Is adding another defender a priority for Liverpool?

Is adding another defender a priority for Liverpool?

The Reds' much-maligned defence improved considerably in 2018, helped by the arrivals of Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson, but is the back line now ready for a title challenge or are more defensive reinforcements needed?

Ben Lockett

Two signings have since become four. Having argued that Liverpool could not end their transfer business at Naby Keïta and Fabinho, the Reds have since confirmed the signing of Xherdan Shaqiri from Stoke City and long-term target Alisson from AS Roma.

Adding two midfielders, a winger and goalkeeper deeply improves Liverpool’s squad going into the new season, with confidence and expectation high that Jürgen Klopp’s side can challenge Manchester City for the Premier League title.

As we head into the final weeks of the transfer window, rumours surrounding Lyon playmaker Nabil Fekir will not go away, with Liverpool’s need for an attacking midfielder augmented by the deeply depressing and unfortunate news that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is unlikely to feature for much, if any, of the 2018-19 campaign.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was so impressive in the early months of 2018, and equally brilliant off the pitch throughout his debut season at Anfield. Hopefully the 24-year-old can recover fully and maintain his newfound belief that he can succeed at Liverpool as a central midfielder, as last season Oxlade-Chamberlain completely vindicated Klopp’s decision to invest £35 million in the England international.

Get well soon Alex.

Finally, a left-winger would not go amiss to help ease the burden on Sadio Mané but that would only be a bonus for the strongest Liverpool squad in a decade.

But are Liverpool truly equipped for a title challenge this season?

Has Lovren done enough to prove his worth?

Whilst the weaknesses are being addressed and the gaps are beginning to fill, Klopp still has a dilemma at the centre of his defence. Liverpool have been busy this summer, so is signing another centre-back a priority for 2018-19?

In total, Liverpool’s backline is unrecognisable from when Klopp arrived, both in quality and personnel – with the exception of one man.

Dejan Lovren continued his outstanding 2018 by helping Croatia reach their first ever World Cup final, following on from Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final less than two months before.

Unfortunately for the 29-year-old, Croatia followed Liverpool in succumbing to the superior side with the feeling of what might have been.

France’s first two goals were far less calamitous then either of Loris Karius’s mistakes in Kiev, but on most days neither would have probably stood, with the free-kick that led to France’s first goal soft, and the penalty for their second even softer.

Nevertheless, Lovren, alongside his partner Domagoj Vida (who has been linked with Liverpool) did little wrong in the final. Both Lovren and Croatia can hold their heads high after a wonderful, unprecedented tournament, defying their country’s population and any fatigue from three successive extra-time knockout matches to reach the final.

Ultimately, only France, the team with the best talent available in international football, were able to finally stop Croatia.

After a well-earned holiday, Lovren will return to Anfield seeking to resurrect his growing partnership with Virgil van Dijk, which brought improved success for the defence in the second half of last season and contributed greatly towards Liverpool’s road to Kiev.

Yet, despite the effect van Dijk has had on Lovren’s solidity and consistency, many remain sceptical that Lovren can become a title-winning defender, still possessing too many mistakes for a truly top-class centre-back.

Such an assessment is unfair however. Lovren’s history will be a tough obstacle for the Croatian to overcome, but the majority of Liverpool fans are now behind the previously much-maligned defender, especially with van Dijk at his side.

Lovren deserves another season to prove he can become the unquestioned success that both he and Klopp believe he should be, as Lovren does have all of the abilities to be, as he himself claims, one of the best defenders in the world.

Moreover, with Fabinho in front, Alisson behind and van Dijk to his side, any future mistakes from Lovren should have far less impact on Liverpool’s rearguard, given none of these incredible figures were around less than seven months ago.

More depth needed

As for van Dijk, few speak of his world-record £75 million fee anymore, such was the impact he had after arriving from Southampton in January. The Dutchman has become the true successor to Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypiä, leading the defence both by example and through his commanding character, which has brought out the best from Lovren and full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson.

Van Dijk is Liverpool’s leader at the back, and could yet be a future captain at the club – he is central to Klopp’s plans for the defence.

Joël Matip struggled badly with injuries last season, but many forget how good he was when first arriving from Schalke on a free transfer. The German international is a van-Dijk-lite, which by no means diminishes his own impressive abilities, but the Cameroon international needs to prove he can recapture the form of 2016-17 if he wants a long-term future at Liverpool.

Whilst this may seem harsh, another season of injuries, frustration and inconsistency will spell the end of Matip’s time at Anfield but he also deserves another year to recover his early form in the red shirt.

Joe Gomez looks to be approaching a crossroads in his Liverpool career. The England international competed with Alexander-Arnold at right-back last season but injuries towards the end of the campaign saw the 21-year-old eclipsed by his younger compatriot for both club and country.

Now, with Nathaniel Clyne fully fit again, Gomez has even greater competition on the right, and Robertson and Alberto Moreno have his original position on the left nailed down.

Gomez is seen as a centre-back for the long-term, but whether he can break through in that position with Liverpool is another question. Certainly, for this season, he will be fourth choice at best.

A loan could be something to consider in January – however for now he should remain at Liverpool, given his versatility. Both Lovren and Matip are injury prone, while Alexander-Arnold will be late to return to Anfield following England’s exploits, so Gomez will get chances to impress.

Meanwhile, Ragnar Klavan appears happy as a squad player. The 32-year-old Estonian is the ultimate professional, and the centre-half can even act as an emergency option at left-back, as he proved against Everton last season. A great figure to have around and one Klopp is happy to keep, but Klavan will be under no illusions about his status within the squad.

Overall, signing another centre-back would be a bonus on top of a bonus, given the time left in the window and the funds that would be required to bring in a player of higher quality then the four centre-backs currently at Liverpool, van Dijk excluded.

What Liverpool have is certainly good enough for now, especially with all the additions around to help improve the already ever-improving defence.