Liverpool are in a tricky spot regarding centre-backs. Skrtel’s agent has said that he’s 90% sure to be leaving, Kolo Touré seems like he might be going too, and Mamadou Sakho is awaiting a ban which may lead to the club Sakhing him (sorry).
That leaves Dejan Lovren, unpredictable under Rodgers but more solid under Klopp, and Joel Matip as the players on the board for next season. At the least, Liverpool will have to bring two more central defenders into the first team squad.
This would be a difficult task at the best of times, but this season will perhaps be the all-time peak in terms of centre-back transfers among the top clubs. Manchester City, Manchester United, and Chelsea will all definitely be in the market around Liverpool’s level, and Everton may be too depending on how they choose to reinvest what seems sure to be a large amount of money they receive for John Stones. Arsenal might want to bring someone in as Koscielny and Mertesacker age. Leicester might want to upgrade their centre-halves and, hell, there’s a slim chance Spurs might want to bring in another young back-up to Alderweireld and Vertonghen as well.
Abroad, Barcelona (with Mascherano and Bartra rumoured to be leaving) and Borussia Dortmund (with Hummels on his way to Bayern Munich) will also be hunting. Liverpool may struggle to tempt desirable centre-backs with so many other big clubs in the market as buyers. Added to this, though, will be all of the clubs looking to replace their own players if they’re bought up by these big clubs.
Having to buy one centre-back amongst this crowded and cramped market place would require good and hard work, needing two will require much, much more.
As well as this, the club need to think very hard about the implications of further purchases on their existing players (Matip included). Part of this will depend on whether they really do jettison Sakho when news of the severity of his punishment comes in.
A direct replacement for Sakho, in terms of quality, being brought in will likely either indicate that Matip has been brought to the club for the bench or that Lovren, a confidence centre-half if ever there was one, will be dropped.
Matip is certainly good enough to stake a claim for the starting line-up, and it seems unlikely that he would have worn his contract down at Schalke just to sit on another team’s bench. Given his confidence issues, a benched Lovren may turn out to be markedly worse, when called upon, than a starting Lovren. Navigating the internal politics of these two players plus a new addition into (probably) only two starting places may be difficult.
The fourth centre-back slot will send a strong message to Liverpool’s youth products if it is filled by a new face. Joe Gomez came in to the team at the beginning of the 2015/16 season, but was played more at a left-back than centre-back and an ACL injury ended his season. At 19, this won’t be his last chance to make the first team squad, but a new young and possibly long-term option ahead of him in the running could be a real blow after already having tasted Premier League football.
Who Liverpool actually do go for will depend in large part on what the market allows. At some point during the window, most likely towards the end, dominoes will start to fall as moves are finalised. Klopp’s history with Neven Subotic at Dortmund and before that at Mainz, and rumours of a loan back in January, could make a move for him a possibility.
Subotic has rarely played this season, and is likely to find himself below Hummels’ replacement in the running for a starting XI place. His age and experience will also be a bonus for Liverpool – not too old, not too young – though this would still raise questions in the minds of Lovren and Matip, unless promises have already been made.
The second spot would probably be harder to fill with a purchase. To buy in a fourth-choice centre-back, they will probably have to be a young player, and with the complexity of this summer’s market being able to buy someone adequate in that specific age range will be tough. Add in the implications for Gomez too and a simpler solution might be preferable. A combination of Gomez and keeping Touré, who has always seemed to perform when called upon providing that it’s not too often, could work.
Whatever they do, Liverpool need to get this right. Not everyone can get transfers spot on, and with the amount of Premier League top clubs in need of centre-backs the chances are that at least one of them will more or less fail completely. Liverpool do not want to be that one.