When Liverpool entered 2020/21 with only three senior center-backs on the books, it was a gamble. Dejan Lovren was allowed to leave the club last summer, leaving the Reds with Joe Gomez, Joël Matip and Virgil van Dijk at the back.
As you don’t have to remember, the gamble didn’t pay off: Two of the trio suffered long-term injuries. Fabinho, Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams have turned out to be capable alternates, but Kopites will urge the club to sign a new top defender when the transfer window reopens in five weeks.
And there is every chance they can. After all, the club’s success is built on a foundation of long-term planning, with transfer goals set and thoroughly analyzed, rather than being plucked from the little black book of a fashionable agent’s clients. Michael Edwards and the analytics team will no doubt have a list of possible transfer options for each position on the field.
However, it’s also important to remember that they also got it right by occasionally thinking outside the box when putting the current team together. Gini Wijnaldum was an attacking midfielder at PSV Eindhoven and Newcastle United – and remains so in international football – but has become a central midfielder with the Reds. He rarely creates a chance, but also rarely gives possession, and his game has changed at Liverpool.
We’re seeing another position change this season, with Fabinho playing games as a center-back when he’s a defensive midfielder by nature. So this shift for the Brazilian raises an interesting question, and one that seems increasingly relevant as more time passes without Wijnaldum signing a new contract with the club.
Should Liverpool sign a new center-back? Most people would answer in the affirmative. Or should they sign a central midfielder and finalize Fabinho’s move to central defense?
The answers to this may not be clear from the fans of the Reds, but no one can deny that Fabinho has played well in the center-back, and Liverpool have yet to get an open goal in the league or in Europe. if he did.
Besides, the Reds love to sign players with positional flexibility, so how about signing another midfielder who could also step in as a center-back? Declan Rice is one such player, and he will certainly be looking to move to a bigger club soon.
He has another asset that undoubtedly fetishizes the Liverpool transfer team: sustainability. It may not feel like it right now, but the Reds are always trying to sign players who don’t tend to miss many games due to injury, and Rice certainly ticks that. He, George Baldock, Harry Maguire and James Ward-Prowse are the only fielders to have played every possible Premier League minute since the start of 2019/20, which is no mean feat.
And Rice certainly has the ability and stamina to play for a Jürgen Klopp team. Only six players tried to exert more pressure in the Premier League last season ( for FBRef ), and while some of that was down to him playing every week, his mark of 21.6 per 90 minutes was essentially identical to Jordan Henderson’s average of 21.4.
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Rice’s ball-winning skills are exemplary – he was in the top three of the top players last season for both tackles and interceptions – and he can also get the ball onto the field. While not the most frequent dribbler, he has the highest success rate of any player who has tried in the Premier League at least fourteen times this season.
Rice’s dribbling success and the number of yards he carries the ball to the opponent’s goal have improved year after year, so it’s an evolving but still underestimated aspect of his game. Add to that his positioning power and the 21-year-old England international could prove to be just the kind of player Liverpool are looking for.