It’s been a tough week for the red half of Merseyside.
Candle light vigils for Virgil are still being held around the city of Liverpool, as the Premier League champions struggle to come to terms with the loss of their talismanic centre-back, Virgil van Dijk.
A nasty tackle in the big derby by Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford ruptured one knee, but broke thousands of hearts. It also looks to have ended Van Dijk’s season. Despair all round.
It’s easy to dwell on the immediate past, the retrospective action that should be taken, and project your agony onto the rest of the world. But football never stops rolling on – and Liverpool can’t afford to let their misty eyes cloud their judgement, too.
Time to act – in January, anyway.
Jurgen Klopp will have a big decision to make in the winter window – spend big on a replacement, bring in a stop-gap, or just ride it out. Ultimately, results between now and January may force his hand, if their title defence begins to go awry.
Not to mention, even with the big Dutchman, the Reds have not looked at their imperious best. The form of Joe Gomez has dropped off a cliff drastically since the re-start, while Trent Alexander-Arnold’s offensive tendencies are beginning to be punished.
So, a defensive reinforcement could be for the best with or without Van Dijk, just for competition’s sake. But who should Liverpool go for? 90min takes a look at the possible candidates to step into their superstar’s gigantic shoes.
This one feels the most apt replacement out there in the market. Dayot Upamecano has been on the radar of Europe’s elite for a couple of years now, and his role in RB Leipzig’s run to the Champions League semi-finals has only boosted his stellar reputation.
An intelligent, pacy and commanding centre-back, the Frenchman could quite easily slot into Klopp’s defence and add bags of quality and necessary experience. The bad news? Upamecano signed a new contract in the summer of 2020, and although the deal does include a release clause of €42m, that fee will only come into play at the end of the season.
So, wait another six months, or pay over the odds to save your season?
Tottenham Hotspur came close to landing Inter star Milan Skriniar this summer, and it appeared I Nerazzurri were willing to do business – for the right price. The talented centre-back is rated as one of the very best in the world, and he has shown his class in both a back two and a back three.
It was alongside only one other partner that he flourished, while his true qualities have been stunted since Antonio Conte’s arrival, along with his back five fetish. While the Italian taskmaster is at the helm, that three-man defence shows no signs of disappearing, and it may be the Slovakian that is sacrificed.
Young(ish), available and suited to the Liverpool style? An excellent investment for the years to come.
Another pricy, yet safe alternative. Jules Kounde has been a rock at the heart of Sevilla’s defence since arriving at the start of the 2019/20 campaign, carrying the Spanish side to Europa League success for a sixth time this century. The Frenchman is lightning quick across the ground, strong in the tackle and boasts an excellent leap for a centre-back who is on the shorter-end of the spectrum.
Questions have been raised whether the 21-year-old is physically capable of dealing with the demands of the Premier League, but having put both Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United out of European competition, those fears would be quickly dampened.
Sevilla know his time in the south of Spain is limited, but will Liverpool be the club that breaks the bank?
This would be the perfect signing for the Reds. David Alaba has flirted with leaving European champions Bayern for some time, and the Bavarian giants are struggling to convince him to extend his stay in Germany. With one year remaining on his contract, Liverpool could get the Austrian defender at a seriously cut-price, and what a player they would be receiving.
Comfortable at both left-back and centre-half, the 28-year-old possesses the speed and physical presence to adopt either position with absolute ease. His attacking prowess would suit the flying full-back football at Anfield, while Klopp’s system requires tonnes of pace to make recovery tackles and stop counter-attacks in wide areas.
A potential bargain for any team that lands Alaba, and Klopp’s Bundesliga connection stands him in good stead to win this particular race.
One for the football purists. Conor Coady loves Wolverhampton Wanderers, and having taken them from the Championship to the upper echelons of the Premier League, Wolverhampton Wanderers love him too. But at heart, he’s a scouser.
Having begun his football journey at Anfield, Coady eventually gave up on his dream of becoming a regular in the Liverpool side, accepting a move to Huddersfield Town. One season later, he signed for Wolves, and the rest, as they say, is history. Now at his peak and putting himself on the international footballing map too, wouldn’t it be nice if he made a return to the Reds and carried them to glory?
Sure, he may be a step below their current options, and he appears best suited to a back three, but let’s all dream for a second, shall we?
Now we’re really reaching the ‘probably best not to bother signing anyone’ phase, but the name of Antonio Rudiger scrapes onto the list. The German centre-back has not enjoyed a stellar couple of years at Chelsea, and he seems to have fallen hugely out of favour with Frank Lampard.
Now, in his defence, he has been playing under a manager that clearly has no idea how to set up a defence, and prior to Lampard’s arrival, he had been an impressive player for the Blues. If anyone can tap into that talent and nurture him back to his best, it’s national compatriot Klopp. Rudiger’s flexibility to also slot into the right-back role could provide excellent cover for Alexander-Arnold when the fixture list starts piling up, too.
Not a shirt-seller, but a possibility all the same.
Perhaps an unknown entity to some, but Djene has been at the heart of one of Spain’s best defences for a couple of seasons now. Getafe have been built on a solid foundation, which saw them concede only 37 goals last season – one less than runners-up Barcelona. Their 28-year-old Togo international Djene has been a key component in that defence, and that form has continued into the new campaign, too.
Currently valued at around €25m, Liverpool could fancy their chances at a cheeky punt on the centre-back, who would offer some stern competition for the likes of Gomez and Joel Matip.
Is he worth it? Probably not. But come January, the Reds might be desperate enough to try anything.