Patrick van Aanholt: A Liverpool Player In Waiting
Liverpool find themselves in a strange position at the moment.
With their first eleven and the most the supporting cast of the highest quality, their needs in the transfer market centre around finding adequate backup players and prospects for the future.
Perhaps the position most in need of bolstering in the market is the substitute left-back berth, more so than front three depth and a fourth choice centre-half.
As the clubs only senior left-sided full-back in a team who delegate the majority of their creative thrust to their full-backs, Andrew Robertson — who has laid on nine assists this season — is vitally important to the Reds’ trophy-winning ambitions.
With youngster Neco Williams — a natural winger, who has only just started to learn right back — trialed at left-back recently and fellow academy player Yasser Larouci demonstrably not of the level required, Liverpool are in need of quality back up to Robertson. With adequate competition, the Scotland captain could both be rested from time to time — a move that would lessen fatigue and prevent injuries — and be kept on his toes and not allowed to stagnate.
In the recent Merseyside derby draw at Goodison Park, the Reds — who rested Robertson — laboured to a 0-0 draw with James Milner starting at left-back. Milner is an intelligent player with impeccable positioning and he contributed well in the defensive sense, but Liverpool’s attack — which is predicated on the full-backs providing width — looked listless with a right-footed player in the left-back berth. The number 7, who cannot match the Scot for pace, kept having to check back inside onto his stronger right foot during attacks and this kills the momentum of moves and highlights why a left-footed left-back should be very high up the English Champions’ list of priorities this summer.
A player who would fit the bill for the Reds is Crystal Palace’s Dutch international left-back Patrick van Aanholt.
The 29-year-old is an academy product of Chelsea, where he only made two appearances in seven years, but was sent on loan — including stints at, among others, Newcastle United and Leicester City — six times during his stint at Stamford Bridge.
Finally, after what threatened to become a nomadic career, van Aanholt settled at Sunderland in 2014, spending three years with the Mackems before leaving, upon their relegation from the Premier League, to join Crystal Palace in the summer of 2017, a club he has been with ever since.
Going forward, the pacey left-footed Dutchman offers a live threat. This season, van Aanholt — who is adept in set-piece situations — has scored three Premier League goals and assisted twice, all the while completing 1.1 key passes and taking .9 shots per game. For context, Robertson — in a much more attacking team — posts a key pass number of 1.5.
Defensively, too, the former PSV youth player, is strong, averaging 1.4 tackles and 1.5 interceptions per game and contributing to a team who have kept 10 league clean sheets — with 14, shared between Alisson of Liverpool and Nick Pope of Burnley being the highest — this season. Van Aanholt’s defensive numbers are similar to Robertson’s, whose tackle stats are 1.6 per game as well as 1.1 interceptions, although Palace — as a deep sitting, counter-attacking team — face more attacks than the Reds, so, naturally, their players will have a higher amount of defensive actions.
When looked at in further context, van Aanholt’s defensive figures are all the more impressive, given the Dutchman of Curaçaoan origin shares the left flank with Wilfried Zaha at Selhurst Park. For all the Ivorian international’s obvious talents, he doesn’t contribute in a defensive sense to the same degree as Sadio Mane would at Liverpool and can this often leaves his van Aanholt exposed.
Going to the low block, defensively rigid system of Roy Hodgson to the high intensity, gegenpressing style of Jurgen Klopp would take some adjusting to, but playing on the same side of the defence as the vocal and dominant Virgil van Dijk — whose mere presence makes teams focus their attacks elsewhere and whose leadership qualities help guide team-mates through games — could help the Dutchman to adapt to a new approach. The Reds’ midfield is structured to allow the full-backs to attack relentlessly, with the engine room providing the necessary cover, and this is another element that could help the Crystal Palace number 3 settle in on the pitch at Anfield, if any hypothetical move was to take place.
Approaching the autumn of his career, van Aanholt may decide that staying in situ — where he plays weekly and is an important player — is the best approach, but a move to Liverpool — where he would team up with his international team-mates, van Dijk and Georginio Wijnaldum — may tempt the 29-year-old, given the experience of playing for a giant of world football and the far better likelihood of picking up medals at Anfield than at Selhurst Park.
Valued at close to £9,000,000 by Transfermarkt, van Aanholt would be a shrewd signing for Liverpool, buying them time to find and groom an eventual replacement for Robertson and not skimping on quality in reserve in the meantime.