After the sale of Dejan Lovren to Zenit St Petersburg, Liverpool have been linked with several defenders to replace the Croat in their squad.
Aissa Mandi, Ben White and Ozan Kabak have all been suggested as potential targets for the Anfield club with the expectation that the Reds will fill the Lovren, back up centre half void in the transfer market and not by promoting youth and letting Nat Phillips, Ki-Jana Hoever and Sepp Van Den Berg cut their teeth.
For all of the former Southampton players flaws, mostly surrounding concentration and positioning, Lovren possessed an attribute — aerial dominance — that Liverpool will need to find in whoever they sign to replace him.
During his Anfield stint, the Croatian international averaged an aerial duel success rate of 67.5% and Jurgen Klopp often seemed to turn to the 31-year-old when facing opposition with a burly centre-forward.
For context, Virgil van Dijk — among the most dominant defenders in the world — has won some 80.4% of his headers since his move to the Premier League from Celtic in 2015. Similarly, Joel Matip — who was recently linked to Paris Saint Germain — has won 77.2% of his clashes in the air since he joined the Reds on a free transfer from Schalke in the summer of 2016.
That takes us to Joe Gomez, the outlier in the Liverpool centre half picture. Intelligent, positionally sharp and boasting an incisive passing game, the England international is a brilliant prospect and, at 22 years old, is remarkably developed for a defender of his age.
However, as a former full-back, the only area of Gomez’ skill-set that can be considered weak is his ability in the air. During his career at Anfield to date, the former Charlton academy product has only won 60% of his headers.
Beside van Dijk or Matip — and with the lanky Fabinho also lending his help — G0mez’ lack of aerial prowess is not a problem, but to guard against a scenario where the Dutchman and the Cameroonian are injured — *touches all the wood available* — the Londoner will have to — in order to shore up the team against long balls and from set-pieces — play beside another dominant defender.
With their claustrophobic pressing game and their well-drilled ability to cut off passing lanes and smother opponents, most teams — not having the capability to hurt Liverpool between the lines — play directly against the Reds and try to manoeuvre over and not through the English Champions’ press.
To counteract this approach, Liverpool will need three dominant centre-halves in the air to complement Gomez and mitigate his lack of aerial dominance, given the chance of injuries and the fact that the Englishman — when fit — will play often.
When assessing all three of Mandi, White and Kabak, there is one clear winner in terms of aerial capability and that is Schalke’s Turkish international.
In his two seasons in the Bundesliga — the first with Stuttgart and then, last season, with Schalke — the former Galatasaray stopper has averaged a 71.7% aerial duel success rate. This aggression and aerial capacity sees Kabak well ahead of the other rumoured Liverpool transfer targets.
Mandi, the 28-year-old Algerian centre half at Real Betis has only won just over half of his headers — 56% — over the last three seasons in La Liga. Given his age and the fact he stands just 6’0″, it is hard to envision Mandi improving sufficiently to give Liverpool what they need and the Reds would be better served swerving a move for the former Reims man.
White, who has so impressed under Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds, scores the worst of the trio in the aerial success rate metric; winning only 52% of his aerial duels.
Positionally strong, boasting a keen eye for interceptions and — in the mould of Gomez — progressive on the ball, the Brighton owned defender is an impressive prospect. But his lack of aerial superiority should be a deterrent to Liverpool chasing his signature, as well as the fact that The Seagulls will reportedly demand up to £40,000,000 for a player with no Premier League experience.
From the players linked with a move to Liverpool to replace Lovren, Kabak — who could be available, per reports, for approximately £20,000,000 — is the best suited.
All statistics for this article were sourced www.fbref.com and www.sofascore.com