dortmund’s Bundesliga triumphs in 2011 and 2012, and he played a crucial role in helping the club to reach the Champions League final three years ago.
While Subotic struggled badly during Klopp’s final season at the Westfalenstadion in 2014/15 and has failed to hold-down a starting spot under new coach, Thomas Tuchel, the quality of his performances between 2009 and 2014 suggest that a change of scenery may be all that is needed in order to revitalize a player once regarded as among Europe’s finest defenders.
On form, Subotic is positionally intelligent, strong in the tackle, comfortable on the ball and quick to cover space created behind the last defender. Klopp has been linked with orchestrating a reunion with Subotic ever since arriving at Anfield and the defender himself stated an interest in moving to England at the end of last season.
- Aymeric Laporte (Athletic Club de Bilbao)
True, the 21-year-old would be a long-term investment and considerably more expensive than either Matip or Subotic given the premium that Athletic charge for their indigenous Basque talent (see Javi Martinez and Ander Herrera); however, Laporte’s buyout clause is set at a reported €50 million for a reason, and in signing him, Liverpool would be recruiting arguably the brightest young central-defensive talent in Europe.
Born in Agen, southeast of Bordeaux, Laporte is only the second French-born Basque to represent Athletic after Bixente Lizarazu, and since making his La Liga debut as an 18-year-old in December, 2012, he has rarely dropped out of the starting side.
Laporte has already made over 120 appearances for Athletic before even being capped at senior level by France (an inexplicable oversight of which the Spanish FA are acutely aware) and he has excelled at both Champions League and Europa League level.
While the 21-year-old is still prone to the kinds of lapses in concentration and errors of judgement that blight the performances all young defenders, his upside is enormous and that buyout clause is only going to increase.
Laporte already ranks as among the best ball-playing centre-halves in La Liga, and the Frenchman’s defensive nous is attested to by the fact that he formed a part of the back-four which held Leo Messi, Luis Suarez and Pedro of Barcelona to only one goal over two legs in helping Athletic to win the 2015 Supercopa de España.
[Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images]