For the first time since 2017, Liverpool are only missing one of their key players during the African Cup of Nations, and while Mohamed Salah is going to be a big miss given his status as one of the world’s very best footballers, it is certainly preferable to having two thirds of your starting forwards disappear for a month and a half.
The experience of Salah and Sadio Mané — and, for a time, Naby Keïta — repeatedly going away in the middle of the season has reportedly not precluded the continent from being included in the Reds’ scouting range, however, and in their search for the next long-term acquisition at centre-back, the club has reportedly landed on perhaps the most promising young central defender in Africa.
According to Jack Flintham at the Echo, Ousmane Diomande is in Liverpool’s sights, but the Merseysiders are not the only club looking to procure his services. The Ivorian currently plies his trade at Sporting Lisbon — league leaders and title favourites in the Portuguese Primeira Líga, now that Porto and Benfica have been sufficiently stripped for parts in recent summers — and he has taken a massive leap since arriving a the club less than a year ago.
Despite standing 6’3, the 20-year old struggled with the physicality of the league in the first six months, but has since established himself as the sort of dominant force one would expect from an athlete his size, and in 2023/24, Diomande has won 72% of his aerial duels and only been beaten on the dribble twice, boasting an 83% tackle success rate.
What stands out when watching the Olympic Sport Abobo youth product, though, is his passing range and comfort on the ball. Featuring exclusively on the right side of Ruben Amorim’s three-man defense — next to former Red Sebastian Coates and opposite frequently alleged Liverpool target Gonçalo Inácio — Diomande consistently displays an impressive ability to move the ball up the pitch through both passing and carrying, while giving up very little going the other way.
Naturally, with the Portuguese league establishing itself as Europe’s premier developer of talent in the past few seasons, expect both the price tag — rumoured to be in the €100m category — and the list of suitors — Arsenal and Newcastle have both been suggested — to complicate matters, but with most positions on the team, defensive six notwithstanding, fairly settled, Liverpool making a big play for a long-term solution at centre-back is not at all out of the question.