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Checking Out Options in Central Defense For Liverpool

With a relatively clear need for more options and quality at the back, it's time to examine who some of those options could be in the middle of the defense.

If nothing else, Astori has the ol' ball-levitation trick down pat.
If nothing else, Astori has the ol' ball-levitation trick down pat.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos

There's been plenty of talk a new centerback in Merseyside beyond Kolo Toure, and while most of the discussion has focused on the likes of Kyriako Papadopolous and Toby Alderweireld, there's a number of other options who are potentially available as well. Right now it's looking as though Toure will be the starter when Stoke visit Anfield to open the Premier League season on August 17, as he's started both preseason matches and looked solid alongside Daniel Agger. Most view this as cause for concern, however, and there's a consensus that Liverpool need to add a central defender in the coming weeks.

I generally fit the options Liverpool has to look at for the position in to two categories: Veterans With Something To Prove and Young Players On The Verge. The veteran is a player who's previously been established, but for one reason or another (injury, bad luck, or another player being bought over him) is either not at a club he wants to be at, or wants to prove that he can still play at a high level. The young player is a guy not unlike what we saw with Matija Nastasic and Raphael Varane last season: young players who looked the business, but haven't quite had their breakout yet. A move to a bigger club with better training and coaching resources could be that last push they need to take the next step.

With that in mind, let's look at a couple players who fit each category.

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Veterans With Something To Prove

Mamadou Sakho
, Paris Saint-Germain
Sakho has been discussed here at times, and with the news of Marquinhos signing for PSG, he might finally come available to those who are interested. A centreback who combines both physical and athletic traits (i.e. a cross of Agger and Skrtel), Sakho is a well-balanced player who appears to fit Rodgers' ideas of a defender. A can bang with the toughest attackers in the box just as well as he can range forward and support the attack, and he's pretty damn handy on both ends of set pieces, too.

The question is whether or not Sakho will even be available. The 23-year old made some noises in the media about wanting to move on, and his star has fallen somewhat in the last year as Carlo Ancelotti frequently preferred Alex to partner with Thiago Silva in the middle of PSG's defense. The arrival of Marquinhos could herald his departure, though it's just as easily possible that new manager Laurent Blanc would rather keep a hold of his one-time French national team player and sell Alex. If he is made available, however, Liverpool should jump at the chance as quickly as they can.

Davide Astori, Cagliari
Astori is well-established for the mid-table Italian side, making over 140 appearances for the Sardinian club. However, it's starting to appear that he's done about all he can, as Cagliari is not a team that's likely to ever significantly challenge Serie A's heavyweights. A skilled ball-playing defender, the 26 year old Astori is one of the best defenders in his league, but his club's limitations has left him stuck on the fringes of the Italian national team.

Astori would make a solid addition to Liverpool's defense, albeit not one with as flashy a resume as some are hoping for. Still, he's got a solid head on his shoulders, positions himself well in relation to his partner, and reads inbound runs nicely. He also shouldn't be too terribly expensive, and there already has been noise in the Italian media about interest in Astori, both domestically and abroad. This would be a very smart, if unheralded, pickup for Brendan Rodgers to make.

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Young Players On The Verge

Kurt Zouma
, AS Saint-Etienne
Zouma has been frequently linked with various high-level clubs this summer in the press, and despite his manager's insistence that the club wishes to keep him, it seems likely that it's time for him to move onward and upward. A strong performance for France in the U-20 World Cup has only heightened that impression. Zouma's a pacy defender with strong ball-playing instincts, and has more potential in his 6'2" frame than all but a few defensive prospects in the world.

Zouma definitely has some rawness in his game, especially in the more physical elements of playing the position, but watching match footage of him, it seems likely that these are issues that will resolve as he develops both physically and as a player. Getting the 18 year old won't be easy; he's been linked strongly with Chelsea this summer, and various reports have linked other big sides with him as well. That said, a strong bid should attract Saint-Etienne's interest, and Liverpool should be able to offer sufficient playing time to catch Zouma's eye as well. The potential cost (rumored to be well north of £10 million) is a risk, but one worth taking in this instance.

Matthias Ginter, SC Freiburg
I watched a lot of Freiburg last season, as they were a fun story in the Bundesliga, and I came to really appreciate the young Ginter. The 19 year old quietly became one of Freiburg's best players as the season went on, displaying defensive skills and awareness far superior to those you generally see at his age. Unfortunately, Freiburg seems poised for a regression this season, as it was generally felt that they had over-achieved last season, and have now lost many of their best players to the transfer market.

That could leave them more determined to hang on to Ginter, but if he is to take the next step in his development, he needs to move to a club that can offer him more than Freiburn can. He shouldn't be horrifically expensive; Freiburg needs every Euro they can get their hands on in order to stay up. On the flip side of that, Ginter is also vitally important to those efforts, and selling him would be a signal that they may have given up on that hope. Still, if he can be wrested away from the German side, he would be a great addition to Liverpool's defense, and could rapidly work his way in to the rotation at the back and become a major part of the team.

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Keeping It In Merseyside

There is, of course, another option available to Liverpool. Martin Kelly and Andre Wisdom have been used as depth at right-back in recent times, but both came up in the Academy as center backs before making the change at the senior level. Kelly especially was well-regarded at the position, but Wisdom is no slouch himself. It's believed by some (myself included) that taking away the stress of all the runs that fullbacks must go on could also help Kelly to avoid as many of the injuries as he's suffered in recent years.

Such a move would likely necessitate making a move for a right-back to shore up the depth there, or necessitate a larger reliance on Ryan McLaughlin than currently seems to be planned, but could still allow the club to best use it's resources, both in finances and personnel currently in the squad. Of course, Sebastian Coates could have something to say in the matter as well, but last season displayed what appeared to be distrust in the big Uruguayan defender from the club's management, to an extent that I'm not sure he'd even be given a significant chance to earn a place in the coming season's defense.

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The way the squad currently lies, this could wind up being one of the more vital positions for Liverpool to figure out for the upcoming season. Fortunately, they're not limited in their options on how to address it.

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