Last season, Liverpool's defense leaked like a sieve. This season, with the departures of Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel, as well as the fresh injuries to Mamadou Sakho and Joe Gomez, Jurgen Klopp must shore up his defense while also replenishing his supply of ailing center-backs. Enter Ragnar Klavan, the FC Augsburg defender who is being brought in to provide options and bring reliability to the Reds' back line.
Central Defender | FC Augsburg
DOB: 10/30/85 (30) | Height: 6’0" (1.85 meters)
2015-16: 40 appearances
Three-time Estonian Player of the Year Ragnar Klavan is a strong, powerful center-back with an eye for a solid tackle, who will provide Liverpool with stability, professionalism, and experience at the back.
The 30-year-old is the captain of the Estonian National Team and has racked up over 100 caps since his first in 2003. Some have compared his signing to Brendan Rodgers knicking Kolo Toure from Manchester City on a free back in 2013. While Klavan lacks Toure's winning pedigree and years of Premier League experience, what they have in common is that they both bring with them over a decade of solid, proven work in defense.
Klavan played in both legs of the Europa League Round of 32 tie that saw Liverpool score only one goal over 180 minutes. Few would have guessed while watching that game that the central defender would likely be wearing Liverpool red the next season. Though somewhat forgotten after the difficult and narrative-filled ties that came after it, Augsburg were Liverpool's toughest challenge in the knock out stage of that tournament. It wasn't pretty, but if it weren't for a fortuitous handball in the area that led to a penalty, Augsburg would have held Liverpool to two straight goalless draws after regular time, and Klavan's work anchoring the German club's defense was a big part of that.
And speaking of his defense, Klavan is a left-footed center-back who also has experience playing as a left-back in a pinch -- be-still my heart. This versatility would surely have been noted by Klopp as he and the transfer committee continue their search for another left-back to challenge Alberto Moreno. Though he's cemented his position in the back since 2009, Klavan originally began his career in the midfield. He has technical ability and knows what to do with the ball at his feet. His 85% passing accuracy in the Bundesliga last season was the best of any Augsburg player. And we all know that Klopp loves himself a tidy passer.
He is remarkably reliable, having played at least 30 games for Augsburg in each of the four seasons he's been with the club. In 2014-2015, he played every minute of every Augsburg match in the Bundesliga. With the way that Liverpool's central defenders tend to drop like flies, and with Joel Matip likely missing a month of action due to the African Cup of Nations, having a steady and seasoned veteran to rely on will be a huge boon to Klopp's team.
He's also remarkably professional. Last season in the Bundesliga, despite making 31 appearances, Klavan was only booked two times. His patience and intelligence in the tackle will be a good example to the young Joe Gomez and the occasionally rash Dejan Lovren.
He'll be 31-years-old this season, and while that's not exactly over the hill, it's pretty clear that Klavan has been brought in as a stop-gap while Klopp works on his defense. Had Sakho and Gomez remained healthy, it would be unlikely that Klavan would have pinged Klopp's radar. And while he's remained quite fit over his career, Liverpool's back line requires consistent fitness in the face of the multitudes of ACL and Achilles injuries that their other players seem to be constantly plagued by, something Klavan's aging legs may not be able to provide.
Klavan is also a player who is used to being the backbone of any team he's played on, be it AZ Alkmaar, Augsburg or Estonia, for the last six seasons. Barring serious long-term injuries to any of the players or some breakout performances on the pitch, he's unlikely to see those kinds of minutes for Liverpool. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to that shift in his role within the squad.
On his previous teams, Klavan was used to defending deeper and absorbing pressure. He may have trouble adapting to Klopp's more attacking style of play and higher defensive line. Along with this comes slight concerns over his lack of pace and ability to quickly and efficiently switch play when the situation call for it.
For the rumored fee of only £4.2 million, Klavan should provide decent coverage to the back line and at a price that makes him a very low-risk investment. His style of play isn't flashy but it gets the job done and may even be a good complement to Liverpool's more silky and attack-minded defenders. In the dog days of winter, he may prove himself invaluable when the games start piling on.