After our previous scout reports have focussed on attacking options for Brendan Rodgers, we take a look at two defenders who have been linked with a move to Anfield.
So, here we stand, halfway through the season staring at the January transfer window that can, in all sense of the words, make or break our season. While we are sure to get reinforcements further up the pitch it is good to hear that we are scouting defensive prospects as well. It shows that we are not being short-sighted in our recruitment policies and are responsibly looking to build for the future. This is I think where the new scouting team earn their money and help make a difference.
It is interesting to look at the kind of defensive players we are being linked to as it is hugely revealing as to what Rodgers is trying to incorporate into the squad. To understand the transition that is being bought about, we need to take a look at the German champions Borussia Dortmund at the start of the 2011-12 season.
At the moment we are in a similar situation, and have been since Alonso left us, to what Dortmund were when they sold Sahin. Dortmund started the 2011-12 season what out a direct replacement for their standout player of the previous season. The new man Illkay Gundogan is of the same ilk as Steven Gerrard, a hardworking dynamic box to box midfielder who will work tirelessly for the team.
He was partnered by the midfield destroyer Sebastian Kehl, a cross between Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen. But neither of them really provided that touch of class and creativity in the centre of the park that was not so long ago provided by Sahin. This resulted in Dortmund not being able to play that fast free flowing football that won them the league the season before.
With 7 points from 6 games, things were looking dire Indeed. So what did Klopp do?? He simply shifted the playmaking duties upon the broad shoulders of Mats Hummells. Having a ball playing defender of Hummells calibre allows your defenders to push up field and release your midfielders to take up more attacking positions and provide more penetration.
Rodgers is trying to do a similar thing at Liverpool. As Skertel and Agger keep improving their ball retention abilities, I suspect as the season goes, we will see them pushing higher up and pass the ball less to the keeper and more to the midfield. The two defenders we are linked to, Alex Pearce and Stefan de Vrij are young, strong, hard tacklers but the stand out feature of both their gameplay is their composure on the ball.
Both of them can confidently step up with the ball and distribute the ball well. This is very important part of the team Rodgers is trying to build. It makes us more mobile, dynamic and offensive minded. It will help us play gain more of the control that Rodgers so craves and is definitely the way forward. Now let’s look at each of the two players individually.
Place of Birth: Wallingford, England
Position: Centre Back
Height: 6ft 2
Alex Pearce is a highly rated defender who has worked previously under Rogers during Rodgers brief spell at Reading. In fact, Rodgers rates him so highly that Pearce was named the vice-captain of the Reading team at the age of 20. As a player Pearce is a very strong defender who goes hard into tackles and is an absolute beast of a defender in the air. He is one of those defenders who can not only win areal duels but head the ball well and direct it to a team-mate. His areal presence is always a threat from corners and he has scored a decent amount of goals from corners in the championship.
Although he is not the fastest of players, he has an astute reading of the game and is able to intercept a fair share of passes. Confident in possession he looks to use the balls that he retrieves constructively. He has often been praised for his work ethics and his organisational skills and also possesses a good deal of leadership quality. Last season he was part of the title winning team in the championship, conceding the fewest amount of goals in the division. Reading are the sort of a team that likes to keep it tight at the back and build their attacks from a strong defensive foundation, and Pearce was at the heart of their defensive solidarity. He formed a formidable partnership with Kaspars Gorkss and having an experienced partner helped him improve his games by leaps and bounds.
Pearce was also Reading’s player of the season 2012. He however lost his place in the Reading team after just 4 games into the Premier League season. While he did look a bit shaky in defence, so did the entire team and he was, in my opinion, the best of all the Reading defenders and seemed to have adapted well to the life in the Premier League.
Adrian Mariappa, who McDermott seems to rate higher, has replaced Pearce at the heart of the defence. While McDermott paired Mariappa with Gorkss, in my opinion the best Reading defensive pairing would be Pearce playing left of Mariappa especially considering that Reading have been shipping goals for free without Pearce.
The reason, I think, Pearce is being shunned has got more to do with the contract situation than tactics. While he has proved his talent in the championship without a doubt questions still remain of his ability to perform in the premiership. McDermott finally gave Pearce a place on the starting 11 this week against Manchester City and he slotted right in. Even though Reading lost the game in extra time, the character and resilience shown by the Reading defence was commendable. Pearce communicated with the other defenders well, showed good organisational skills and rarely lost his man. He was a real physical presence and won a fair share of headers. On the back of that performance I think he will stay as a part of the back four for the next few games at least.
With his contract set to expire at the end of the season, it seems a good bet to sign him for a knockdown price of about 3 million Euros, or better still get him sign a pre-contract agreement and sign him on for a free in the summer. At 24 he seems to tick a lot of boxes. Young, strong, talented, committed and available on the cheap: a typical FSG signing. Even if his development is not stellar, he will undoubtedly provide a good cover for our defence, especially if as reported Coates is going to be loaned out.
Stefan de Vrij
Date of Birth: 5th February 1992 (Age 20)
Place of Birth: Ouderkerk aan den IJssel, Netherlands
Position: Centre Back
Height: 6ft 2
Stefan de Vrij is a highly rated Dutch defender who plays his trade for Feyenoord Rotterdam. He is considered by many as the best defensive talent that has come out the Dutch football in a long time and the answer to the national team’s defensive woes.
Taking over the captains armband from Ron Vlaar, who left for Aston Villa, de Vrij has been nothing short of a revelation, putting in strong and dominant displays from the back. He is quick and physical in defending, good in the air and the ground, composed on the ball very much typifies the talent we should be after. G
ood at marking and tracking players, what strikes me most about de Vrij’s game is timing of the tackle. He reads the opposition well and chooses his time to produce a tackle. Another pleasing aspect of his game is that he more often than not tries to play his way out of trouble. He active takes part in the build-up play and is adept at recycling possession.
He started off as a midfielder and is very comfortable and patient on the ball. He has also played a couple of seasons as right back, so he brings with him versatility too. Similar to Pearce, he can push up from defence and play the ball maintaining a high line. Composed beyond his age and with an impressive reading of the game, I very much expect him to develop in to a very good player. However he still suffers from those lapses of concentration and the occasional poor touch that are characteristic of a young defender but those should get weeded out with time and experience. He also needs to develop a little more patience on the ball to pick his passes. He has constantly kept improving since making his debut 3 seasons ago, and if he continues at the same rate the he will definitely become a good premier league level player.
His contract is set to run out at the end of the 2014 season, and would cost us a reported 8 million to get him. I can’t really see us going after him at that price but rumours are rife that Feyenoord sporting director Martin Van Geel has advised the owners to sell de Vrij if they are not able to reach an agreement regarding his contract soon. So while it would surprise me to see him make a move to Liverpool this season, he could very well be a realistic prospect in the summer transfer window. From the players perspective too it will be better for his devolvement too if he stays at de Kuip and gains some valuable experience.
Browse our previous scout reports here.