Why expectations should be tempered for Ozan Kabak

The deadline day signing of Ozan Kabak came as a massive relief to a Liverpool side that has suffered an extraordinary amount of injuries to the backline.

Liverpool signed Kabak from Schalke on loan, with an option to buy permanently for ₤18 million (rising to ₤26.5 million in add-ons). Liverpool had demonstrated interest in the Turkish defender for well over a year, finally signing him in the final hours of the transfer window.

Kabak has appeared four times thus far for the Reds with mixed results. His lack of chemistry was put on full display in his debut against Leicester City, as a miscommunication between him and Alisson led to Jamie Vardy’s winning goal.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 13: Ozan Kabak of Liverpool reacts after his team concede a second goal during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool at The King Power Stadium on February 13, 2021 in Leicester, England. PHOTO BY MICHAEL REGAN/GETTY IMAGES

To his credit, Kabak responded well in a 2-0 away victory against RB Leipzig. His more recent outings against Everton and Sheffield United have been slightly more consistent, but mistakes persist.

Due to Liverpool’s defensive injury crisis, the pressure will continue to mount on the former Bundesliga player. Here’s why Liverpool fans shouldn’t expect Kabak to fulfil his full potential from the get-go:

Remember, he’s just 20

With all the weight on Kabak’s shoulders, it’s hard to remember that he was born in this century. At just twenty years old, Kabak lacks the experience needed to really star in the Premier League.

Granted, Kabak boasts quite a bit of experience for his age. Between the Turkish Super Lig, the Bundesliga, and now the Premier League, Kabak has made 71 senior appearances.

However, gaining experience depends not only on quantity but also quality. Playing on lower to mid-tier sides in Turkey and Germany can only prepare you so much for playing for one of the top sides in the world in England.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY – FEBRUARY 16: Yussuf Poulsen of RB Leipzig and Ozan Kabak of Liverpool battle for possession during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match between RB Leipzig and Liverpool FC at Puskas Arena on February 16, 2021 in Budapest, Hungary. PHOTO BY LASZLO SZIRTESI/GETTY IMAGES.

And the youthfulness has shown thus far in Kabak’s few appearances for Liverpool. While his athleticism and passing range have impressed, he has too often been caught ball-watching and miscommunicating with teammates.

It’s not to say that any of this is uncorrectable. Kabak will just need some time to iron out the mistakes.

So many injuries = no chemistry

Any new player needs time to gel with his new teammates. However, this transition period becomes exponentially more difficult when you don’t have the same partners around you from game to game.

If Kabak was consistently partnered by the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, or Joel Matip, he would be in a better position to learn the Liverpool defence. However, none of them are available.

Instead, Kabak has played alongside the inexperienced Nat Phillips and the out-of-position Jordan Henderson. Fabinho and Ben Davies could soon join the list.

KIRKBY, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 02: (THE SUN OUT, THE SUN ON SUNDAY OUT) Ozan Kabak new signing of Liverpool at AXA Training Centre on February 02, 2021 in Kirkby, England. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY ANDREW POWELL/LIVERPOOL FC VIA GETTY IMAGES.

None of them are the ideal centre-back partners for a new player, considering they’re all also learning themselves. Even the leader from the back, Alisson, has been missing recently due to the passing of his father.

Moving to a new country and league leads to massive instability. Unfortunately for Kabak, injuries will mean that this instability will probably continue on the field.

Adjusting to the change of scenery

Think of yourself in your late teens. You may have just moved out from home, gone to uni, started a new job, or something of the sort. The lifestyle change throws us all in a whirlwind for a bit.

The same holds for Kabak. Kabak grew up in Turkey, moved to Germany at 17, and is now moving to England at 20. Three different countries, languages, and cultures in three years.

The adjustment will begin off-the-field, learning the ins and outs of the city, the Scouse vocabulary, etc. This transition will then continue on the field, as he gets used to the physicality and speed of play in the Premier League.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 20: Richarlison of Everton scores his team’s first goal whilst under pressure from Ozan Kabak of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield on February 20, 2021 in Liverpool, England. PHOTO BY PHIL NOBLE – POOL/GETTY IMAGES.

Kabak will now realize that every game is a battle. Whether it’s a hotly contested match against Man City or a physical battle against Burnley, every team presents a threat. Kabak will be thrown into this situation sooner than he’d like.

Moving to a winning side

The other difficult adjustment for Kabak will be the promotion from a relegation-bound Schalke to a title-aspiring Liverpool.

Before his departure, Schalke were the basement dwellers of the Bundesliga, sitting comfortably in last place. Kabak wasn’t totally immune to error, but the faults in that team were so much deeper than any individual.

Therefore, Kabak wasn’t faced with the same pressure that he will at Liverpool. For Schalke, any result was seen as a positive one given their position in the table.

KIRKBY, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 05: (THE SUN OUT, THE SUN ON SUNDAY OUT) Ozan Kabak, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson of Liverpool during a training session at AXA Training Centre on February 05, 2021 in Kirkby, England. PHOTO BY ANDREW POWELL/LIVERPOOL FC VIA GETTY IMAGES.

However, Kabak now enters a scenario where a victory is expected every game. This means that every game, every play, and every movement will be magnified.

Can Kabak deal with this added pressure?

Adjusting to Liverpool’s attacking playing style

Another adjustment that Kabak will be forced to endure is gaining an understanding of Jurgen Klopp’s defensive style.

Liverpool notoriously play a high line, looking to congest the middle of the field as much as possible. They also prefer to push the fullbacks high in attack, increasing the defensive responsibilities of the centre-backs.

This requires split-second decision-making, frequent communication, and mental fortitude.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY – FEBRUARY 16: Ozan Kabak of Liverpool looks to control the ball as Angelino of RB Leipzig looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match between RB Leipzig and Liverpool FC at Puskas Arena on February 16, 2021 in Budapest, Hungary. PHOTO BY LASZLO SZIRTESI/GETTY IMAGES.

Kabak comes from a side that very much defended in a low block. He will soon realize that he won’t be quite as protected as he was in Schalke and will have to defend more smartly and instinctually.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned lack of chemistry won’t help. It will require a real bit of coaching from Klopp to engrain the system into Kabak as soon as possible.

Ahmed Mohamedhttp://www.premierleaguecentral.co.uk
Staff writer for Anfield Central and Premier League Central.


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