5 center-backs Liverpool could sign in January to alleviate injury crisis

The hits just keep coming.

Liverpool were dealt yet another massive blow during their bid to retain the Premier League title, with the club confirming on Thursday that Joe Gomez will miss “a significant part” of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a left knee tendon damaged during an England training session.

The absurdity of making exhausted players travel the world during a pandemic to play meaningless international friendlies has been discussed at length, and Gomez shouldn’t have been in that position. But all Jurgen Klopp can do now is come up with a contingency plan.

Virgil van Dijk is recovering after undergoing ACL surgery. Meanwhile, Fabinho and Joel Matip, the de facto first-choice center-backs, have each dealt with nagging muscle issues this season. The Reds can’t afford to sit idle during the January transfer window, even if Klopp is offering glowing reviews of in-house options like Rhys Williams, Nat Phillips, and Billy Koumetio.

Keeping in mind that expensive stars such as Dayot Upamecano, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Jules Kounde almost certainly won’t leave their respective clubs during the winter window, here are five realistic targets to help offset Liverpool’s injury crisis.

Ozan Kabak (Schalke)

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We begin with a name familiar to Liverpool supporters.

Kabak, 20, has previously been linked to the Premier League champions, with Klopp said to be a keen admirer of the Turkish international. An ultra-aggressive defender, the youngster excels as a tackler, and he tends to play on his front foot, always looking to step up and win the ball. Despite his age, he’s already logged an impressive amount of first-team minutes, establishing himself as a key cog at Galatasaray, Stuttgart, and now Schalke.

His contractual situation isn’t ideal for Liverpool, as he’s tethered to the floundering Bundesliga club until 2024. But Schalke’s miserable start to the campaign, combined with their abysmal history of losing talent for free after failing to sell when the time was right, could play into the Reds’ hands.

He won’t be cheap, but Kabak would help steady the ship in the immediate future, and the youngster could be a long-term replacement for Matip, too.

David Alaba or Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich)

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Different as they may be, we’re packaging the Bayern Munich stalwarts together here because their situations are similar. Both Alaba and Boateng are playing under contracts that expire in June. Discussions with the former have broken down following multiple attempts to negotiate, while the latter has reportedly been told he’s free to leave the club after Bayern decided not to offer him a new deal.

That dynamic creates an interesting dilemma for any potential suitors, Liverpool included. Alaba’s age and supreme versatility make him the more desirable option. The 28-year-old is four years younger than his German teammate, but the imposing World Cup winner would therefore undoubtedly be less expensive.

Even though he’s been revitalized and received plenty of playing time since Hansi Flick was appointed as manager, Boateng is most likely the odd man out for Bayern with Niklas Sule fit again, making him the most realistic short-term option for Klopp’s side.

Ben White (Brighton & Hove Albion)

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Another familiar face.

Liverpool were hot on White’s heels during the summer transfer window, only for a hefty £35-million valuation to scupper their pursuit. With the financial uncertainty amid the ongoing pandemic, the Reds’ front office opted to invest elsewhere. Rumors of Liverpool’s interest in the Englishman were so intense, though, that Brighton boss Graham Potter actually addressed and downplayed the rumblings.

“I know he is levelheaded enough to not let it affect him,” Potter said last month. “I think at this level you have to know it is part of the territory. … He has come into training, tried to be professional, tried his best, and tried to play football. I have no concerns about Ben.”

True as that may be, Liverpool’s interest won’t simply disappear. A calm, gifted ball carrier out of the back, the 23-year-old honed his possession skills during last season’s loan spell under Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United, even spending time as a defensive midfielder. His versatility and age make him a concrete option.

Perr Schuurs (Ajax)

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One of the many jewels of Ajax’s lauded talent factory, Schuurs has garnered rave reviews this season while locking down a place in Erik ten Hag’s starting lineup at just 20 years old. He was particularly impressive during the narrow Champions League defeat against Liverpool last month, which, naturally, ignited the rumor mill.

No stranger to Liverpool’s coaching staff, the prodigious Dutchman was actually given a trial at Anfield when he was 17, but both parties decided that Schuurs returning to Fortuna Sittard was best for his development. That worked out pretty well, as he captained the club to promotion as a teenager before earning a move to Ajax.

A commanding presence at 6-foot-3, Schuurs uses his long strides to cover huge amounts of space surprisingly fast. Liverpool wants to be proactive and get players forward, so fielding mobile central defenders to hold down the fort is vital.

However, Schuurs’ rapid rise has caught the eye of other continental heavyweights, so the Reds would need to act swiftly.

Other potential options: Aissa Mandi (Real Betis), Mykola Matviyenko (Shakhtar Donetsk), Pau Torres (Villarreal)

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