Assessing the potential impact of Liverpool’s two new center-backs
Liverpool fans feared the worst when talisman Virgil van Dijk was confirmed to have suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury to his knee in October, but they were unsure, the worst was yet to come. Stay calm, don’t panic.
In November, center-back partner Joe Gomez suffered a similar fate, requiring surgery on a knee injury he suffered while on international duty with England. No no no no no.
And having made ends meet over the next 12 weeks, stringing together a bunch of unorthodox and bizarre partnerships at the heart of the defense, Jurgen Klopp has announced that replacement Joel Matip will no longer play any role in the 2020/21 campaign. AAAAHHHHHH !!!!
Thankfully, Liverpool have prepared themselves – sort of. The Reds responded to this almighty setback by signing Schalke defender Ozan Kabak and Preston North End man Ben Davies.
But are this deadline duo good enough to fill in the gaps left by the injured trio and lead Klopp to a successful title defense? 90 mins investigation.
Let’s be honest, these weren’t the star signings that many of us expected. And analyzing the fortunes of the two defenders this season does not fill us with too much confidence either. Kabak plied his trade in an upper European division of the Bundesliga, but he was playing at the lower end of it.
Schalke 04 was going through one of the worst seasons imaginable before leaving the ship, facing the prospect of an unthinkable relegation, having claimed just one win in 19 league games. At that time, the German formation conceded 49 goals. Kabak has played in 15 of those matches.
As for Davies, the England defender has been asked to take the plunge from the championship, where he and Preston were comfortably lying in the middle of the table. Lilywhite supporters will tell you he’s a decent defender – and he just might be – but being part of a backline that conceded one less goal than 22nd-place Rotherham United doesn’t inspire any positive atmosphere.
The big games will come fast and hard for Liverpool over the next few months. Champions League clashes, decisive title battles, and all with the world’s keen eye on their fate. What will the price of this pair be?
Honestly, we don’t know – just because there is so little data to go. Kabak, as mentioned, was part of a pretty side of Schalke. In their biggest games of the season against Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, Schalke conceded three to his biggest rivals, then 12 in 180 minutes against Die Roten. Kabak, however, is a Turkish international and looks like a different player when surrounded by a better teammate.
Davies has never set foot in the Premier League before and was playing League One with Fleetwood Town as recently as 2017. It’s a great story and one that could have a fairytale ending, but for now, it’s a punt at best.
This is where the main question marks are. Are these two last minute signings really winning quality of the title? Do they have what it takes?
There is a lot to love about Kabak. He would fit in perfectly with Liverpool’s style of play as he is extremely comfortable in possession and enjoys playing from behind. However, he has been a “back to the wall” defender for most of his time in Germany, which is a far cry from Liverpool’s extremely high and high-risk strategy.
In some ways Davies is arguably the better choice for the Reds. He reads the game very well and thus avoids diving into reckless tackles or getting out of position too often. It can also pass it through the rear. The only (but important) problem with the 25-year-old is that he has never been tested against an elite striker. The league is tough, but the Premier League is a whole different ball game.
It might not matter much to Liverpool’s success this season, but the Reds have invested in players for years to come, not just for Christmas.
Kabak has shown signs of becoming a top center-back in the past and was chased by Bayern before signing for Schalke in 2019. There is no doubt that he chose the wrong move and ultimately his career. has stagnated. But who can say that Klopp can’t change his fortune and turn him into the defender many expected of him?
As for Davies, there is also hope. The league has become fertile ground for the Premier League in recent years, with players moving from a second-tier star to a leading hero with great ease. There is no reason Davies cannot adapt to the demands of the Premier League and become a valuable player in the squad over the next few years.
So what have we learned from all of this? Well the two players could to be a success at Anfield. Liverpool’s recruiting team have rarely been wrong in recent years so you would be a fool to doubt their judgment.
But, would they have shown all interest in either of those players if even one of their top three center-backs had stayed in shape? We will never know. What we do know is that Kabak and Davies have the potential to become Premier League defenders and have earned their chance at the big time.
However, when it comes to an immediate impact, there can be no guarantees. Expecting the duo to jump into the race and make a major difference in a title race, having been embroiled in a miserable relegation battle and a lower division days and weeks before is ambitious is the less than one can say.
If anyone can get the most out of their troops, it’s Klopp.