Liverpool have reached an agreement with Schalke 04, picking up 20-year-old Ozan Kabak on loan for the remainder of the season. The Reds will pay a £1 million fee for the promising young center-back, with £500,000 in potential bonuses linked to appearances per The Athletic’s James Pearce.
Allegedly crucial to the negotiation is the option (rather than obligation) to buy the player for £18 million plus add-ons at the end of his loan period, a clause that does not need to be activated until June — a win for the club, who acted with caution, and will now be able to see how the defender works with manager Jürgen Klopp before making a decision about his long-term future at the club.
Though Kabak does not turn 21 until March, he has a wealth of first-team experience, playing 75 first-team matches (over 6,000 minutes) for Schalke 04, Galatasaray, and VfB Stuttgart over the past three seasons domestically and in Europe, while also gaining first-team international experience in qualifying matches for the Euros and in the UEFA Nations League with Turkey.
The defender has sometimes been referred to as the “Turkish Wall” for his dominance in defense: this season he has won 74% of his 112 aerial duels, a skill much in need as Liverpool’s defensive injuries have reduced the average squad height and aerial prowess.
Indeed, this aerial win rate is higher than that of both Joe Gomez this season (72%) and Virgil Van Dijk (67%) — though the injured Reds have a smaller sample size due to their seasons being cut short. (In the 2019/20 season, Van Dijk won a massive 79% of his aerial duels, while Joe Gomez actually upped his success this season, winning 63% in 2019/20.)
Kabak’s numbers compare favorably to Gomez’s in terms of pass accuracy and challenges won, though any numerical comparison is somewhat problematic: Schalke 04 is currently at the bottom of the Bundasliga, and Kabak likely has a lot more defending to do in the average match than he would playing for Liverpool.
His long passing accuracy, something Liverpool have been missing without Van Dijk, is decent (42.7%) if not jaw-droppingly impressive, but again it’s hard to determine how much of that is down to the player himself and how much is down to who he’s passing to; with no disrespect meant to Schalke’s forwards, any defender would love to be sending passes long to the likes of Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah.
A clear difference between Kabak’s playing style and that of both Gomez and Virgil Van Dijk is the Turkish international’s confidence carrying the ball: in the 2020/21 season thus far Kabak averages 2.4 dribbles per match, suggesting a comfort on the ball that will be an asset to the Reds.
As the center-back joins new signing Ben Davies in Liverpool’s newly-swellinng defensive ranks, fans can have hope that midfielders might get to return to the midfield at some point in the 2020/21 season.
Statistics via Instat.