After Jordan Henderson partnered Fabinho in the centre of defence for Liverpool’s Premier League defeat to Southampton on Monday night, calls for Jurgen Klopp to sign a new centre-back have only grown. Club legend Jamie Carragher has led them, declaring on Sky Sports post-match: “I can’t see Liverpool winning the league if they don’t buy a centre-back.”
With Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez seemingly out for the rest of the season and Joel Matip continuing to be dogged by niggles and muscle issues, Fabinho is suddenly the pillar of the champions’ back-line.
The Brazilian has fared well there but how Liverpool miss his presence in midfield and not just the defensive qualities of Van Dijk and Gomez but their attack-minded ball-playing abilities too. How much they offer the team’s build-up play cannot be understated.
And having to rely on Fabinho and Henderson in positions where they are not at their best has clearly impacted the team, with Liverpool’s midfield not as authoritative as it has been and both defensively and offensively, Klopp’s side playing below their level.
But for Liverpool it may not be quite as simple as going out and signing a new centre-half – be that Dayot Upamecano, Ozan Kabak, Sven Botman or another well-profiled candidate – this week to help solve some of their problems.
That’s because Premier League teams can only have 17 overseas, or non-homegrown, players in their 25-man squads – and Liverpool’s list is full even with Van Dijk removed.
The Dutchman was omitted following his severe knee injury, which required surgery, given that he may not play again until next season.
Gomez counts as a homegrown player and so taking him out would not change Liverpool’s dilemma even though the England international also faces a fight to return this term.
Liverpool will seemingly have to sell a player before they can bring in a new defender should their target, if they decide to try and sign someone, be from another country.
The list of homegrown options on the Merseyside club’s shortlist is short although Brighton’s Ben White is admired by Liverpool.
But the 23-year-old only signed a new long-term contract with the Seagulls in the summer and has featured in 16 of their 17 league games this season.
A move for White in January is seemingly highly unlikely and a summer swoop may only be feasible if struggling Brighton suffer relegation.
More likely Liverpool would scour the foreign leagues for a more cost-effective addition, likely either a veteran to serve a short-term purpose or a young talent with long-term promise.
But while it appears Liverpool are a man or even two short at the back, given an ideal scenario would see Fabinho return to his holding midfield role, it will not be easy to sell players.
The most sellable of their assets are, presumably, Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri. But Liverpool surely will not sell for the sake of selling, it is not how they do business.
If they are to offload a player, they will demand their full valuation and for Origi or Shaqiri, they will want at least £20million.
But there are very few clubs able to shell out such a fee in the winter window, particularly with the crunching nationwide setback of another lockdown, further delaying the return of supporters to stadiums en masse and therefore delaying a return to more normal revenues.
Given Shaqiri got half-an-hour off the bench at Southampton, Origi is the most likely candidate to go if anyone – but there has not been much indication there are any genuinely interested buyers of yet, despite tenuous links to Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid.
Wolves are the only team with credible links to Origi but then the player is said to have snubbed a move to Molineux in the summer of 2018, and so perhaps he may do so again even if he’s not playing regularly for Klopp’s team.
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The 25-year-old’s only goal contributions this season came in the Carabao Cup rout of lower league Lincoln City and in the league and the Champions League, the Belgian has desperately struggled to make an impact when called upon and is no longer acting as the impact sub he was two years ago.
Were Origi to be sold, that might open up an avenue for Liverpool to pursue a new central defender. But the Liverpool Echo say there is no active desire to offload the striker, even though they would not stand in his way if an acceptable offer arrived.
And the odds of Liverpool signing a defender and ousting a player such as Origi or Shaqiri from their squad in the manner Arsenal have with Mesut Ozil and Sokratis are near non-existent.
If Liverpool have no particular plans to sell Origi, why would they not want him in their Premier League squad?
Unlike the Gunners duo, who are both out of contract in the summer, the only players Liverpool have with deals expiring in 2021 are Gini Wijnaldum, Adrian and Nat Phillips.
Wijnaldum remains a vital player to Klopp, who wants the Netherlands midfielder to pen a new deal, and so he clearly won’t be cut out. And he won’t be leaving this month either, despite links to Barcelona.
Though Caoimhin Kelleher has displaced him as second-choice goalkeeper, Adrian is still the third-choice option and Alisson has had injury problems this term, meaning the Spaniard is needed until the end of the season.
And the third of the trio, centre-back Phillips has deputised on a few occasions in defence including playing 90 minutes at Newcastle last midweek. Even if a new defender was signed, Phillips is still required.
Loaning out Origi might be a way to circumvent the problem, but with Shaqiri continuing to suffer regular injuries like Matip, that would leave only Diogo Jota and Takumi Minamino as back-up to the front three with the latter still yet to fully settle at Anfield.
Simply put, Liverpool doing any major incoming or outgoing business at this stage appears unlikely – unless a buyer for Origi appears. Instead, using Jordan Henderson at the back or gambling on Rhys Williams and Phillips to step up when required alongside Fabinho while also hoping Matip avoids any more knocks seems the most probable January outcome.