Since Virgil van Dijk’s knee injury early this season, there has been a debate among fans and pundits alike about what Liverpool need to do about their center-back situation. Though the intensity of the debate has ebbed and flowed as new players have joined van Dijk on the injury list and others have emerged as trusted options for manager Jürgen Klopp, it has been a constant presence in the narrative of the current campaign.
With Joël Matip injured yet again, the intensity of the debate is rising once more, and former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher has added his voice to those calling for defensive reinforcements in January. Writing for The Telegraph, Carragher made it clear he believes Liverpool do not have sufficient cover in central defense, and reinforcements are needed at once.
“The injury to Virgil Van Dijk alone will cost Liverpool between nine and 12 points over the course of this season,” Carragher said. “And although Fabinho has proved a fantastic deputy at the back, Joel Matip’s ongoing problems means, to me at least, that it is inconceivable that Liverpool will not sign another center-half at the earliest opportunity.”
“I cannot understand the logic of not doing so. The club needed one anyway.”
Carragher is not alone in that sentiment. Many felt that it was a mistake for Liverpool to not sign another center-back after Dejan Lovren’s move to Zenit Saint Petersburg this summer, even if Fabinho could be deputized at the back in a pinch. Though Liverpool have managed to adeptly navigate their center-back issues for the most part, it’s hard to argue they made the right decision in hindsight.
Carragher goes on to argue that a single injury to Fabinho leaves Liverpool with only two fit center-backs, neither of whom were even in the first-team picture before van Dijk’s injury. For the former Red, that is simply not acceptable.
“If Matip continues to be in and out of the side, and then Fabinho gets injured, how can Liverpool expect to perform at the highest level with only the inexperienced Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips to step in? That is too big a risk.”
Though the Scouser believes Liverpool have shown they won’t be easy to unseat from the top of the table, he does think that, if left unaddressed, the lack of depth at the back will give hope to their rivals for the title.
“The way Liverpool have dealt with the loss of key players so far shows they will still take some stopping, but it will not be as one-sided as last year, and failing to sign another defender will only lift the hopes of everyone else.”
“Jurgen Klopp will be cursing a missed opportunity if Liverpool do not retain their title. Liverpool are the best team in England, but circumstances have opened the door for everyone with dreams of catching them.”
It’s pretty hard to find any flaws in Carragher’s arguments. While Fabinho, Williams, and Phillips have all performed better than anyone could have realistically expected, and they all clearly have the manager’s trust, we have seen how quickly injuries can mount up during this hectic, compressed season.
One more injury to a center-back leaves Liverpool with no more fallback options. Two more creates a full-blown crisis. Fabinho, Williams, and Phillips have curbed the urgent need to spend big for a star center-back, but I think most of us can agree that using their performances to justify not even making a depth signing or two would be a mistake.