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Potential Centre-Backs for the 2023-24 season

Exploring possible replacements for Joe Gomez and Joël Matip.

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Liverpool central defenders Joël Matip (right) and Joe Gomez (left) in training. Credit: Getty Images.

Over the next few weeks, we will be releasing a series of articles on possible summer transfer targets for Liverpool F.C. Firstly, we must look at the current and potential gaps in the squad for next season and will then narrow down potential signings at each of those positions. These possible outgoing players will give us an idea of which positions will need the most help.

Starting off with the goalkeeping position, Alisson is the undisputed No.1 and won’t be going anywhere. Adrián seems to be happy with his third string role and as a senior figurehead of the squad, provides much needed experience and guidance to new incoming players. Caoimhin Kelleher, an excellent deputy in recent years, is rumored to be looking for first team football and might leave Liverpool this summer.

In defence, Liverpool found adequate cover for Robertson a few years ago in Kostas Tsimikas but Alexander-Arnold has not had a decent backup since Nathaniel Clyne left the club. However, last summer’s signing Calvin Ramsay has apparently impressed for the U-21 side this season and the hope is he will be ready to play the backup RB role for next season.

Centre-back is where Liverpool may need the most help in defence. It is rumored that Joël Matip will be leaving Liverpool this summer after several years of excellent service and it is also possible that Joe Gomez and Nat Phillips will be sold this summer to bring in some funds for incomings.

Midfield is where the majority of supporters and pundits alike have agreed that Liverpool need the most help. Starting out with the CDM role, Fabinho has had a resurgence of late compared to his poor early season form and there has been the welcome emergence of Stefan Bajčetić. However, a new defensive or holding midfielder to provide cover and impetus for Fabinho and one that has more experience than Bajčetić is sorely needed.

Moving on to central midfielders, it is accepted amongst the Liverpool faithful that Milner will be leaving at the end of this season, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keïta will move on this summer and that Liverpool will decline the option to buy Arthur Melo. This leaves Henderson and Thiago as the only fit senior central midfielders in the squad. This is the engine room for Klopp’s team and two players on the wrong side of 30 is not enough, 2 to 3 additions in this area are a must for Liverpool to return their best.

Finishing off with the attack, this is the one area where Liverpool may not need to add to. However at the time of writing, Liverpool are losing fan-favorite and modern day legend Roberto Firmino on a free transfer this summer as his contract closes out, so Klopp may seek to bolster his attacking options.

However, Liverpool have recruited smartly over the past few seasons to bring in younger and hungrier players like Núñez, Gakpo, Díaz and Jota, all of whom can be a part of the starting XI on their day. Liverpool’s current record Premier League goal scorer Salah is still here and there is exceptional youth options in Carvalho and Elliott waiting in the wings.

So what we will be looking at in this series of articles will be additions to the following positions: a new backup goalkeeper, 2 centre backs, a holding/defensive midfielder, 2 centre midfielders, and an attacking midfielder/forward.

This week, our focus shifts to the center back position. It has now been confirmed that Joel Matip will be leaving in the summer and is widely rumored that Nat Phillips will be sold as well. This leaves Van Dijk, Konate and Gomez as the only senior center backs in the squad, and even then Gomez’s poor run of form could see him offloaded to raise funds for incoming signings. While Klopp has shown before he is loyal to players, it is widely assumed that Gomez is at the bottom of the pecking order for starting at center back and it is more likely he will provide cover for Alexander-Arnold when need be. That being said, this opens up 1 or 2 spots at the position. The criteria we will be looking at will try to emulate Konate’s signing; under 25 years old, tall, strong, good in the air, has great recovery speed and is comfortable playing on the ball. We will be comparing these players to Matip’s output from last season as he will be departing and Liverpool will be keen to bring in a player that offers a similar skillset while also filling the gap of a high quality left sided centre back in the squad.

Credit: Squawka

Credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images.

1. Joško Gvardiol – 21 years old – RB Leipzig

Joško Gvardiol is a center back in high demand by almost all of Europe’s top clubs. While a little shorter and lighter than Matip, Gvardiol is similar to Matip in their ability to progress the ball. Gvardiol has the most touches meaning he spends a lot of his time on the ball and he has the highest take-on success percentage showing his ability to go on those slaloming runs that Matip has been known for. Moreover, Gvardiol shares a similar passing accuracy to Matip as well. However, Gvardiol offers something that Liverpool do not have at the moment, and that is a top quality left footed center back. Another bonus for Liverpool is that he plays for RB Leipzig, a club that Liverpool have a good relationship with and a club that plays with a similar tempo and style that Klopp likes to employ. While these are all positives, the one stumbling block (which is also the largest) is Gvardiol’s price tag. While namechecking Liverpool as his boyhood club, he is listed at a hefty €75m, making him the most expensive option and when Liverpool have more pressing needs in the squad (namely midfield), this deal seems unlikely

Credit: Alex Grimm/Getty Images.

2. Evan Ndicka – 23 years old – Eintracht Frankfurt

Another rumored target, one that Liverpool will have to battle other top European clubs for, is Evan Ndicka of Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga. The tallest and heaviest on the list, standing at 6ft 4in and weighing in at 82kg, Ndicka offers more physicality than the other targets and seems more ready for the Premier Leagues rough and tumble-ness. Moreover, he is also left-footed which is something Liverpool have lacked since Klopp has come to the club. While Ndicka does not offer the same progressive ability as Gvardiol or Matip, he still has plenty of touches per game showing that he is comfortable on the ball and his passing accuracy is similar. While his long passing accuracy is the lowest, you would assume when playing with better forwards who make more intelligent runs that percentage should rise. Where Ndicka stands out is in his defensive prowess, he has the speed to recover the ball often and that makes him an ideal center back partner while having such progressive full-backs because he has a knack for being the last defender and making game-changing blocks/clearances. Another positive and what makes this deal the most likely for Liverpool is that his contract is ending this summer and he could be available on a free transfer. Similar to how they signed Matip, Klopp and co. could be recreating a transfer masterstroke with this deal.

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3. Alessandro Bastoni – 23 years old – Inter Milan F.C.

Probably the most experienced player on the list while only being 23, Bastoni presents Liverpool with a high quality left footed option to partner Van Dijk or Konate at the back. This would allow either of them to revert to their more natural right sided role. An elite young defender with playmaking capabilities, Bastoni ticks all of the key boxes as a potential Matip replacement. He’s in the 95th percentile for progressive carries, the 96th for carries into the final third, and the 81st for progressive carrying distance. He can’t quite match Matip in that latter department, but he’s still inside the top 10 in Serie A this season. In 144 appearances for the club, Bastoni has provided 13 assists. In comparison, Matip has 6 assists in 183 appearances for Liverpool. Not only is Bastoni great offensively, he is also a rock at the back, offering a higher overall duel success percentage than anyone else on the list. Listed at €55m and with his contract winding down, Liverpool have shown before they can utilise creative accounting to get a deal done.

Credit: Getty Images

4. Antonio Silva – 19 years old – Benfica F.C.

The youngest on this list but a name that is common on most transfer news articles, Antonio Silva is the latest prospect from Portuguese talent factory, Benfica. While just 18, he has solidified himself as a starter for Benfica winning two Primeira Liga Defender of the Month awards this season as well. Suited to the modern game, Silva loves to play on the ball and is a solid passer with over 90% accuracy. However his final product lacks as his long range passing accuracy is lower and he does not attempt as many forward passes as the other candidates. While a solid tackler ranking in the 92nd percentile with 2.13 tackles per 90 minutes, he needs to bulk up a bit more to play in the Premier League as he wins just under 60% of his duels in the less physical Primeira Liga. While comfortable playing on the left, he is a natural right footer and that might be surplus to needs for Liverpool. The largest hurdle however, is his price tag as he is still contracted till 2027 and has a €100m release clause suggesting that this is a prospect to keep eyes on over the next few years rather than the immediate future.

While these are four great options for Liverpool to choose from, there are other names being thrown around. The only reason these names didn’t fit onto this list is that they do no fit the aforementioned criteria; under 25 years, tall, strong, good in the air, has great recovery speed and is comfortable playing on the ball. However players like Max Kilman of Wolves, Nayef Aguerd from West Ham, Jarrad Branthwaite of Everton and Levi Colwill of Brighton and Hove Albion all have something the names on the list do not; Premier League experience. That could potentially count for a lot when Klopp and co. are weighing out their options.

In terms of the four options named; Silva seems a prospect for the future as he is too expensive right now and is right footed, Gvardiol while the perfect candidate to fill the left sided role in Liverpool’s back four might also be too expensive but with reports of RB Leipzig being interested in Naby Keïta, there is potential for a player swap plus cash deal. Bastoni and Ndicka are Liverpool’s best options on the market as they have a wealth of experience, are great defenders first and foremost and also are keen to progress the ball and have a good final product. If Liverpool are able to secure Ndicka on a free transfer, this could see them open up €50-70m to bring in a player like Bastoni or even a Gvardiol. If they could pull 1-2 of these signings off, this would allow Liverpool to move first choice center backs Van Dijk and Konate to their preferred right side and partner them with a world class option on the left side.

Please comment if you are enjoying this series and check in next week to see an analysis of potential transfer targets for a defensive/holding midfielder.

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