Liverpool’s Potential Centre-Back Pairings Without Virgil van Dijk – Ranked

Jurgen Klopp
Jurgen Klopp must figure out how to replace Van Dijk | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

So, what now?

Liverpool look set to be without the dominant Virgil van Dijk for a little while after the Dutchman suffered a nasty knee injury (did you hear about that?) so Jürgen Klopp now faces the unenviable task of finding a way to replace him.

There are a few senior candidates and a handful of academy options, so let’s take a look at the possible options.

Sepp Van Den BergSepp Van Den Berg
Van den Berg still has work to do | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Let’s start off with the emergency options. If all else fails, Klopp can call in Dutch teenager Sepp van den Berg.

The 18-year-old is highly rated at Anfield but is still a long way away from being ready for the first team. More academy football is needed.

It would be a huge surprise to see Klopp turn to 17-year-old Billy Koumetio, but if you’ve ever heard the boss talk about him, you’ll know the Frenchman is in his plans.

His towering frame and imposing physique would fit in well in the Premier League, but it’s surely too soon for him.

Nathaniel PhillipsNathaniel Phillips
Phillips is still an option | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Nat Phillips was expected to seal an EFL loan this summer, but the 23-year-old is still kicking about an Anfield and will now be in contention for an appearance.

He made 19 appearances on loan with Stuttgart last season, so he’s well aware of the difference between academy football and senior football, but whether he’s got the quality for the job is a different matter.

Rhys WilliamsRhys Williams
Williams has been the Cup centre-back | James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images

If Klopp has to turn to his academy, 19-year-old Rhys Williams will surely be at the top of his list.

Williams has made two appearances already this season, playing alongside Van Dijk in both of Liverpool’s Carabao Cup games, so if anyone in the academy knows what is expected in the first team, it’s Williams.

Joe Gomez, FabinhoJoe Gomez, Fabinho
Gomez & Fabinho could join forces | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Now we’re on to the main candidates. With Dejan Lovren no longer at the club, midfielder Fabinho will likely have been promoted to first reserve at the back.

A problem with a Gomez/Fabinho partnership is a lack of height and physicality. That dominant presence at the back is no longer there, and any team who plays in the air will automatically have an advantage. Even teams who don’t play that way will adapt as they’ll see it as a weak spot.

Gomez looks to need a vocal leader next to him to reach his true potential, but without Van Dijk, there are real questions over how he will cope.

Joe Gomez, Joel MatipJoe Gomez, Joel Matip
Gomez & Matip are the only senior centre-backs left | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Including Matip in the team is a must. The Cameroon international can do a good job of making up for the loss of height, plus he’s the best ball-playing defender available at this point.

What he lacks in speed can be made up for with Gomez, who is agile enough to cover enough ground for the pair of them.

However, is this the single most physically unreliable partnership in history? You could lose one of these two to injury at any given second, which won’t fill the rest of the team with confidence.

Fabinho, Joel Matip, Adam LallanaFabinho, Joel Matip, Adam Lallana
Matip & Fabinho could be the best way forwards | Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

If we’re trying to make up for the lack of Van Dijk, Matip and Fabinho looks like the best way to go.

It’s not a perfect pairing – there’s not must speed on show here – but this is an aerially impressive duo with the kind of passing needed to help Liverpool build out from the back.

Fabinho and Matip have played together once before, in a 2018/19 Champions League last 16 tie against none other than Bayern Munich, and they kept a clean sheet!

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