Liverpool signed Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota on Friday and Saturday – but Sunday’s clash with Chelsea showed Jurgen Klopp still might need to make one more signing even though the Reds were victorious in west London.
Thiago Alcantara on Friday, Diogo Jota on Saturday. In two days, Liverpool’s summer transfer window improved dramatically and suddenly their hopes of retaining their Premier league crown were significantly bolstered. But while they made it a memorable weekend by beating Chelsea on Sunday, the clash also showed that Jurgen Klopp perhaps still needs to make one more addition to his squad before October 5.
When Liverpool’s team news was announced an hour before kick off at Stamford Bridge, Joel Matip – who has missed 60 matches since the start of the 2016-17 season through injury per Transfermarkt – was absent and so was Joe Gomez, who struggled against Leeds United on the opening weekend, both due to knocks.
And that meant Fabinho, more naturally a holding midfielder and a world-class one at that, was forced to drop into central defence alongside Virgil van Dijk.
On the bench, there was no real centre-half option despite the versatility of James Milner, meaning Gini Wijnaldum or Jordan Henderson who both started in midfield were the next options to step into the back-line were Fabinho or Van Dijk to suffer injury.
None of Sepp van den Berg, Nat Phillips or Billy Koumetio were given a spot on the bench – though Klopp admitted Koumetio was also unfit, suggesting he would’ve at least made the bench if not for a knock.
The German said pre-match to Sky Sports: “Joe is not a real concern, it’s probably only today. Same with Billy.
“With Joel we have to see, it could take a few days longer, it’s a muscle. It’s how it is. He looked perfect in the pre-season and now he’s got a little problem and we have to react.”
But with Matip’s injury record and the fact Fabinho is better utilised in the No 6 role breaking up play – although Jordan Henderson, Wijnaldum and new boy Thiago can play there – Liverpool surely need to sign a new central defender.
Fabinho coped well against Chelsea’s Timo Werner, a target for Liverpool earlier in the summer, despite the German’s pace. Though the home side threatened on the counter-attack in the first half, they rarely got the better of the Brazilian.
Liverpool were comfortable winners, partly thanks to Andreas Christensen’s red card, and kept a clean sheet at Stamford Bridge to boot. And Fabinho made several well-timed tackles and interceptions to largely nullify Werner.
While club legend Jamie Carragher declared that Liverpool no longer need another central defender after Fabinho’s performance, deploying the 26-year-old there should really only be a ‘break glass in gase of emergency’ option.
Why? Because although he slotted in well at the back, Fabinho is just so good in the holding position, having displaced Manchester City’s Fernandinho as perhaps the best player there in England’s top flight.
In his 56 league appearances before Chelsea, Liverpool lost just four times. In one, he was only a second-half substitute, while two others came after they had already wrapped up the title last year and the team’s displays generally dropped a level.
And while he is a dependable reserve at the back, Liverpool need one more centre-back – a long-term project type – who means Fabinho can instead be played at the base of midfield.
A team with Liverpool’s ambitions across all competitions need four senior centre-backs.
Despite some of Dejan Lovren’s flaws, he came into the team and produced some important displays in a pre-Christmas stretch last season and was a high-quality fourth-choice. The Croatian, though, is now gone having joined Zenit St Petersburg for just shy of £11m.
Asking Koumetio, given he has never made a senior appearance before, to step up as his replacement would be a big gamble given the very small margin for slip-ups in a title race against Manchester City.
Ozan Kabak of Schalke has been linked and the 20-year-old is a talented player, even though his side were hammered 8-0 by Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich on Friday night.
It is a player like the Turk who might appeal to Liverpool given they need a centre-half already of a good level, who has the ceiling to significantly improve further, but who is also willing to accept he will not immediately be a starter at Anfield.
Suggestions are that Schalke do not want to sell but could be tempted into offloading if they receive a bid of around £23million (€25m).
After the £60m weekend splash on Thiago and Jota, Liverpool may have to sell players before they can sign a new defender.
That they need to trim the squad in order to buy fresh faces was shown after it was announced that Jota’s move from Wolves would be offset by Ki-Jana Hoever’s £10m Molineux switch, with the Dutchman departing despite his potential.
Rhian Brewster, Harry Wilson and Marko Grujic are all sellable assets with Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi’s futures have also been the subject of speculation.
Liverpool must look to agree deals for their fringe players, particularly players like Wilson and Grujic who will only play in the domestic cup competitions barring an injury crisis, to free up funds for another deal late in the window.
Because failing to sign a new defender could prove an oversight. They have addressed the other areas within their squad that needed bolstering by adding a back-up left-back in Tsimikas and another quality deputy attacker in Jota.
Thiago is more of a luxury addition but the Spain international gives a midfield orchestrator Liverpool who they perhaps did not have previously, given he is of a different profile to their other most creative midfielder – Naby Keita.
Another senior centre-back is the only real hole in Liverpool’s squad. Plug that gap and then the Merseyside outfit are arguably as strong as they very possibly could be.
Liverpool have been bitten by injuries in central defence over recent years, Fabinho having to play against Bayern Munich in a Champions League last-16 first-leg clash in February 2019 after injuries to Van Dijk, Gomez and Lovren.
In January of this year, Matip, Lovren and Fabinho were absent in January with Phillips recalled from a season-long loan at Stuttgart to play against Everton in an FA Cup win and then return to Germany.
It ultimately did not harm them on either occasion as Liverpool won the Champions League in 2018-19 and the Premier League in 2019-20 but given the ever-increasing level of competition domestically and continentally – it’s perhaps not a risk they should take again this term.
And given how good Fabinho is as Liverpool’s first-choice No 6, the Merseyside outfit should ideally avoid having to use him as a centre-back.