Opinion: No excuses for Liverpool - summer signings must include a centre-back

Liverpool’s duel pursuit of RB Leipzig’s Naby Keïta and Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk appears to be gathering momentum, with Liverpool reportedly planning a bid exceeding a mammoth £70m for Keïta, while van Dijk has told Southampton he wants to leave the club and is currently training alone.

Liverpool have to remain sensitive and tread carefully in this van Dijk saga, given their previous behaviour which angered Southampton and led to a public apology and withdrawal from the Reds.

Yet ultimately their interest in Southampton’s team captain never wavered, instead shifting underneath the public surface. Now though, it appears Liverpool may soon move back in for the 26-year-old, who reportedly is keen to join Jürgen Klopp’s side.

Virgil van Dijk saga continues to rumble on

Klopp is desperate to recruit van Dijk, viewing the Dutch international as the towering presence Liverpool need to strengthen their backline for a potential challenge on the Premier League title.

His arrival would certainly help plug the leak Liverpool have in regularly conceding goals, but Liverpool cannot expect van Dijk to act as the Messiah and fix everything at the back single-handedly.

Indeed, they cannot even be certain that van Dijk will arrive at Anfield this summer.

Southampton are, understandably, sick of seeing their star names take the well-trodden path from the South Coast to Merseyside. In only the last three years, Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne and Sadio Mané have swapped Southampton for Liverpool, roughly for a combined £95m, so the Saints themselves have still enjoyed a considerable profit from these transfers.

Nevertheless, to lose your best players every year to the same club is gut-wrenching, not matter what the transfer fee received in return.

Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal have also all been linked with van Dijk, and Southampton would probably prefer to sell to these clubs than Liverpool. Yet any deal for those sides is complicated by van Dijk’s preference to join Liverpool, leaving Southampton in an extremely difficult situation – keeping an unhappy and unsettled player, and missing out on a world-record fee for a defender, or selling yet again to Liverpool.

The van Dijk saga has become quite an adverse debate. One mantra is that Southampton have to accept letting these top players leave, otherwise they would not sign for the club in the first place if they could not later move onto bigger and better things (barring a huge cash injection that would propel Southampton to a status alongside the so-called ‘Big Six’).

Yet Liverpool themselves may soon face a similar dilemma regarding their star player Philippe Coutinho and the heavy interest from Spanish giants Barcelona.

Regardless, it appears that Liverpool are quietly confident of landing their top target for this summer.

Liverpool can ill-afford to have no Plan B to Van Dijk

This may link to the worrying news from Paul Joyce of the Times that the Reds have no additional targets at centre-back beyond van Dijk, and that it is unlikely Liverpool will acquire another central defender if they fail to recruit van Dijk.

As great as van Dijk may be for Liverpool and Klopp, if Joyce’s report is accurate then this is unacceptable from the Reds. How can you invest and expend so much time, effort and money into one player and not have alternatives to strengthen that same position you are sorely lacking quality in?

Dejan Lovren, Joe Gomez and Ragnar Klavan are fine defenders but they will not win trophies for Liverpool this season if they are the only partners for Joël Matip. Liverpool do need the above trio throughout the campaign, given the increased number of fixtures, and Gomez may turn out to be a future star, but last season proved Liverpool’s desperate need for an upgrade in this area.

Van Dijk would be perfect, but plan B cannot be Lovren and Gomez – plan B needs to be targeting the likes of Roma’s Kostas Manolas, Lazio’s Stefan de Vrij, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly and even Middlesbrough’s Ben Gibson.

Liverpool’s second saga with Keïta is slightly different, as there are fewer like-for-like alternatives to the 22-year-old, hence why his price could be higher than van Dijk’s, should Liverpool pull off both transfers.

Whilst there has been a decline in recent years of quality centre-backs in world football, they have not yet become extinct, and Liverpool have other attainable options they can consider beyond van Dijk.

Failing to sign another centre-back would not only be fatal to Liverpool’s chances of success this season, but would erode any positivity from the rest of this summer’s transfer window.

No van Dijk would be disappointing, but no centre-back at all would be devastating, and cannot be allowed to happen.