When news broke that Joe Gomez would be joining his defensive partner and Reds talisman Virgil van Dijk as a long-term casualty, it seemed a certainty that defensive reinforcements (plural) would be brought in on Day One of the January transfer window. After all, what club in their right mind would willingly see out a season with one senior centre-back?
But then, New Year’s Day came and went with little event. Anxiety began to set in amongst fans, as old rhetorics about FSG’s parsimoniousness were dug up. Jurgen Klopp even admitted that he wasn’t getting what he wanted from his employers, the first hint of discord at the club during his five-year tenure. Plenty of us were bracing ourselves for Europa League football next season.
And then, just like that, Michael Edwards swooped to sign Schalke’s Ozan Kabak and Preston’s Ben Davies on deadline day- shortly before it was announced that Joel Matip, the club’s last CB standing, would also be out for the season. The new additions may have been cathartic for some of us fans fearing the worst, but is it truly enough to salvage our title defence?
I think that in a season where the Football Gods have proven as capricious as fans are reactionary, we cannot rule out anyone in the title race- least of all the reigning champions. It was less than two months ago that pundits were tipping Spurs and Chelsea for title challenges; they now sit sixth and seventh respectively. Plenty had written off City and United’s title hopes as well, only for the Manchester clubs to now occupy the top two spots in the league.
The good news for the Reds is that the standard of the league simply isn’t what it was in 2018/2019. A handful of dropped points or a patch of bad form doesn’t necessarily spell the end of your title bid anymore. While the results against West Brom, Newcastle, Southampton and Burnley were hammer blows to Liverpool, the additions at centre-back could prove revolutionary.
Having two ball-playing centre-backs in his ranks will enable Klopp to play his preferred high line and employ his signature high-press. In fact, it was the absence of these features which incapacitated the Reds’ attack during the recent poor run, when the likes of Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams were in defence instead of Van Dijk and Gomez. Talk about a chain reaction.
Neither Kabak nor Davies necessarily has to be a colossus in defence- the vast majority of Liverpool’s opponents have shown little impetus in testing their resolve at the back. But if the pair can enable Henderson and/or Fabinho to reclaim their places in midfield, whilst also allowing Klopp to fulfil his pressing philosophy, they will be unequivocal successes.
It’s true that Liverpool haven’t been helped by the schedule, by fortune or by match officials this season- nor have they often helped themselves. But with actual, real-life centre-backs at their disposal, Klopp’s men might still be in with a chance.