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It has become increasingly difficult to ignore Liverpool’s need to bring in a center-back during the January transfer window.
After dealing well with the injuries of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, the Reds opted to put two of their best midfielders, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, at the heart of the defense during their 1-0 loss to Southampton recently.
Although the couple did not do well that severely, his team’s balance of possession was adversely affected, suggesting that sporting director Michael Edwards may need to carry out another “Liverpool transfer” in January.
Two solutions to his defensive woes are rumored to be Juventus’ Merih Demiral and Lille’s Sven Botman. The Reds have not made contact with any of the players still, but both represent interesting propositions nonetheless.
The question is, which one would be more suitable for Liverpool? Here it is 90minit’s a deep dive to discover …
Being a central defender for Liverpool requires a specific set of skills. In addition to all the normal attributes required of a defender, such as tackle, intercept, block and pitch, The Reds’ defenders also see a lot of the ball and must be able to driving from behind.
Last season, no Premier League player completed more carries than Van Dijk and only Trent Alexander-Arnold enjoyed more touches. Gomez, the Dutchman’s most common partner, echoed this trend, racking up the 10th most carries per 90 minutes in the entire division.
He passed is another attribute Liverpool will be considering. Van Dijk and Gomez were in the top five in passes completed by 90 by Premier League center-backs last season, long passes being of particular importance.
Passing the ball to the flanks is a key part of Liverpool’s tactical DNA. So it’s no surprise that Van Dijk and Gomez led the league in complete long passes (over 30 yards) last season. They both averaged about 16 per 90 minutes, accumulating success rates of about 80%.
Despite the emphasis placed on playing from behind in 2021, defenders today still need power, well, defend.
In this category, there is little to choose between the two players. Last season, according to Who scoredBotman averaged 1.8 tackles, 1.5 interceptions and 0.5 blocks per game. Meanwhile, Demiral endured a campaign of hitting injuries, but throughout his career he has posted eerily similar figures.
It’s a similar story when the pair’s aerial prowess is compared. Both are over 190cm tall and averaged just four aerial victories per game during their peak seasons.
In general, it is clear that both players have a high level of defensive intelligence, are strong at tackle and generally have solid defensive fundamentals.
Botman is a product of Ajax’s famous youth system and it shows. In Amsterdam, the players are educated in the philosophy of Total Football, an education that has equipped the Dutchman with remarkable composure and technique.
No center-back has completed more runs in Ligue 1 this season, although his average of 47.5 per 90 minutes remains well below the numbers Van Dijk and Gómez recorded last season.
Demiral is not as comfortable coming out from behind, but he still impresses with the ball at his feet. He has not badly controlled a single of the 268 passes he has received in Serie A this season, while his 43.7 carries per 90 minutes are just slightly fewer than Botman has managed.
Passing stats from both Liverpool transfer goals may sound the alarm bells at Anfield.
As mentioned above, long passes in particular would be a desirable trait in any newcomer and it is not clear that any of the players possess it.
Demiral’s numbers are the most alarming. The Turkey international has never played for a team famous for hitting long shots and it shows as he has consistently averaged around five complete long passes every 90 minutes during his career.
On the other hand, Botman currently averages the 16 completed long passes that Liverpool’s starting pair achieved last season at 9.59. These numbers are much more encouraging and suggest that he may have the potential to fit into Liverpool’s system if he is allowed a short period of adjustment.
This season is Botman’s first in one of the five major European leagues and he has done it like a duck overboard. He has not missed a single second of the Lille campaign so far and was even rewarded with a call to the Dutch squad in January.
He may not have played, but if he continues in his current form, it won’t be long until he receives his first senior cap.
Demiral is already an experienced international, with 16 caps for Turkey despite being just 22 years old. While you have the edge in experience betting, you are unfortunately building a reputation for injury prone.
A nasty ACL injury kept him out for most of last season and a string of muscle complaints have kept him on the sidelines more recently. Liverpool are not entirely against signing players with uneven fitness records, as the arrival of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Thiago Alcantara in recent times shows, but Demiral’s difficulties will remain a concern.
One of the main reasons that Botman is so coveted this window is that it could represent incredible value. Following the collapse of the French soccer TV deal, many Ligue 1 clubs could be forced to sell their top stars in January to cover expenses.
A transfer fee as low as £ 20 million has been mentioned, although Lille is likely to wait longer if possible as Botman only came to the club in the summer and has four and a half years left to execute his current contract.
Juventus is also unlikely to part ways easily with Demiral. Last January, Leicester, Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund received a non-intervention warning and little has changed in the last 12 months.
However, as Demiral is said to be unhappy with his limited role in Turin, the player, who is under contract until 2024, could force a move for the Premier League champions to come call.
After analyzing the data, it seems Botman it would be the most likely success story in Liverpool.
There’s very little to choose between the two on defense, but he seems to be more comfortable on the ball than Demiral and he’s also a more accomplished passer. Add to that his declining price and exemplary injury record, it’s hard to look beyond Botman as the answer to Liverpool’s selection crisis.
If they make a move it’s a completely different story …