So Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool, notorious for their explosive offense and wiltable defense, are on a bit of clean sheet run. Following the 3-0 thumping of Manchester City last night, Loris Karius became the goalkeeper with the highest number of clean sheets in the Champions league this season. In fact, in their last nine matches in all competitions, the Anfield outfit have conceded only four goals, and amassed six clean sheets. It’s not bad for what has undoubtedly been the most maligned section of the team for half a decade.
This improvement came at a cost, however. Virgil van Dijk was brought in for a world record fee to fortify the previously porous back line, and, to his credit, the £75m man has done just that. Klopp’s continuous evolution as a coach and his ability to improve the players at hand have undoubtedly also played a part, but there’s no getting around the fact that van Dijk has been the catalyst, and catalysts aren’t free.
That’s not to say that the Reds are done building their back line. While many would now pinpoint central midfield as the most vulnerable component of the side, reports on Thursday have Liverpool sniffing around one of Europe’s most promising centre-backs.
Dayotchanculle Upamecano — put that in a song — is tearing it up in the Bundesliga, starting week-in, week-out for everybody’s favourite energy drink-funded side. Still only 19, the Frenchman has started 34 games for Leipzig this year, following the 15 matches in his debut campaign, and is starting to earn interest from the upper tier of European clubs according to reports out of his native France.
Built like a particularly sturdy brick house, the 6’1 centre-back possesses remarkable speed, chewing up yards with long strides, is eminently comfortable with the ball at his feet, and displays a penchant for reading play and decision-making that belies his years. The only real shortcoming in the 19-year old’s game is a middling aerial ability, one that sees him winning only 60% of headers, and having contributed only two goals in 85 senior appearances.
Competition will be fierce for the Valenciennes youth product, with Manchester United and Barcelona touted among the interested parties. A newly-penned four-year contract including a €100m release clause further affirms that Upamecano will not be leaving on the cheap. Still, he remains an interesting option if the Reds decide to splurge on another central defender for the long term.