Who would make Liverpool’s best signing?
It has become increasingly difficult to ignore Liverpool’s need to bring in a center-back during the January transfer window.
After initially dealing well with the injuries of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, the Reds chose to field two of their best midfielders, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, at the heart of the defense in their 1-0 loss to Southampton recently.
Although the pair did not succeed this Their team’s balance in possession has been badly affected, suggesting that sporting director Michael Edwards may need to pull off another ‘Liverpool transfer’ in January.
Merih Demiral of Juventus and Sven Botman of Lille are two solutions to their defensive problems. The Reds haven’t made contact with any of the players again, but both nevertheless represent interesting proposals.
The question is, which one would suit Liverpool best? Here is 90 minsTake a deep dive to find out …
Being a Liverpool center-back requires a specific set of skills. As well as all the normal attributes required of a defender, such as tackle, intercept, block and heading, Reds defenders also see a lot of the ball and must be able to chase from behind.
Last season, no Premier League player made more runs than Van Dijk and only Trent Alexander-Arnold received more touches. Gomez – the Dutchman’s most common partner – echoed this trend, racking up the 10th most runs every 90 minutes across the division.
Who passed is another attribute Liverpool will be considering. Van Dijk and Gomez both placed in the top five for 90-completed assists from Premier League center-backs last season, with long passes being particularly important.
Passing the ball down the flanks is a key part of Liverpool’s tactical DNA. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Van Dijk and Gomez led the league in long completed passes (over 30 yards) in the last campaign. Both averaged almost 16 every 90 minutes, totaling success rates of around 80%.
Despite the focus on playing from the back in 2021, modern day defenders still need to be able to, well, defend.
In this category, there is little choice between the two players. Last season, according to WhoScored, Botman averaged 1.8 tackles, 1.5 interceptions and 0.5 blocks per game. Demiral, meanwhile, suffered an injury campaign, but throughout his career he posted oddly similar numbers.
It’s a similar story when you compare the couple’s aerial prowess. They both stand over 190cm tall and during their peak seasons, they averaged just under four air won per game.
Overall, it’s clear that both players have a high level of defensive intelligence, are strong in tackling, and generally have strong defensive fundamentals.
Botman is a product of Ajax’s famous Youth System and it shows. In Amsterdam, the players are educated in the Total Football philosophy, an education that has equipped the Dutchman with remarkable composure and technique.
No central defender has made more races in Ligue 1 this season, although his average of 47.5 per 90 minutes is still well below the numbers recorded by Van Dijk and Gomez last season.
Demiral isn’t as comfortable coming out from behind, but he still impresses with the ball at his feet. He hasn’t poorly controlled just one of the 268 assists he’s received in Serie A this season, while his 43.7 runs per 90 minutes are only slightly less than those Botman has managed.
The passing stats of Liverpool’s two transfer targets may set off alarm bells at Anfield.
As mentioned earlier, long passes in particular would be a desirable trait in any new arrival and it’s not clear which either player has it.
Demiral’s figures are the most alarming. The Turkey international has never played for a team with a reputation for long hitting and it shows, as he has always averaged around five long completed passes every 90 minutes during his career.
On the other hand, Botman is currently averaging the 16 completed long passes that the starting Liverpool pair managed last season at 9.59. These figures are much more encouraging and suggest he could have the potential to fit into Liverpool’s system if he has a short period to adjust.
This season is Botman’s first in one of Europe’s Big Five and he’s gone about it like a duck in the water. He hasn’t missed a single second of Lille’s campaign so far and was even rewarded with an appeal to the Dutch squad in January.
He may not have played but if he continues in his current form it won’t be long before he receives his first senior cap.
Demiral is already a seasoned international, winning 16 caps for Turkey when he was just 22. While he has the edge over the stakes of experience, he unfortunately gains a reputation as an injury prone.
A nasty ACL injury kept him out for the majority of last season and a series of muscle complaints kept him sidelined more recently. Liverpool are not entirely against signing players with an irregular form record, as evidenced by the arrival of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Thiago Alcantara of late, but Demiral’s struggles will always be a cause for concern.
One of the main reasons Botman is so coveted this window is that he could represent incredible value. Following the collapse of French football’s televised deal, many Ligue 1 clubs could be forced to sell their top stars in January to break even.
Transfer fees as low as £ 20million have been mentioned, although Lille will likely hold on more if possible as Botman only arrived at the club in the summer and has four and a half years left to sign his contract current.
Juventus are also unlikely to part with Demiral easily. Last January Leicester, Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund all received a warning and little has changed in the past 12 months.
However, with Demiral unhappy with his limited role in Turin, the player – who is under contract until 2024 – could force the passage of the Premier League champions to call.
After analyzing the data, it seems Botman would be the most likely success for Liverpool.
There is very little choice between the defensive pair, but he seems to be more comfortable on the ball than Demiral and is also a more accomplished passer. Add to that his rock-bottom price tag and exemplary injury record and it’s hard to look past Botman as the answer to Liverpool’s selection crisis.
Whether they move is a whole different story …