Liverpool will be looking to delve into January transfer window for a centre-back to compensate for the absence of the injured Virgil van Dijk.
The Reds have not had the best of defensive starts to their title defence in the 2020/21 Premier League. The fact that they have conceded 15 goals in the first 7 games – their highest at this stage of a league campaign since 1964/65 and almost half of what they did last season – is cause for worry alone.
However, the ACL injury to Virgil van Dijk has left the backline in tatters. Fabinho has done a commendable job in his absence, but the Brazilian himself succumbed to an injury and even if fit, is at best a makeshift option. The youngsters in Rhys Williams and Nathaniel Phillips have stepped up as well.
But, Liverpool are crying out for a van Dijk cover and rumours are afloat that the club will delve into the January window to hand Jurgen Klopp the chance to do so. The Reds, however, have spent a lot in the summer, more than most Premier League clubs despite continuously stating they cannot afford to spend like others.
Hence, we present three van Dijk cover options that would not cost a whole lot of money and would ensure addition of quality to the Liverpool central defence.
Ozan Kabak (Schalke 04) – Expected Cost: €20 million
The Turkish international has been on Liverpool’s radar for the entirety of the summer market. Perhaps, Liverpool hesitated to move for Kabak out of a lack of funds, having spent vigorously to bring in Diogo Jota from Wolves and Thiago from Bayern Munich.
But, Kabak is now reportedly available for €20 million, with Schalke ready to listen to offers in that range. The 20-year-old has been a regular for Schalke and is in his third Bundesliga campaign.
His statistics have seen a sharp rise this campaign, with Kabak averaging a passing success rate of 92.9% along with 2.5 long passes completed every game. Defensively, Kabak has averaged almost 5 clearances every Bundesliga appearance this season and while 3 games is a very small sample size, his statistics do show a sharp improvement in his footballing quality.
€20 million for a 20-year-old once-defensive wonderkid and an international footballer is a bargain, considering the potential that Kabak has.
Chris Mepham (Bournemouth) – Expected Cost: €20 million or more
The 23-year-old has Premier League experience, with two seasons in the top-flight with Bournemouth. His statistics are also better than Kabak, while playing for a club that has finished in similar positions on the league table as Kabak’s Schalke over the two seasons.
Mepham averaged more than 7 clearances last season in the Premier League, with more than 6 completed long passes at an accuracy level of over 70%. The Welsh international is unlikely to be available in the market come January but Bournemouth could be willing to listen if Liverpool come in with an offer of around €20 million.
Mepham has adjusted to life in the Championship once again seamlessly, showing that he will not take time to adjust to the Premier League level if he is brought in mid-season.
What’s even more impressive is that the 23-year-old has only averaged around 1 foul every game in the Championship so far, which is a huge bonus and refers to Mepham’s maturity and ability to defend without committing to fouling the marauding opposition players.
Ezequiel Garay (Without a Club) – Expected Cost: Free
An ideal cover for van Dijk would need to add some experience at the back in the time the Dutch international takes to recover. Who better than Ezequiel Garay? The Argentine international has played the game at the highest level for over a decade now in different leagues and has 10 trophies to show for his efforts at the club level.
The 34-year-old will definitely be a stop-gap, but will allow Liverpool to bring in a cover without spending anything apart from salary, with Garay currently a free agent after his departure from Valencia in the summer.
Furthermore, there are other ways Liverpool can use his experience and quality once van Dijk returns. Garay will also be helpful in mentoring the likes of Nathaniel Phillips, Rhys Williams and Joe Gomez.
This scenario ensures Liverpool don’t blow their budget to sign someone who will, at most, become a squad player once van Dijk returns from his ACL layoff.