The Centre-Back Question
Liverpool’s next agenda in the transfer market is expected to be a defender. For a long time now, it’s been evident that Jurgen Klopp needs a back-up option behind Virgil van Dijk.
Recently, Jarell Quansah has stepped into that role exceptionally well. But he is a right-footed defender, and is much more comfortable on the other side of the defence. Naturally, he could be the perfect replacement for when/if Joel Matip departs at the end of the season.
Meanwhile, on the left-side according to the latest reports, Liverpool may already be talking to an ideal summer transfer solution.
David Hancko Latest
There were murmurs of Liverpool being interested in David Hancko last summer. The interest wasn’t surprising. Hancko had just won the Eredivisie with Feyenoord and he was by far the best defender in the league.
Nothing has changed on that front this season either. The only exception, this time around is that we now have concrete links.
Speaking to Czech outlet, TN.cz, Branislav Jašurek – Hancko’s agent – revealed recently that Liverpool and PSG have both been in talks to sign his client ahead of the summer window. Although he also added, others have expressed an interest as well.
The Right Profile
Hancko turned 26-years-old just over a month ago. He is a little bit of on the older side in terms of the profile Liverpool normally target. However, the centre-back position is one of the few areas on the pitch where players can often play at a high-level for longer.
In terms of his overall build, Hancko is rather tall at 1.88 metres, and he’s got the speed and the strength to be able to step up into a more demanding league like the Premier League.
Over the last year and a half, he has dominated attackers in the Eredivisie, and has been a key part of Slovakia’s squad en route to Euro 2024 qualifying.
The Key Strengths
Last season Hancko had the best defensive duel success rate out of any centre-back in the Eredivisie. This season has been no exception – once again he is top for the metric winning 80.6% of his defensive duels as per Wyscout. The fact that he is topping the charts in this key defensive metric two years in a row speaks volumes of his consistency, but it’s also a marker that he’s outgrown the Eredivisie.
On top of his defensive ability, Hancko is also accomplished on the ball. He is part of a team in Feyenoord who keep a lot of possession, and Hancko uses the ball effectively.
He averages the most passes per 90 out of defenders in the league (82.8) and completes a hugely impressive 90.78% of them. On top of that, he also averages the third most forward passes per 90 (27.37). And he’s quite good at getting the ball into dangerous areas on the pitch – averaging 1.51 passes into the opposition’s penalty area per 90.
Being productive on the ball is a key role for a centre-back at Liverpool. Often teams will drop deep against Liverpool, which puts the onus on the centre-backs to create space in possession. The fact that Hancko has this experience at Feyenoord is a bonus.
Room to Improve
Of course, when you bring someone in from the Eredivisie to the Premier League there are risks that come with it. There is no denying there is a huge leap between the two divisions, and Hancko is far from a complete or finished article.
Sometimes he can dwell on the ball a little too long. He averages a high volume of dribbles per 90 (1.24) but his success rate is only 52.17% which is quite low. In the Premier League, he won’t have as much time on the ball and this could leave him even more vulnerable.
On top of that defensively, last season Hancko won 70.13% of his aerial duels – this was the best in the league among his positional rivals. However, this season he is only averaging a 52.73% success rate – which is a significant drop off. Over the course of his career, he’s averaged a 58.6% success rate overall – a little lower than a typical Liverpool centre-back.
Hancko is quick, and he is left-footed which makes him a rare commodity as a centre-back.
On top of that, he’s got a pretty spotless recent injury record – he hasn’t been injured in almost two years now – despite playing a lot of games for club and country in that time.
And to top it all off, he’s got plenty of experience playing as a left-back as well. He often plays in that position for the Slovakian national team, and previously played there a lot at club level for Sparta Prague and Zilina as well. Occasionally, he’s even been asked to play there for Feyenoord.
Someone with that much experience at left-back ticks yet another box for Klopp. He loves versatile players, and with Alexander-Arnold having made the inverted full-back his role recently – Hancko could be used in the left-back position to give Liverpool the option to go with a back three when Alexander-Arnold is on the ball.
Worth the Risk?
Considering the fact that Liverpool will have Ibrahima Konate, Quansah, Van Dijk and Gomez to play centre-back even if Matip leaves – Klopp won’t necessarily need a first choice defender this summer.
However, a squad player like Hancko could come in handy. He’s definitely got areas that still need be to chiselled out and perfected. But he will come at a relatively low price, and with a lot of experience.
What Liverpool need more than anything in the summer is the equivalent of Joe Gomez (someone who can play centre-back and full-back) on the left side and Hancko is exactly that – a two in one.