Liverpool’s recruitment team is understood to be scouring the transfer market for defensive options, as the Reds prepare for an overhaul of their backline this summer.
Jurgen Klopp’s team boast the best defensive record in the Premier League so far this season, but reinforcements are expected. Joel Matip is out of contract at the end of the campaign, Virgil van Dijk is approaching his 33rd birthday, and Trent Alexander-Arnold is evolving into a midfielder with each passing week.
We’ve looked at five defensive options for Liverpool to consider.
Jean-Clair Todibo – Nice
Jean-Clair Todibo continues to be tracked by some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs, with almost each of the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ credited with interest across the last 18 months.
Todibo has forged a reputation as one of Ligue 1’s leading centre-backs since signing for Nice from Barcelona in 2021 and was rewarded with a France debut in September.
The 24-year-old has formed part of a Nice defence which has conceded a league-low 11 goals in 18 games so far this season, forming an excellent understanding with the veteran Dante at the heart of the defence.
J.C. TODIBO 🇫🇷🦅 pic.twitter.com/cFA4ENkX0b
— Ligue 1 English (@Ligue1_ENG) August 27, 2023
Todibo’s comfortability on the ball and progression are his greatest strengths, ranking fourth for overall touches and third for progressive carrying distance in Ligue 1 this season. He makes more interceptions (1.62) per 90 than any of Liverpool’s current centre-back options, while only Ibrahima Konate can better his 2.13 tackles per game.
However, Liverpool’s defensive style requires aerial dominance, to defend against direct attempts to counter the Reds’ high press. Todibo ranks in the bottom 15% of centre-backs in Europe’s top five leagues for aerial duels won per game. In contrast, Virgil van Dijk, Konate and Joel Matip are all in the top 12%. He does, however, win 65% of all those contested.
Ousmane Diomande – Sporting Lisbon
Ousmane Diomande’s unique profile has got Europe’s elite scrambling to sign the Sporting Lisbon centre-back.
The Ivorian has emerged as one of the most in-demand defenders in Europe across the last 12 months, having signed for the Portuguese side from FC Midtjylland for an initial fee of €7.5 million (£6.4m) in January 2023.
His first full season has seen the 20-year-old shine as part of a three-man backline alongside Goncalo Inacio and ex-Liverpool defender Sebastian Coates, for a Sporting side top of the table in Portugal.
With pace, power and comfort in possession, Diomande has all the hallmarks of a modern, mobile defender. He ranks third in the Primeira Liga for pass completion (91%) and passes into the final third (94), while only one player in the division has tackled a higher percentage of dribblers faced (83.3%). Capable of shifting through the gears both in possession or in pursuit of opposition threats, Diomande is a defensive diamond in need of polish.
A release clause of £69 million (€80 million), even for a player of his inexperience, looks appealing on the evidence of his development to date.
Matthijs de Ligt – Bayern Munich
Matthijs de Ligt has endured a frustrating season at Bayern Munich with the arrival of Kim Min-jae having left the Dutch defender sidelined for much of the campaign.
De Ligt has started just four games in the Bundesliga this season, raising speculation he could depart. Arsenal have been linked with the Netherlands international, who despite being just 24 has won league titles in three European countries and has commanded cumulative transfer fees in excess of €150m.
A teammate of Virgil van Dijk, Ryan Gravenberch and Cody Gakpo at international level, a move to Liverpool could offer De Ligt a fresh start and an easy adaptation.
Of the options on this list, De Ligt is by far the most superior in the air with his 3.48 aerial duels won per game ranking him in the 93rd percentile of centre-backs in Europe’s top leagues and bettered only by Van Dijk among Liverpool’s current compliment.
His schooling in the Ajax academy also brings poise in possession, with De Ligt inside the upper 10% of defenders for attempted passes, pass completion (91%) and progressive passes per game.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) March 10, 2023
Though he lacks the explosive recovery pace of Van Dijk and Konate, De Ligt has enough elite attributes to be a success at Anfield.
Yukinari Sugawara – AZ Alkmaar
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s continued conversion into midfield means right-backs will be on the radar for Liverpool in the summer. Finding a like-for-like replacement for Alexander-Arnold is impossible, but Yukinari Sugawara could be an option to consider.
The AZ Alkmaar full-back has evolved into one of the most effective wing-back options outside of Europe’s major leagues. This season, the Japan international has four assists from 16 Eredivisie games, though that number only tells part of his influence.
The most similar under-23 player to Trent Alexander-Arnold in 2023/24?
— StatsBomb (@StatsBomb) January 10, 2024
Sugawara leads all right-backs in the Netherlands this season for expected assists, progressive passing distance, long passes completed, key passes, passes into the penalty area, shot-creating actions, and attacking third touches.
Add in the 23-year-old’s endless energy and a reported price tag of around €20m (£17m), Sugawara looks an attractive option.
Lutsharel Geertruida – Feyenoord
Remaining in the Eredivisie and Lutsharel Geertruida looks likely to be one of the division’s next high-profile exits.
Geertruida formed part of Feyenoord’s title-winning team last season and has broken into the Netherlands national side to earn eight caps since his debut in 2023. The 23-year-old has alternated between full-back and centre-back for the Dutch side this season, impressing in both roles.
No full-back can better Geertruida’s pass accuracy of 90.1% in the Eredivisie this season, while he ranks in the division’s elite bracket for non-penalty goals (4), progressive passes and progressive carries. Defensively, he is sound with only David Hanko bettering his 87.3% tackle success rate in the Eredivisie last season. This time around, he is losing fewer challenges per game (0.27) than any other full-back in the division.
Liverpool have benefitted greatly from Joe Gomez’s flexibility across the backline this season and Geertruida’s similar adaptability will appeal. After a move to RB Leipzig collapsed last summer, Geertruida is expected to move on from De Kuip at the conclusion of the campaign.