The Premier League season is barely a week away, and with a tough start to the season, key defensive signings are unlikely to feature against Arsène Wenger's Arsenal on the opening day. Loris Karius is set to return sometime in October after breaking his right hand in the friendly against Chelsea. Joël Matip, meanwhile, has hardly featured in pre-season as injuries slow his integration into the first team. Jürgen Klopp will adapt, but can the squad cope?
While there is adequate cover in Simon Mignolet and a further addition in the form of the experienced Alex Manninger, there are doubts about the lack of depth in my other defensive areas. Mamadou Sakho and Joe Gomez are injured; Martin Škrtel and Kolo Touré have departed, and only the rejuvenated Dejan Lovren and new signing Ragnar Klavan remain. Perhaps there is wisdom behind keeping Lucas Leiva around, but unfortunately for Liverpool, the stalwart is currently injured. Are Andre Wisdom and Tiago Ilori credible options to consider?
There are four senior options in Matip, Lovren, Sakho, and Klavan in central defence. Throw in a talented young defender at some point in the season along with a versatile midfielder to cover any unforeseen circumstances that may affect the squad. The problem, however, is that only two centre backs appear to be fit for the start of the season. Sakho is prone to spells on the sidelines, Gomez needs to fully recover from a lengthy and serious injury, and Lucas—currently injured—might not want to stick around as a two-headed but trusted reserve.
What is reassuring, however, is that a fully fit Sakho or Matip instantly brings a sense of solidity to the defence. Klavan has looked impressive on tour, and having him on the bench while one defender steps into the side to play alongside Lovren is more than adequate for Liverpool's schedule this month. The concerns here essentially lie with availability rather than quality or numbers.
Beyond Alberto Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne, poverty appears to reign unconditionally at fullback. Brad Smith, Jon Flanagan, and Connor Randall lack the quality to challenge Liverpool's first-choice fullbacks. Brad Smith is a Bournemouth player, and the remaining pair are strongly linked with loan moves to modest clubs. They might be relatively young and Academy players, but they need seasoning elsewhere before being considered good enough to play for Liverpool in a Premier League that's set to be more competitive than ever before.
Randall and Flanagan are local lads who would give their very best in Liverpool colours, but even with the concerns surrounding Alberto Moreno, he's a clear step above either of them. Utilising the versatile personification of perspiration, commonly known as James Milner, as cover at fullback isn't as wretched a decision it might seem. Liverpool's vice-captain is probably behind at least three or four players in central or attacking midfield, the positions he's best suited to. His wandering and positioning in deeper central midfield areas—a noted weaknesses in his game—should be restricted at fullback. His energy, aggression, deliveries from open play, stamina, diligence, physicality, durability, tenacity, and professionalism make him an option worth trying.
The problem with Milner is that he should probably be considered as cover for Clyne on the right, reducing his need to cut inside on his stronger right foot to play a pass or attempt a cross. After all, Milner ended the season strongly for Liverpool as an attacking outlet on the right. Maybe some of his displays on the left for Manchester City, where Milner has played some wonderful crosses cutting in from the left, could be a reasonable counter to doubts about his attacking capability on that side. He could also be a tactical option against inverted wingers with Moreno spending a game or two on the sidelines.
Even with a surprise option in Milner, Liverpool need at least one fullback. This was a necessity irrespective of departure and will continue to be one for the remainder of the month. A left back would be ideal in order to challenge or potentially supplant Moreno with Milner being able to give Clyne the cyborg a break when required. It's probably the transfer that ties Liverpool's summer business in a pleasing bow and gives Jürgen Klopp enough defensive options for a league campaign as well as two domestic cup competitions.
Liverpool's relatively light schedule without any European football doesn't obviate the need for sufficient quality and depth in defence. While it may not be a case of left back or bust, it's a position that requires more than just Alberto Moreno. James Milner may indeed be the second coming of Kevin Großkreutz and Nathaniel Clyne may last longer than a pink Duracell bunny, but a cherry is waiting to be placed on Liverpool's cake for the summer.