Dayot Upamecano is expected to be the Liverpool transfer replacement for Virgil Van Dijk


Liverpool were already looking for a new center-back option but speculation has intensified ahead of the January transfer window now that Virgil van Dijk has been sidelined for a long time.

Dejan Lovren’s departure in the summer left the Reds with just three recognized senior center backs, and now Jurgen Klopp is facing the rest of 2020/21 with Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and midfielder Fabinho as his options.

There is never a shortage of transfer rumors concerning Liverpool at best and van Dijk’s injury has only accelerated the volume of stories.

The latest player to be linked is Ozan Kabak, central defender of the Turkish national team Schalke. The mirror reported that Liverpool have opened talks for a £ 20m transfer, but it is clear that these new links have been met with some headaches within the club.

Should a deal be struck, Kabak would represent a fourth club in just three seasons, having also played for Galatasaray and Stuttgart despite being just 20 years old.

Schalke have really struggled during his time with them so it’s hard to get a good read on what kind of player he is from his stats. They will have had to defend a lot more than the Reds normally should.

But it has a vital attribute as it is strong in the air. It is an area where Liverpool seem set to fight in the absence of van Dijk, as the Dutchman is the Premier League’s air master.

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Kazak had the ninth-best aerial duel win rate in the Bundesliga last season (via FBRef) and is already second in the early days of 2020/21.

The player analytics site smarterscout also suggests that his performances last season were statistically more similar to Diego Godin’s efforts for Inter Milan. There aren’t many better defenders to deal with.

However, there are other center-backs Liverpool have been linked with in the past who are also good options for life at Anfield.

Ben White of Brighton is one such player. He made a name for himself with Leeds United in the league, playing every minute of the title winning season last season.

Interestingly, it is in the air where it tends to struggle. Indeed, Football Insider they also claimed that this deficiency in White’s game deterred Liverpool scouts from pursuing the player. It could be that he could be a good partner for van Dijk rather than a replacement while number four is on the sidelines.

And there are no problems with the other aspects of his game. At the time of writing, he has the 16th place best pressing success rate in the top flight (for FBRef), and also won the championship by interceptions last season despite Marcelo Bielsa’s side dominating possession most weeks.

If Liverpool want the best of both worlds though – and given that they have built their success on a remarkably good success rate with transfers, they obviously will – then Dayot Upamecano should be the man they go for.

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The RB Leipzig center-back has more league experience than Kazak or White, and has also appeared in the Champions League. The French international also has the aerial ability of the former with the anticipation of the latter.

Upamecano won 81.1% of his aerial duels in 2018/19 (for FBRef) which was the second best rate in the Bundesliga that year, and even slightly exceeds van Dijk’s best season. Although his form in this sector has declined, he has still won over two-thirds of the headers he has seen since the beginning of last season.

And in 2019/20 he was also among the continent’s best defenders for successful pressing, dribbling and third-final passing. He can defend well, help his side get the ball forward on the pitch, and he should be the man in this trio that Liverpool are targeting as their next central defender signing.


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