Has anyone mentioned that Liverpool need a new centre-back yet?
Then let me be the first.
Liverpool need a new centre-back.
The decision not to replace Dejan Lovren in the summer was calculated, but the club couldn’t possibly have legislated for season-ending injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez so early in the campaign.
Jurgen Klopp has suggested the January window will be a quiet one and that has been echoed by everyone close to the club. But let’s face it: a sustained challenge on all fronts just isn’t viable with Joel Matip as the only natural, established central defender.
With the Manchester clubs coming up the rear in the title race and RB Leipzig lying in wait on the continental stage, reinforcements are needed if Liverpool are to realise their ambitions this season.
To that end, we’ve seen a number of names linked, and one who has re-emerged as an apparent target is Schalke‘s Ozan Kabak.
The new surge in interest over the defender’s situation appears to come from a report in The Athletic, in which James Pearce suggests Jurgen Klopp has no interest in signing an experienced centre-back – instead preferring to develop the likes of Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips, or recruit a younger defender who could grow into a long-term alternative for Matip or Van Dijk.
He name-checks Kabak, noting that Liverpool decided against moving for him back in November, having been put off by the German side’s £22.5m price tag.
A move, then, seems less likely now than it did a couple of months ago, but it’s worth a look at just what Liverpool see in the 20-year-old – and what that could tell us about their future recruitment plans.
At first glance, he doesn’t appear to be an outstanding choice, and at a time when Dayot Upamecano is on the market, he is certainly not the obvious target. That ticks a box as far as Liverpool are concerned, however – they love to find value where others don’t quite see it.
Kabak was viewed as a prodigious talent when he came through the ranks at Galatasaray, but he could have picked his career moves more wisely since. He joined Stuttgart in January 2019, but after their relegation to Bundesliga 2, he joined Schalke – who may well be heading down themselves this season as they sit rock bottom of the table.
Despite the struggles of the team around him, however, Kabak has maintained his reputation as a tough tackling, aerially fearsome defender. He may stand at a modest 6ft 1″, but his blunt nickname ‘The Turkish Wall’ did not appear by accident.
He stands out in duels both on the ground and in the air, but is also adept at carrying the ball and moving it on – something the Anfield recruitment team do look for in their centre-backs.
There is an impetuousness to his game that Liverpool would be quick to eradicate. Unlike Van Dijk and Gomez, who tackle only when absolutely necessary, Kabak is quick to commit and prone to rash decision-making. That’s fine when you’re Fabinho – otherwise not so much.
There are also a few blemishes on his record that might explain why Liverpool have so far been reluctant to pull the trigger. Earlier this season, he was shown a red card for spitting at an opponent, though it has been reported that a nasty streak in a young player doesn’t necessarily concern Klopp, who feels maturity comes with time.
A regular for his country and approaching 100 games at club level, interest in Kabak suggests Liverpool are in the market for a rough diamond. Someone with first-team experience, yet young and malleable enough to be shaped into another Gomez or Van Dijk.
Liverpool don’t do short-term signings, so finding someone like Kabak who can fill a void for now and play a part in the long run may be the key to solving the problem in January.
As things stand, Klopp is one Fabinho injury away from assigning himself the #2 shirt for the second half of the season.
So cautious message or not, Liverpool will know what they need this month. And the fate of the Premier League title could rest on them finding it.