Good centre backs are hard to find. Just look at the Premier League’s traditional ‘big six’ - Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have all faced questions over the quality of their central defenders in recent times. Liverpool, of course, have Virgil van Dijk, arguably the best centre back of his generation.
However, with Van Dijk expected to miss the majority of the season through injury, and Joe Gomez also out for the foreseeable future, Liverpool could enter the market for a new centre back in January. Their injury crisis, which has left the Premier League champions with just two fit senior defenders (Joel Matip and Andy Robertson), might force them to.
Potential targets have been mentioned, but none are of the calibre of Dayot Upamecano. While the 22-year-old was somewhat vulnerable in RB Leipzig’s 4-3 win over Istanbul Basaksehir, he is widely seen as Europe’s next great centre back. The 22-year-old has no shortage of admirers, with almost every top end Premier League club linked with a move at some point over the last year or so.
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Liverpool should be at the front of the queue. Upamecano is technically adept on the ball, as Jurgen Klopp expects his central defenders to be, and capable of progressing the ball up the pitch. This is something that would make the Frenchman a suitable deputy for Van Dijk in his absence, with the Dutchman’s long passing key to the Reds’ attacking play.
Upamecano wouldn’t just be a short-term solution, though. His signing would be a statement of intent for the Premier League champions, the intent being to stay at the top of the English and European game. While Upamecano tends to play in the left-sided centre back role, the same position as Van Dijk, the pair would give Liverpool unparalleled presence in defence. They would be a two-man mountain range in front of Alisson Becker’s goal.
Virgil van Dijk
Image credit: Getty Images
Even before injuries struck, Liverpool should have added a new centre back to their squad last summer following Dejan Lovren’s departure. Despite some speculation over a number of targets, including Upamecano, no replacement for the Croatian was signed as Klopp opted to go with what he already had.
That decision has backfired, with Liverpool now desperately short of defensive options, but January offers an opportunity to make a course correction. The Frenchman’s contract, signed over the summer, includes a release clause of €42 million that will be active next summer. Liverpool should steal a march on the competition by moving next month, though, even if it means paying slightly over the odds. The Anfield club did similar to sign Naby Keita from RB Leipzig not so long ago.
City’s decline this season and last serves Liverpool with a warning. Pep Guardiola allowed his team to stagnate, staying clear of bold moves to adapt and evolve in favour of continuity for the sake of it. The signing of Upamecano by Liverpool would be bold, but it’s this level of ambition that will keep the Reds at the top.
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There are elements of Upamecano’s game that could make him a slightly awkward fit in Klopp’s system. RB Leipzig are one of Europe’s most proactive pressing sides. Liverpool, however, play at a much slower tempo, especially when in possession at the back. The Frenchman would have to adapt his game to form a partnership with van Dijk.
Upamecano’s natural ability suggests he would take an adaptation in his stride. At just 22, the Frenchman’s ceiling is higher than any other young defender’s in the game. Liverpool have shown they will spend big when the player is the right fit (see van Dijk, Alisson, Keita etc.) and there are plenty signs pointing to Upamecano being another one of these players.