The centre-back question
Whether it’s this month or in the summer (most likely in the summer) the next phase in Jurgen Klopp’s rebuild project at Liverpool is to reassemble the defence.
Matip’s Future and Liverpool’s Need for a Reliable Centre-Back
Joel Matip’s contract expires at the end of the season, and the club would be smart to move on – no matter how impressive he has been this season. With his injury record and age – he has simply become unreliable.
Liverpool need a suitable replacement – someone Klopp can rely on in the future who can be a long-term candidate in the centre-back role.
Exploring Options: Leny Yoro and Others
There have been various names linked so far. Previously, I’ve covered Leny Yoro – a fantastic centre-back. However, as discussed on the Media Matters podcast – he is someone wanted by half of Europe. His price tag is expected to be hefty this summer.
Regardless, of his talent – Liverpool are not the type of team who are open to entering bidding wars.
A More Realistic Option: Ousmane Diomande
On the other hand, Ousmane Diomande, who according to the Daily Mail has impressed Liverpool scouts recently, could be a much more reasonable solution.
He does have a steep £70m release clause – but it’s understood Sporting CP would be open to negotiations. And while there has been some interest expressed in him – he is not as coveted as Yoro.
But he still ticks so many boxes for Liverpool. Only 20 years old, he’s almost a year younger than Jarell Quansah. Yet he’s made close to 40 appearances for Sporting CP’s first team and is already a full-fledged international footballer for the Ivory Coast.
Already with so much experience at such a young age makes him an attractive candidate.
Diomande’s Versatility and Potential Fit for Liverpool
Diomande was first snapped up by FC Midtjylland back in January 2022 from OS Abobo FC in the Ivory Coast. Back in his academy days he often played as a midfielder in his homeland – just like Ibrahima Konate at Paris FC.
He was actually used as a midfielder in a few youth games at FC Midtjylland during the early stages of his career at the club. He was also brought in as a midfielder in his second first-team appearance coming on in a friendly against Zenit.
Later, though at youth level he transitioned into a left-back and then played as a left-sided centre-back. Despite being right-footed, he is actually very comfortable with his left foot as well.
Once loaned out to Portuguese second-tier side, Mafra FC, Diomande settled into a right-sided centre-back role (although he still played in midfield even in Portugal) and still from time to time both at Mafra and then at Sporting has played as a left-sided centre-back as well.
Immediately, his versatility ticks a lot of boxes for Liverpool. Klopp after all doesn’t need a starting centre-back. But he needs someone like Matip, who can rotate and cover when necessary.
Diomande’s ability to have played in so many different positions since arriving in Europe just two years ago suggests he would be more than capable of fulfilling this role.
Diomande’s Defensive Skills and On-field Performance
Defensively, Liverpool’s pursuit of Diomande makes perfect sense.
As per Wyscout, this season, he averages the third-best defensive duels success rate among centre-backs in Liga NOS – winning 75% of his 5.15 defensive duels per 90. He also has the fourth-best aerial duel success rate among centre-backs winning 62.5% – a key metric for any Liverpool centre-back.
On top of that, he is relatively fast averaging 10.18 recoveries per 90 and he deals very well in one-on-one situations.
Perhaps a slight criticism of his defensive game would be the fact that at the moment he is more of a reactive defender rather than a proactive one. And that’s highlighted by the fact that among centre-backs in the league, he averages the fewest possession-adjusted interceptions at just 4.29 per 90.
Nonetheless, overall Diomande’s numbers are really solid – especially for a player who only just turned 20 years old a few weeks ago.
Diomande’s On-Ball Abilities
Being part of a dominant Sporting CP team means Diomande has a lot of the ball and he uses it effectively.
This season he has averaged the second most passes (61.68 per 90) among centre-backs in the league and out of centre-backs who have attempted at least 50 passes per 90 – Diomande has the best passing accuracy (92.94%). He also makes the fifth most forward passes (20.23 per 90) – and is good at instigating chances for his teammates – ranking in second among his positional peers for passes into the final third (7.91 per 90).
What is very Matip-esque about him is that he loves to run forward with the ball. Among centre-backs in the league, Diomande averages the second most dribbles (1.1 per 90) and the fourth most progressive runs (1.1 per 90). Impressively, the player who ranks above him for dribbles per 90 is Hevertton Santos – who has played most of his minutes as a full-back this season.
Concluding Thoughts: Diomande as a Promising Prospect
Simply put, Diomande is a gem both data-wise and both in terms of his profile. At 20 years old he has already been able to adapt to so many different challenges and positions since coming to Europe.
Already, he has established himself as one of the best young centre-backs in the Portuguese league – a competition which regularly supplies elite players not just for Liverpool but the rest of the Premier League.
Considering Sporting CP seem more open to negotiations for Diomande – as opposed to Lille who are already demanding more than £90m for Yoro – he seems like a more ‘realistic’ option for Liverpool.
Yet equally as exciting. A true under-the-radar gem – a little bit similar to what Dominik Szoboszlai was last summer.