If you need proof that Jürgen Klopp can be as ruthless as any other manager, just ask Mamadou Sakho. The French defender became a cult figure amongst large sections of the Liverpool fan base with some heroic performances, particularly in the run to the Europa League final. Despite looking ungainly, he is very effective on the ball and this, coupled with his defensive ability put him in pole position to be a cornerstone of Liverpool’s defence going forward. However, he was sent back from the USA pre-season tour for disciplinary issues and social media posts since then have not helped his cause. Rumours recently began circulating that the club are ready to offload him in January, after he turned down offers to go out on loan before the summer transfer window closed.
If, as seems likely, Sakho does depart in January, a new centre-back to bolster a squad lacking in competition in defensive areas is a distinct possibility. But, who can the club look to as a viable option? Here’s two outstanding, young candidates that I feel would fit the bill, should the club decide to be bring in a replacement for Sakho and bolster an area of the squad that needs increased competition for what is looking like a potentially exciting campaign.
Strong and aggressive, but quick and elegant, Jonathan Tah is the archetypal modern centre-back. Physically imposing, Tah is an impressive specimen to look at and even more so to watch in action. Although only 20 years old, Tah seems to have been around for quite some time, such was his promise at a very early age and he also plays like a defender beyond his years. Incredibly, despite his talent and enormous promise, a struggling Hamburger SV rarely used him and even sent him out on loan to Fortuna Düsseldorf for a season before selling him to Bayer Leverkusen. Since his move to Leverkusen in the summer of 2015, where he signed a five year contract, he has established himself as a first choice centre-back for a club that likes to play quick, attacking football.
Tah fully utilises his physique when battling opponents, he simply will not be bullied off the ball, a trait that surely points toward him being suited for Premier League football. However, he is not just about height, strength and speed, his aggression to win the ball is matched by his positivity in looking to use it when he wins it. This inclination to defend from the front foot is likely to be what has endeared him to Liverpool scouts and has seen him come into the Germany international squad. Jürgen Klopp is reportedly tracking him and will doubtless like the fact that he is comfortable playing either side of a central defensive partnership and not restrained by being right footed. The German influence on the squad would be an important factor in attracting such a promising player who has all the attributes to be a good fit for the future.
Niklas Süle is a name many will be familiar with; the young central defender caught the eye, not just for his height, even when Hoffenheim were struggling. Under new coach Julian Nagelsmann, Süle is quickly fulfilling his potential and has demonstrated real maturity in a Hoffenheim side that have started the season brilliantly, keeping pace with Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga. It’s no surprise that Süle’s impressive displays have caught the eye of Bayern, though they already have a partnership of Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, so Süle would have his progress blocked there. His contract at Hoffenheim expires in 2019, so with attention coming his way, January could be the ideal opportunity to secure his services. According to his agent, Süle turned down a €30m move to Chelsea in the summer, to continue his progression at Hoffenheim. A brave decision from such a young player, but perhaps also an indication of his self-belief and confidence, fully aware that other clubs are watching and not wanting to move unless assured he will be playing first team football.
His height and strength, that gives him a commanding presence at the back, also lends itself to him being a threat attacking set pieces too. Although right footed, he is equally comfortable as the left or right sided central defensive pairing. His awareness, good reading of the ball and calmness in possession will draw similarities to Joel Matip and Jürgen Klopp is a known admirer of the 21 year old German centre-back who has recently made his international debut. His attributes and potential would make him a natural fit for Liverpool and who knows? Maybe former team-mate Roberto Firmino could put in a good word!