Will Klopp find his new fourth-choice centre-back in the Academy?

When Dejan Lovren left Liverpool a few weeks ago, it was widely expected that the club would sign a new fourth-choice centre-back.

Even with Lovren at the club, the likes of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson had to play out of position and fill in there at points last campaign.

Any fourth-choice central defender for Liverpool will play a decent amount of games. Lovren himself made 10 Premier League appearances in 2019/20.

Both Joe Gomez and Joel Matip have proved that they are incredibly injury prone.

This means that they are more than likely to miss a decent number of matches next season too, meaning Virgil van Dijk will probably be the only fit out-and-out centre-back at the club at some stage.

Unless Fabinho is once again used there, Liverpool are going to need to find another central defender.

Will the Reds sign a centre-back?

Kabak
20-year-old Ozan Kabak had an outstanding 2019/20 and has been linked to Klopp’s side. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY IMAGO IMAGES/RHR-FOTO.

Usually, Liverpool like to get in and get business done very quickly and efficiently. Signings are often made before the start of pre-season, so the players can have the summer to bed-in with his new team.

Yet summer 2020 is unlike any other year in history, for obvious reasons.

The club only had two weeks between the season’s end and the beginning of pre-season. So signings could still be made. The likes of Ozan Kabak and Ben White have been linked.

However, another problem brought on by the pandemic is a lack of funds.

Do the club really want to go spend big on someone who will play such few games a season when there are needs elsewhere?

Yes, you never know how serious Gomez or Matip’s next injury will be. But it is possible that they won’t miss much football next season, so spending big on a new signing could be completely unnecessary.

They seem uninterested in free transfers like Malang Sarr and Thiago Silva, who is on his way to Chelsea.

Perhaps there is still time to add a new player, but it seems increasingly unlikely.

Academy centre-back prospects

Dutch duo Sepp van den Berg and Ki-Jana Hoever have both played senior football, but not consistently at the top level. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY REDMEN FAMILY GERMANY.

Jurgen Klopp may instead look to utilize some defenders already at his disposal.

There are four promising academy prospects that could potentially share the fourth-choice centre-back role next season.

Namely Nat Phillips, Sepp van Den Berg, Ki-Jana Hoever and Billy Koumetio.

None of these four are top players as of now, although they could be in future. In fact, none of them are even on Lovren’s level yet.

They may get found out if they had to play a string of games in a row, but in a one-off game, is there any reason that Klopp shouldn’t trust one of them?

Is there really much that a Dejan Lovren or a Ragnar Klavan can do that a Nat Phillips cannot?

Liverpool could well be better off saving their money and just promoting one of the kids.

Pre-season games against Stuttgart last Saturday and RB Salzburg on Tuesday may be used to decide which Reds youngster will make the step-up and become a first-team regular next season.

But which player is the closest to making the next step?

Nat Phillips

Nat Phillips played well for Stuttgart, but may not be at Premier League level just yet. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY FOTMOB.

23-year-old Nat Phillips may be the safest option.

This is due to the fact that he is the oldest of the quartet, as well as the most experienced in the senior game.

He spent 2019/20 on loan at Stuttgart in the German second tier, where he helped them secure promotion to the Bundesliga.

Bolton-born Phillips started 16 games with a further three sub appearances.

He was brought back in January to help the Reds beat Everton, before returning to Germany for the second half of the season.

His loan spell was solid, but he suffered from heavy rotation between central defenders at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.

He was in the middle of his best spell when he was recalled by Liverpool and also looked very good for a period pre-lockdown.

He will most likely never be good enough to become a regular for Liverpool. Yet he could potentially do a job for a season or two as a deputy.

Phillips told LiverpoolFC.com that his future is undecided, but the management will assess him throughout pre-season.

He was solid enough against his former loan side on Tuesday, so perhaps the Salzburg game will determine his future.

Sepp van den Berg

Sepp van den Berg should still become a fine centre-half – but, crucially, he isn’t there yet. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY SKY SPORTS.

From the most likely candidate to replace Lovren to possibly the least likely.

On paper, Sepp van den Berg should be well capable of filling the void left by the Croatian. He has played 22 times in the top flight in his native Holland, despite being just 17 when he signed for Liverpool last year.

He was one of the most promising teenage defenders on earth, and the Reds moved quickly to snap him up ahead of Ajax.

It was very intelligent recruitment, as he performed remarkably in a good league at an incredibly young age.

Yet his first year on Merseyside has been a poor one.

Joined up with the U23 side upon arrival, he was expected to be one of the best players in Premier League 2.

But he has not lived up to the hype, looking surprisingly unsure of himself throughout the season.

The same can be said of his performances for the first team – he was poor in the 5-5 League Cup draw with Arsenal and looked like a bag of nerves against Stuttgart on Saturday, making numerous poor passes before being replaced by Koumetio.

Sepp van den Berg still has all the tools be a star of the future but is not ready just yet.

Ki-Jana Hoever

Hoever scored his first senior goal with a great header against MK Dons in the EFL Cup in September 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY THE INDEPENDENT.

The hype around Ki-Jana Hoever has existed for some time now.

He made his Liverpool debut at just 16 against Wolves in the FA Cup in January 2019, coming on for the injured Lovren after just six minutes.

A 16-year-old playing centre-back for a Premier League team against strong opposition is almost unheard of. Yet Hoever more than held his own.

Since then, he has made great progress with the u23’s and with the Holland youth sides.

He is a cool head with good pace and great ability on the ball. He also seems to have hit a growth spurt, coming back for pre-season noticeably taller.

In short, he already appears to be the perfect centre-back, albeit he still needs to fill out a bit.

One thing that may hold him back is the fact that he is splitting his time on the pitch between right-back and centre-back.

His attributes mean he is good in both positions. However, the bigger he gets, the more suited he will be to playing in the middle.

There is also the fact that Trent Alexander-Arnold and Neco Williams are ahead of him at right-back. Sticking at centre-back should be the best way to ensure a future at Anfield.

The now 18-year-old seems calm and intelligent beyond his years. Jurgen Klopp should be able to rely on him to play a few games here and there.

Especially if he plays beside his countryman Virgil van Dijk, who will no doubt be a great teacher.

Billy Koumetio

The final, and maybe even the most exciting candidate to step up from the academy and become Liverpool’s fourth-choice centre-back is 17-year-old Billy Koumetio.

The Frenchman was a part of the u19 squad in 2019/20. Yet he is part of the first-team camp in Austria as they prepare for the new season.

From watching his 22-minute cameo against Stuttgart, it is easy to see why he has travelled.

He is said to be 195cm tall, but he has undoubtedly grown since this was recorded.

Van den Berg is tall but quite lanky and fairly light.

Koumetio has the height but has already filled out. He looks like a man-mountain, despite still being a child in the eyes of the law.

This was evident against the German side, as he rose above everyone to clear numerous corners.

All of his defensive actions were superb, but equally impressive was his ability on the ball.

He is left-footed but played some lovely long balls with both feet. One line-breaking pass with his right foot to Kostas Tsimikas was the most impressive of the lot.

Yes, this was only one very short appearance so there is no reason to get too excited. But the fact that he even travelled with the first-team shows that he is held in high regard by Jurgen Klopp and his staff.

It may be a surprise, but Billy Koumetio could be the best-suited academy centre-back to fill the void left by Dejan Lovren.

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