Defender Mohamed Simakan has been linked to Liverpool as a replacement for the long term injury-stricken Virgil Van Dijk. The Strasbourg own injuries have seemingly prevented a move to Anfield. With the rumour seemingly all but dead, with some Liverpool fans declaring the club ‘cursed’, who could manager Jurgen Klopp target instead?
There can be no denying that Van Dijk is irreplaceable, and the dip in form since Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford’s horror tackle on the Dutchman in October’s Merseyside Derby has been plain to see. A return of two points from nine, prior to Liverpool’s 4-1 FA Cup victory over a shadow Aston Villa side, is the like not seen since the bleakest latter days of Brendan Rodgers’ regime.
In particular, the manner of the losing goal against Southampton, and the late chance that nearly doubled the scoreline, was firmly indicative of the defensive composure that Liverpool now lack:
As a consequence of that downturn in form, Liverpool lost their table-topping position earlier in January. In turn, they joined those whose ‘favourites’ status in online betting markets for top tournaments is now very debatable. Even so, many Liverpool fans believe that the correct defensive reinforcement will see them return to the dominant ways of last season.
In lieu of Simakan, who now appears likelier to join Serie A title favourites AC Milan in any case, there are several other defenders from the continent that Klopp could see as fair game.
Said to play in a similar style to Sergio Ramos, Kabak’s links to Anfield from a crisis-stricken Schalke are nothing new. Yet, his £20m+ price tag – if compared to the fee demanded for Simakan – would represent a significant gamble. The optimists out there, who would search for comparisons to Van Dijk, will readily note that two of his three goals in 2019/20 were headers beyond the hour mark.
Naturally though, there needs to be a lot more in the way of justification. There is also his physique to consider, with Kabak’s frame enabling him to be equally mobile in aerial duels and 50/50 tackling situations. His disciplinary history is also a relatively clean one, and shows maturity beyond his years.
Over at Napoli, Maksimovic’s defensive partner Kalidou Koulibaly – who is a constant favourite in the rumours column every window – has taken much of the credit for the club’s recent spell as Juventus’ closest title rivals. But look a little closer, and it becomes apparent that Koulibaly’s value would never have peaked at £70m without Maksimovic next to him.
His first meaningful season at Napoli (2018/19), in which he made 17 appearances, showed the consistency his presence at the back could provide any club. Never budged from second from week 12 onwards, Napoli lost just three league games up to the end of February, and the ‘Partenopei’ enjoyed a clean sheet rate of 59.09% from the games won or drawn up to that point.
RB Leipzig, the very team that awaits Liverpool in the Champions League round of 16, have stated point-blank that the Frenchman will be staying put as their prize asset in defence. Yet, depending on how Leipzig’s season unfolds from here, he could be fair game during the summer window.
The club, which gained top-flight status just seven years after its formation, remains firmly in the Bundesliga title race, and can attribute much of that status to a return of seven clean sheets from the opening 15 rounds of league action.
His pace and positional sense has shades of Van Dijk, while his composure on the ball is reminiscent of Joel Matip’s best qualities. Being of similar age to Joe Gomez is a further bonus, but he does more than simply embody Liverpool’s three most valuable defenders. Amongst Upamecano’s more in-depth traits are zonal dominance, passing accuracy and high win-rate of defensive duels – though he is not the most reliable figure in the air.