To a casual observer, Steven Caulker’s six-month loan move to Liverpool in January 2016 represented the most bizarre of transfers.
It’s very rare that top-six Premier League teams actually bring players in on loan, rather than sending them away, especially from a team – Queens Park Rangers in this case – floundering in the Championship.
However, the deal made some sort of sense when the context was added.
Caulker, a phoenix from the ashes
With Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren starting at weeks out with hamstring issues, Mamadou Sakho battling a knee problem, Jurgen Klopp had one fit senior centre-back for a game against Arsenal – Kolo Toure.
The Ivorian himself hadn’t shaken off cramp to feature against Exeter City in the FA Cup days earlier, Jose Enrique captaining a makeshift Liverpool side in the heart of defence alongside Tiago Ilori, the latter having been recalled from a loan himself at Aston Villa.
Looking at seven games within 24 days, Caulker was drafted in. He proved useful, an aerial threat that aided Joe Allen’s last-minute equaliser in that fixture against Arsenal after coming off the bench, with Klopp using him again as a substitute striker in the dying minutes of fixtures against Manchester United and Norwich City.
It worked once more for the Norwich game, Caulker wreaking havoc in the box as the ball fell for Adam Lallana to score a 95th-minute winner. His solitary start for the club came at home to West Ham in the FA Cup, a 0-0 draw.
Will January 2019 offer a repeat of 2016?
Whilst Caulker didn’t pull up any trees for the Reds he did offer extra defensive cover at a time when it was desperately needed. With Joe Gomez and Joel Matip sidelined until mid-January at least does the summer sale of Ragnar Klavan leave Klopp needing another Caulker this time around?
Virgil van Dijk can’t be expected to play every game, with fans and players alike well aware that any sort of serious injury to the Dutchman would be disastrous for Liverpool’s season. Dejan Lovren, the only other fit centre-back at present, has already suffered four different injuries this season, per PhysioRoom.
Should one of those two hit the deck against Wolves on Friday, or Newcastle on Boxing Day, who slots in? Fabinho and Andy Robertson both have limited experience of centre-back roles, albeit in a back three, but would have to be taken out of position’s they’re currently excelling in to start alongside Van Dijk or Lovren.
Even for Mr Versatile James Milner, centre-back may be one position too far, whilst Jordan Henderson has shown little evidence of having the ability to drop into central defence despite moving to a holding role in recent years.
In terms of defenders currently struggling for minutes, neither Alberto Moreno nor Nathaniel Clyne hold cases for being moved into the middle of the defence.
You could look to the U21’s, Nat Phillips in particular after he deputised in pre-season, although you’d imagine if Klopp was considering the 21-year-old for a first-team role he’d have had him on the bench against Manchester United on Sunday.
Head scratching required to pluck a name out
So, another Caulker? Who could Liverpool get in on loan, for the short term?
Whilst a long-term signing would be preferred, such moves are scarcely made by Klopp in January, with it also difficult for any new defensive signing to look at the reasoning for their move to be anything other than out of desperation.
Considering that, the Reds may have to look to the experienced outcasts, such as they did with Caulker in 2016.
Thomas Vermaelen remains kicking his heels (and those dodgy ankles) at Barcelona, whilst Jose Fonte is at Lille after his China experiment went wrong. Both pretty grim suggestions, eh? Well, so was Caulker in all honesty.
However, occasionally needs must.
All this could have been avoided had Liverpool persuaded King of Estonia, Ragnar Klavan, to stay for an extra year.