These are exciting times on Merseyside. The days are winding down until the beginning of the most highly anticipated season in Liverpool’s recent history. Building off a 2nd successive top-four finish, in addition to a Champions League Final run, Jurgen Klopp has seen this as the ideal opportunity to make really exciting improvements to the squad.
Fabinho, Alisson Becker, and Xherdan Shaqiri all join the ranks along with Naby Keita, whose deal was announced last summer. However, in the midst of all these arrivals, there still exists one question that’s answer is arguably unclear.
Virgil Van Dijk’s £75m arrival in January locked up one of the centre back positions for years to come. The responsibility of partnering the Dutchman is still largely up for grabs though.
There are three players who have a realistic chance of becoming a mainstay in the centre of Liverpool’s defence. We’ll be assessing what each player brings to the table.
The most likely player to partner Van Dijk. The Croat was integral in both Liverpool’s run to the Champions League Final and his country’s run to the World Cup Final.
He’s come on in leaps and bounds since the turn of the year, continuing to have very good performances, while cutting down on the error-ridden ones.
This summer marks his four year anniversary with the club. And at 29-years-old, he’s now in the prime of his career. With every potential managerial/adjusting/personnel excuse now non-existent, Lovren will be hoping he can push on to have a truly class season.
It may seem somewhat counterintuitive, but the defender’s deep World Cup run with his country might work against him. His late return to the team could see him ruled out for at least the opening game of the season.
Once another player gets that opportunity to play ahead of you, anything can happen. Just ask Nathaniel Clyne.
The Virgil Van Dijk before Virgil Van Dijk. Joel Matip arrived in Merseyside two summers ago and was expected to shore up Jurgen Klopp’s leaky back line.
While the goals still poured in, Matip actually enjoyed a very good debut season at the club even in spite of his injury issues.
Blessed with a comfortability on the ball not seen from a Liverpool defender since Daniel Agger, his ability to play from the back was quickly shown to be his best attribute; in addition to his reading of the game.
It didn’t take long to notice that he wasn’t the quickest. And despite his 6”6 frame, he didn’t have much physical prowess either.
However, his pure footballing ability made up for other areas where he was lacking. Most expected him to push on the following season but his stock went in the opposite direction.
His injury record has caused all sorts of issues, and his cameos when fit haven’t been too impressive either.
If he can regain the form that he showed in his early days with the club, then he’s the best candidate to partner Van Dijk. Before he can think of that though, he needs to try and get his body up to a more reliable level.
This one seems to be the least realistic shout, but it makes sense for more reasons than one.
Jurgen Klopp has made it clear that Joe Gomez is a player that he rates highly. He made the young Englishman a regular in the first team last season and that shows no signs of slowing down.
The problem comes from the fact that it looks very unlikely he’ll be able to regain his place at right-back. His injury issues towards the end of last season coincided with Trent putting in eye-catching displays in the Champions League run.
Add in the fact Nathaniel Clyne is now fit again, there doesn’t seem to be any room there for Gomez.
However, it’s been made clear by both the manager and the player himself that his future lies as a central defender. He’s strong, quick, comfortable on the ball, and has a good defensive mind.
He was at fault for more goals last season than he would have liked. But those things should be expected from a player as young as he still is. It’s only been two months since he celebrated his 21st birthday, meaning there are so many ceilings he can still break.
With Van Dijk playing alongside him, there won’t be many better partners or opportunities for Gomez to hone the craft of central defence.
Just as Lovren and Karius saw immediate improvements from playing in such a close vicinity with the Dutchman, it should be even more so for an impressionable youngster like Gomez.
With Matip injured again and Lovren still on holiday, Gomez looks to be in pole position to start the campaign in the heart of the team’s defence. And if he gets that opportunity then he’s just a few strong showings away from making the position his own.