With Mamadou Sakho facing a lengthy ban for his doping violation and with the uncertainty surrounding the Anfield future of Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel, it is clear that defence is going to be the top priority for Klopp in the summer transfer window.
The importance of a strong defence for a side challenging for the Premier League title cannot be emphasized enough. Liverpool, for one, have severely failed to do so in two of their most notable title runs over the last decade.
Rafa Benitez’s side of 2008/09 and Brendan Rodgers’ bunch of 2013/14 were probably the closest the Reds have got to a Premier League title since its inception in 1992. Both times, Liverpool dropped points at crucial junctures to see them miss out on an elusive crown by the slimmest of margins.
A strong defence and the ability to grind out results are the hallmarks of a title-winning side. Jurgen Klopp’s arrival has brought a positive change in the style of play and mentality — among fans and players alike — around Anfield. The Reds look like a far more attacking unit than they were under Brendan Rodgers early on in the season, with the players having acclimatized to Klopp’s attacking and high-pressing philosophy.
Despite the significant improvements in the side’s results and style of play, a matter that still remains to be addressed is their defence. Liverpool hold the dubious distinction of dropping the highest number of points from winning positions in the league this season. The Reds have turned their fortunes around since the turn of the year with an appearance in the League Cup final and a date pending with Sevilla in the Europa League final next Wednesday.
The former Borussia Dortmund boss, who delivered two Bundesliga titles to the North Rhine club, will want to deliver on his promise to the Merseysiders by helping the Reds land that elusive 19th English League title. TheHardTackle takes a look at three defenders the German should consider signing to take him a step closer to fulfilling that promise.
Shkodran Mustafi (Valencia)
Erstwhile La Liga giants Valencia have endured an indifferent season in La Liga, and with one game to go in the season, they only have a top 10 finish to play for. In a season where the club has battled for consistency, Shkodran Mustafi is among the players that can take credit for the kind of performances he has delivered for the Los Che at the heart of the defence.
The German international has featured in 30 league games this season and scored two goals while also maintaining a solid presence at centre-back for the La Liga outfit. Mustafi boasts a strong aerial presence, winning 73% of his duels in the air, and averages 5.6 clearances and 4.4 interceptions a game for Valencia in the league. The defender’s strengths lie in his ability to tackle and intercept the ball from opposition play as well as his aerial prowess — an aspect the Reds could use to tackle set piece situations.
With Joel Matip coming in from Schalke, Mustafi could form a good understanding with the Cameroonian, who was born and brought up in Germany. The Reds are still in the hunt for Champions League and Europa League football and as such, Mustafi has reason to be excited by the Klopp project at Merseyside.
Virgil van Dijk (Southampton)
Should the Reds decide to continue their routine raid of Southampton players in the transfer window, they might as well snap up Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk. The 24-year-old, who was signed by Ronald Koeman last summer from Celtic in the Scottish Premiership, has been a revelation for Southampton.
The Saints’ center-back has featured in 47 games in all competitions this season and has scored three goals. His towering presence at the back and incredible aerial ability not only helps Southampton’s defensive stability, but also gives the side a target man during set-piece situations.
Van Dijk averages a staggering 7.9 clearances and interceptions a game for Southampton, with the Dutchman committing only one defensive error that directly led to a goal-scoring opportunity. His stats only exemplify the shift he has put in with Ronald Koeman’s side this season and provide enough evidence to suggest that the Dutchman will be a great acquisition for Liverpool.
Francesco Acerbi (Sassuolo)
Sassuolo’s 28-year-old defender Francesco Acerbi has had a great season with the Serie A outfit, helping his side to a 6th place finish in the league and securing European football next season. The centre-back, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer back in 2013, completed an inspirational recovery and returned to top-level football the year later with performances that eventually earned him a call-up to the Italian national side.
However, Acerbi only went on to make one more appearance for the Azzurri following an emotional debut for the Italians against Albania in a 1-0 victory. While his performances at Sassuolo should ideally book him a spot in the Euro 2016 squad, his lack of involvement in the qualification stage means that it is unlikely the defender will be a part of Conte’s farewell outing national manager.
Acerbi has featured in every minute of Sassuolo’s league season in the Serie A this term and his stats highlight just how crucial he has been in their fight for European football. The defender averages 90% successful take-ons and is strong in intercepting opposition passes and fending off attacks from the front-line. Not particularly strong aerially, the Italian’s stability on the ball gives Klopp sufficient reason to believe he would make a good partner for Dejan Lovren or Joel Matip.