Cut Price Left Backs to Improve Liverpool
With the highly-publicized courtship of both Naby Keita and Virgil van Dijk taking precedence after wrapping up the signing of Mohamed Salah, Liverpool’s efforts to sign a left back appear to have been put on the backburner.
After intermittent links to the seemingly Manchester City bound Benjamin Mendy dissipated, the Reds haven’t had their interest in any left back, high profile or otherwise, appear in the media. Without a bottomless pit of cash to work with, Liverpool- assuming they pay the rumoured fees both Southampton and Red Bull Leipzig want for Virgil van Dijk and Naby Keita respectively- may have to search for a modestly priced left back. Despite a decent start to life as a left back and the guaranteed honesty of industry he will provide, James Milner struggled badly towards the end of the season and there cannot be a scenario where Liverpool start a Champions League campaign with a 31 year old midfielder starting as their left back.
Clearly, Alberto Moreno doesn’t hold the trust of Jurgen Klopp- spending an entire season, despite being a natural left back, behind James Milner in the pecking order- and there is a palpable degree of certainty among journalists connected to the club that Moreno will leave Liverpool this summer. Without any academy prospect’s ready to step into the void in the near future, and the struggles of the aforementioned Moreno and Milner, it is clear that Liverpool will need to address their issues at left back this summer and I will list three options that could improve the Reds and won’t necessarily break the bank.
The Scottish capped Hull defender may not be the most spectacular name or style of player, but the 23 year old Glaswegian could both value and efficiency for Liverpool. Hull’s relegation from the Premier League could mean Robertson is available at a cut-price fee, rumoured to be in the region of £8M, and that represents low risk and potentially a high upside for Liverpool.
A steady player, Robertson is neither spectacular going forward nor a defensive calamity and has a rounded game. For much of his time at The KC Stadium, the former Dundee player has played as a left wing back ahead of a back three and that should translate well to Liverpool who, despite playing with a back two rather than three, play their full backs extremely high; nearly as wingers.
Given the wealth of attacking talent Liverpool possess infield, even holding the width on the left hand side, which the naturally left footed Robertson would do, would stretch opposition teams and Robertson could be a useful conduit to Firmino, Coutinho, Salah and Mane, without even touching the ball; creating the space for them to thrive in. As proven by Steve Finnan, full backs do not have to be spectacular for them to be effective.
A diminutive player, standing at just 5’6, Jose Gaya compensates with an aggression and tenacity, on and off the ball, that Jurgen Klopp would be sure to admire. Gaya’s promise was clear from an early stage and, after converting from playing as a striker, he made his Valencia debut aged just 17.
Now 22, Gaya is young enough to polish and improve as a player but also has enough experience to come into Liverpool’s team and make an immediate impact. Similar to his compatriot, Alberto Moreno, Gaya is blessed with tremendous speed and acceleration but the Valencia academy product trumps Moreno when it comes to defensive positioning and reasoning. Hypothetically, Virgil van Dijk joining Liverpool- as well as Emre Can sitting deep in midfield, should solidify the left-hand side of Liverpool’s defence and this would allow Gaya the licence to play his natural game without hampering the team’s solidity.
Signing a new deal in May 2015 that tied to The Mestalla until 2020, Gaya has a €50M release clause, but, given Valencia’s well established financial issues, the Spanish youth international may be available at a cheaper price.
With Sadio Mane expected to be play off the left to accommodate Mohamed Salah on the right next season, Gaya could strike up a formidable rapport with the Senegalese winger on the left-hand side, exploiting and driving into the space that Mane’s movement would create.
Tentatively linked to Liverpool, in a move that could potentially see Alberto Moreno swap Liverpool for Naples, Napoli’s Algerian left back Faouzi Ghoulam would represent a clever piece of business from Liverpool.
Physically imposing, standing at 6’1, and boasting a turn of pace Ghoulam has tremendous athletic qualities. Formerly of St Etienne, Ghoulam moved to Napoli in 2014 to work under former Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez. In Italy, the 35 times capped Algerian has gone from strength to strength and is one of Serie A’s stand out left backs.
Playing in a quick paced, ultra-attacking system at Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli, Ghoulam’s adaptation to Liverpool’s tactical blueprint- which is very similar to Napoli’s- should be seamless. He may have shades of Alberto Moreno when it comes to concentration levels, but Ghoulam is strong one versus one and his recovery pace and physicality still make him a more than capable defender. Comfortable on the ball and athletically prominent, the Algerian would enhance Liverpool’s already deadly attack.
Coming into the last year of his Napoli deal, there could be an opportunity to sign Ghoulam at a knockdown fee for Liverpool, with the only real reservations about his signing being that- like Mane, Salah and, all going well, Naby Keita- Ghoulam would miss a chunk of Liverpool’s season through the AFCON.