Dejan Lovren brought down the curtain on his six-year stint with Liverpool when he joined Zenit St Petersburg last month.
Despite not being universally popular among the Reds fanbase, the Croatian international was nonetheless a player Jurgen Klopp regularly turned to — be it as a regular starter or as a rotational player — and he will need to be replaced ahead of the upcoming season.
Several players — including, Brighton’s Ben White, Schalke’s Ozan Kabak and Sevilla’s Diego Carlos — have been linked with a move to Anfield, but perhaps Liverpool’s search for their fourth centre half will lead them north of the border?
Rumours have recently begun to circulate that the reigning English Champions are interested in Celtic’s Norwegian international, Kristoffer Ajer.
The towering centre half — who stands at a cloud bothering 6’6″ — has been a regular starter for the Bhoys since the 2017/2018 season and has won admirers across the continent for his stylish ball-playing style and standout physical attributes.
Milan have regularly been mentioned as suitors for the 22-year old, but Liverpool — in need of another central defender to compliment Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk — could throw their hat into the ring for the former Kilmarnock loanee.
A proactive, intelligent defender the Norwegian would fit well into the style of play favoured by Klopp at Anfield.
In the Europa League last season — a better gauge to measure defenders coming from the Scottish division given how much more work they’re likely to do on the continent than domestically, given how much they dominate at home — he averaged 1.9 interceptions and 1.9 tackles per game.
On the ball, too, Ajer — a former attacking midfielder and central midfielder — excels and this is a prerequisite for a team like Liverpool who build their attacks from the back.
In Celtic’s opening two Scottish Premier League, their number 35 has contributed 1.3 key passes a game — passes that lead to shots — and successfully completed 91% of his attempted passes, many of which are ambitious and forward-thinking.
In a manner similar to van Dijk, Ajer — who averages 2.7 successful long balls in the SPL — likes to make long switches of play, in order to stretch low-block defenses and get his team on the front foot.
Chasing their tenth title in a row, the Parkhead side have been utterly dominant domestically for almost a decade and although Liverpool — who have only just won their first title in 30 years — haven’t been comparably as head and shoulders above the rest of the league, both clubs regularly face the same nullifying, defensive tactics from opposition.
Hypothetically, to sign a player like Ajer — who is used to playing in a dominant team, with the associated pressures and expectations — would fit what the Reds want and need in a centre-half; defensively robust but with the ball-playing abilities to be able to thrive in an attacking team.
Although Scotland is considered a weaker league than the English Championship and the German Bundesliga, Ajer takes the best attributes of White and Kabak — the defenders who have been most heavily linked with a move to Merseyside — and ties them all together into one package.
While White, who spent last season on loan at Leeds United, is a cultured footballing centre-half, he lacks the aerial dominance that the Reds should prioritize in their next defensive signing.
Any incoming, because of Gomez’ relative lack of aerial prowess — the Charlton academy alumni wins just over 60% of his aerial duels — should reign supreme in the air to avoid any scenario where injuries mean the Englishman is partnered at the back with another player who isn’t the strongest in the air.
Meanwhile, Kabak is solid aerially but not quite as composed or as technically polished on the ball than White nor Ajer.
The Norwegian international, however, boasts both of these traits in spades and over time — under the expert coaching eye of Klopp, Pepijn Lijnders and co — could iron out some of his deficiencies, such as an occasional lack of discipline, and fulfill the rich potential that saw him recently linked to Milan and Tottenham.
Valued at approximately £20,000,000, Ajer — a boyhood Liverpool fan, to sweeten the deal — could prove a solid acquisition for the Reds and follow in the footsteps of Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson and be a former SPL player excelling in the Merseysiders’ backline.