With Kostas Tsimikas set to be announced as Liverpool’s first summer signing this week, Liverpool have ticked off one box on their list of tasks for this summer. They have found a back-up leftback to offer cover and competition for Andy Robertson.
With that done and dusted, Liverpool can move on to other areas that need addressing. Those would appear to be a back-up central defender, cover in attack and a central midfielder if a deal can be struck for Thiago Alcantara.
The central defensive role is probably a more prominent need at the moment following the departure of Dejan Lovren. With Joel Matip having had a number of injuries over his time at the club, Liverpool need a reliable defender who can provide cover for Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez, and potentially challenge the latter for the starting role alongside the Dutchman.
Here are a list of eight central defenders that the Reds could target this summer.
Club: Schalke 04
Let’s start with the obvious one. The name doing the rounds, and the one that does seem to have some legs to it.
Ozan Kabak is a monster in the making. A dominant physical defender who can bully strikers with his strength and power, but also hold his own on the ground with his quick feet and high level instincts.
Kabak has enjoyed something of a nomadic existence in the last 20 months, moving from Galatasaray to Vfb Stuttgart, and then on to Schalke. He’s likely to be on the move again this summer with Schalke in financial crisis.
With Jurgen Klopp’s best friend managing Schalke, Liverpool might have the inside track on a potential deal for the 20 year old Turkish international.
Fees ranging from £20-35million have been mentioned, with a figure somewhere in the middle seeming likely.
Club: Hellas Verona
Kumbulla is a traditional old school defender, but he’s also really comfortable on the ball. He might be the least known player on this list, but he’s maybe got the most potential.
An Albanian international, he was born and raised in Italy he joined his local side Hellas Verona in his teens, and worked his way up through the academy to make a name for himself.
He had a really impressive season after establishing himself as first choice for Verona, playing a big role in their 9th place finish in 2019/20. His front foot defender, fantastic man to man marking, and ability to ping 40 yard passes at the drop of a hat made him stand out.
He’s not a Van Dijk or Gomez type of ball playing defender, he’s more a Diego Godin type with more pace and better passing. He’d be a different sort of defender for Liverpool, but after six years of watching Lovren, Liverpool might welcome the change.
He’s been linked to Inter Milan and Lazio, with a fee of £20million likely to secure his services.
Club: AS Saint-Etienne
Last summer William Saliba had clubs knocking on the door at Saint-Etienne, before Arsenal finally struck a deal for the talented defender. It looks like history will repeat itself this summer, as Wesley Fofana is likely to have a long list of suitors after an impressive debut season.
Fofana is the latest product in a seemingly endless line of elite young French central defenders. Seriously, has any country ever produced as many high end prospects in the central defensive position over a 3 year spell?
Fofana has the physical profile of Van Dijk, and though it’s a small sample size, his aerial duel numbers are nearly identical as well. He’s fast, athletic and has an aggressive side that makes him a bigger prospect than Saliba was.
Saliba brought a fee of £27million, plus a year back on loan. I would imagine that’s the benchmark for a Fofana deal. Leicester were rumoured to have offered £20million and been told to come back when they got serious.
Fofana has huge potential but is the least proven name on the list.
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
Tapsoba has been recently linked to Liverpool and from a profile point of view, it makes a lot of sense. Tapsoba is a big, dominant defender who’s good on the ball and has really impressive recovery pace. He’s still quite raw, but that’s to be expected from a 21 year old defender who’s just completed his first half season in a top five league.
Having joined Leverkusen in January, Tapsoba immediately established himself as their best defender. This despite the presence of much more experienced teammates like Bender and Tah. He’s had a meteoric rise this season, just a year ago he was playing for Vitoria Guimaraes’ B team. Now he’s on the wanted list of every top club in Europe.
Leverkusen paid £15million for him, with potential add-ons that could bring the deal to £20mil. Given their model, and his potential, it would likely take a starting offer of £30million with add-ons on top of that to even get Rudi Voller and Co. to pick up the phone.
Club: Eintracht Frankfurt
Despite his age, N’Dicka is already somewhat of a seasoned pro having just completed his third full season. He’ll turn 21 later this month but has already been first choice for one of the Bundesliga’s better teams for two of those years and has attained plenty of experience in European competition.
N’Dicka is another of this incredible class of young French defenders, and while he may not have the same reputation as Dayot Upamecano or Boubakar Kamara, or the potential of Wesley Fofana or Tanguy Kouassi, he’s a talented and accomplished player in his own right.
Left footed, he is comfortable in a back 4 or a back 3. He can also fill in at left back in a back 4 if needed, though Liverpool shouldn’t need him to do that. N’Dicka came through the famed Auxerre academy before joining Eintracht in July of 2018. He has established himself as an important part of a team that impressed everyone with the brave style of play, and he has drawn admiring glances from multiple clubs over the past year or so.
In Liverpool’s current system, he would be seen purely as a back-up to Van Dijk in the left sided role, rather than someone to challenge Gomez but that’s fine. Gomez has fantastic potential and his partnership with Van Dijk has shown signs of being potentially historic. N’Dicka could however give Liverpool some flexibility by being a strong fit in a back 3.
Club: Standard Liege
Vanheusden has gone from strength to strength after returning to Liege for a league record transfer fee of £11mil last summer following a successful loan.
Long tipped to reach the top of the game, Inter Milan stole him from Standard’s academy at the age of 16 and he was proclaimed as the long term future of the Nerazzurri defence. A torn ACL derailed his progress after he’d helped lead Inter to a Primavera title.
Since moving back to Belgium he’s developed into a leader and is arguably already the best defender in the Jupiler Pro League. It would likely take a bid of over £20million to convince Standard Liege to sell, but at his age, with his potential as a defender and his existing leadership skills, he might be one worth considering.
Of course, Liverpool might not want to go for a young central defender. They might prefer someone a little bit more established, a little bit more seasoned. Someone in the mid-to late 20s who can be a plug and play option and won’t need the same level of development as the youngsters listed.
The problem is that the level of players Liverpool require in that age bracket, are largely not going to be cost effective. Unless of course they are on an expiring contract and set to become a free agent next summer.
A quick look at the list of expiring deals for next summer doesn’t give a ton of great options. Topping the list, in terms of reputation at least, is the likes of Sergio Ramos and Jerome Boateng. A little further down and there’s Arsenal’s unholy trinity of Mustafi, David Luiz and Sokratis. I can’t imagine Liverpool want any of those five.
There is one player whose name jumps out though.
Club: SC Freiburg
A twice capped German international, Robin Koch is the epitome of consistency. He’s not a spectacular player, he won’t get you excited, but he also won’t have you tearing your hair out.
Koch joined Freiburg from Kaiserslautern in 2017 and has gotten better every year. He a good defender with good instincts who could be a good fit next to any of Liverpool’s existing central defenders.
With his contract set to expire in 2021, he could be someone Liverpool target and a bid of around £15million could see him follow his former teammate Caglar Soyuncu to the Premier League. He’s been linked to Tottenham, Milan and RB Leipzig so the Reds might have to move quickly if they wanted to secure his services.
Another option is that Liverpool look for “another Klavan”. Someone who is towards the end of their peak years and will be happy to join and be a squad player. Liverpool are past the level of signing players of Klavan’s level but the idea is sound. That brings us to:
Club: Real Madrid
Nacho has spent his career in a squad role at Real Madrid, and while he’s likely happy to stay there and remain in such a role there might be the possibility that Real would accept a decent offer for him as they are feeling the financial pinch after overspending last summer and being hard hit by the fallout of Covid-19.
Nacho can play all across the back 4, but is primarily a central defender. He’s a calm presence, a good defender and a clever distributor of the ball.
With two La Liga titles and four Champions League winners medals to his name, he knows what it takes to have sustained success and could be a good addition to a Liverpool squad with ambitions of retaining their Premier League title next season, as well as regaining the Champions League.
A fee in the region of £10-15million could well be enough to bring the Spaniard to Anfield.