No more signings: Centre-back concerns won't force Liverpool into the market

Joe Gomez Virgil Van Dijk Fabinho Liverpool 2020
The Reds have been hit by injuries in defence, but Jurgen Klopp insists they are unlikely to dip into the transfer market to solve their issue

Jurgen Klopp says Liverpool are unlikely to make any further signings before the transfer deadline, despite concerns over the Reds’ centre-back situation.

The Premier League champions have been left short defensively following injuries to Joe Gomez and Joel Matip during the opening weeks of the campaign.

Both missed last week’s 2-0 win at Chelsea, with Klopp forced to start midfielder Fabinho alongside the ever-present Virgil van Dijk.

Van Dijk was then pressed into action in the Carabao Cup at Lincoln City on Thursday night, with 19-year-old academy graduate Rhys Williams brought in for his senior debut. 

Gomez, who had been carrying a knee issue, should return for the visit of Arsenal on Monday night but Matip, who has a hamstring problem, is set to miss at least another fortnight, with the Merseyside derby against Everton on October 17 pencilled in as a possible return date.

Those issues – and the respective injury records of Gomez and Matip, neither of whom have managed to hit 30 league appearances in a single season for the club – have led, predictably, to calls for the club to dip in the transfer market again. 

Schalke’s Ozan Kabak is one name to have been linked, but speaking to reporters ahead of the Arsenal game, Klopp insisted that Liverpool’s summer incomings were complete following the arrivals of Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota earlier this month.

“I don’t expect a lot, to be honest,” Klopp said. “The centre-half situation, you think you are covered with three absolute top, top, top centre-halves, young players behind and Fabinho if we need him. And then all of a sudden, three players are injured and are out for a few days. 

“That’s not nice, but we cannot solve that in the transfer market. It’s just not possible, and we will not try. 

“If nothing more serious happens, then we will not even try. If the situation stays like it is in the moment, then no, there will be nothing happening. I think we are in a pretty good place, squad-wise and what will happen on the outgoing side, we will see.”

Jurgen Klopp Liverpool 2020

Klopp must now decide whether to stick with Fabinho or bring Gomez straight back in and move the Brazilian into his favoured midfield position. 

Arsenal’s threat is strong, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette hoping to hurt the champions. The Gunners, like Liverpool, have won both of their opening two Premier League matches.

Fabinho, though, has shown himself capable of handling such threats. The former Monaco man deputised for the suspended Van Dijk in a crunch clash with Bayern Munich during Liverpool’s run to Champions League glory in 2018-19, keeping the incredible Robert Lewandowski quiet, and was similarly impressive against Timo Werner and Co. at Stamford Bridge last week.

It may not be his natural position – he often played as a right-back for Monaco – but it rarely shows.

“It shows his character, that he is always ready to help the team,” assistant manager Pep Lijnders said last week. “He sacrifices himself.

“If you saw the difference between the Leeds game and the Chelsea game, it’s a big compliment to our last line. The way we defended, their behaviour, their bravery, how we always controlled the movements of Timo going in behind, how we stopped counter-attacks, it was really good. 

“I always say that to avoid goals, it takes 22 feet and two gloves! It means that it’s not just Fabinho who stops counters, the whole team has to defend. But yeah, Fabio was an easy choice to be man of the match in my opinion. 

“Of course I like, and Jurgen likes, that we can play players in different positions, this versatility, but do we want to have Joe Gomez and Joel back, yes please! But Fabinho can play a super game there as well, as long as we defend how we did.”

Fabinho Mateo Kovacic Liverpool 2020-21

Liverpool have already trimmed their centre-back options since last season, with Dejan Lovren having joined Zenit St Petersburg and teenage prospect Ki-Jana Hoever having been sold to Wolves earlier this month.

Nat Phillips is also likely to depart, most likely on loan, before the window closes next month. The 23-year-old is another who has been sidelined through injury of late.

Williams, who spent last season on loan in the National League with Kidderminster, has impressed in training, more so than Dutch youth international Sepp van den Berg, who was left on the bench at Lincoln, while 17-year-old Billy Koumetio made a big impression in pre-season. 

Koumetio played for Marc Bridge-Wilkinson’s Under-18s in their defeat to Manchester City on Saturday, but is seen as a first-team option for the future, if he can keep developing as he is. “He needs time, but he is a proper talent,” Lijnders said last week.  

Klopp has, remarkably, fielded 34 different centre-back combinations in his time at Anfield – who could forget the pairing of Jose Enrique and Tiago Ilori at Exeter, or the day Gini Wijnaldum and Emre Can lined up in a back three at Brighton? – but Van Dijk, the club’s record signing, has become the one constant. 

The 29-year-old has, remarkably, missed only one Premier League game since joining in January 2018. He played every single minute of the Reds’ title-winning campaign last season, and Klopp will certainly hope his durability continues.

In the meantime, though, he says he is happy to relax. Injuries may have bitten, and earlier than expected, but the Liverpool boss feels he has enough to cope without needing to spend.