While the arrival of Steven Caulker may be an underwhelming one for Liverpool supporters, the QPR centre-back is a shrewd acquisition for the short term.
Joining the Reds on a six-month loan deal, after his initial season-long spell with Southampton was cancelled, Caulker arrives to bolster Jurgen Klopp‘s depleted defensive ranks.
Though a decidedly necessary move, Caulker’s signing has provoked a mixed reaction from Liverpool supporters, with many questioning the 24-year-old’s quality, and the judgment of the Reds’ transfer committee.
But as a short-term signing during what is a business minefield, a loan move for Caulker makes sense for Liverpool.
Liverpool Centre-Back Struggles
There is a clear explanation for Liverpool moving for Caulker as we head towards the midpoint in the January transfer window, with Klopp lacking centre-back options following a number of troubling injuries.
Meanwhile, Mamadou Sakho continues his recovery from a knee injury, with a view to taking part over the next week, while approaching 35 years old, Kolo Toure struggles to pick together a string of performances without sustaining minor injuries, as his recent bout of cramp attests.
Tiago Ilori remains an option, too, but having played just 77 minutes of senior football this season, is unlikely to find immediate form in a Liverpool shirt.
Discussing Sakho and Toure’s potential return in his pre-Arsenal press conference on Monday afternoon, Klopp painted this as a major positive.
“Mama wants to be available, hopefully we can use him and we will see…So we have probably Kolo and Mama, and the next one is Lucas [Leiva], so three senior centre-backs.”
But identifying Lucas Leiva as his third-choice centre-back at that stage highlights a key issue, and while the Brazilian performed comfortably alongside Toure in the Reds’ 1-0 League Cup win over Stoke City, he and fellow backup Jose Enrique are far from natural options.
Klopp seemed to have acknowledged this with reported interest in Neven Subotic, Andrea Ranocchia and Joel Matip.
However with question marks over the former pair’s quality and with the latter unlikely to leave Schalke before the end of the season, Caulker represents the better option at this stage.
Happy to sanction Caulker’s departure from St. Mary’s, six months earlier than previously agreed, Southampton manager Ronald Koeman acknowledged the centre-back’s struggle on the south coast.
“He was a backup, he didn’t play a lot,” he explained.
“Normally we have more defenders for that position, and I’m not the coach to complain [about] his future, and not to stop his opportunity to play for Liverpool.”
While gracious in his summary, Koeman’s words evoke the strife that Caulker has endured at both Southampton and Queens Park Rangers over the past two seasons.
At Southampton, he failed to secure a starting role following the arrival of Virgil van Dijk, having to make do with sporadic appearances, with his form suffering as a result.
A dreadful performance in December’s 6-1 defeat to Liverpool in the League Cup—his last for the Saints—served as proof of this, while it can be argued that similar displays at the heart of QPR’s back line in 2014/15 were spurred by circumstance, with the Rs doomed from the start.
This is, however, a stark contrast to his form at Tottenham Hotspur, Swansea City and Cardiff City previously, and therein highlights the potential within Caulker.
A well-built, 6’3″ centre-back, Caulker is a strong, aggressive defender with a dominant aerial presence.
For Cardiff and QPR, Caulker proved capable of operating as a bullish, no-nonsense defender.
But more nuanced displays for Spurs and Swansea, where he averaged a passing accuracy of 88 percent—only bettered by Sakho (88.6%) for Liverpool this season—suggests he would be capable of adapting to Klopp’s defensive line.
Perhaps most importantly, midway through the January window, Caulker simply adds another body to Klopp’s squad, and with his options thin at this stage, it is a genuine positive to add any capable centre-back to the Liverpool squad.
Aims for the Season
Discussing the signing shortly after Caulker’s arrival at the club, Klopp highlighted issues with both Toure and Sakho playing every game over a congested period this January.
With Skrtel, Lovren and Gomez all sidelined, Caulker provides Klopp with an immediate response to his issues at centre-back, with a start against Arsenal on Wednesday night a possibility, given Sakho’s wavering fitness.
“This is January and we want to have the best solution for us and we are absolutely convinced that Steven is the best solution for us,” he explained.
In this, the German alluded to the low-risk nature of loaning Caulker.
As a short-term signing, there is no obligation to play Caulker, but the England international provides Klopp with more depth for the league, domestic cups and, crucially, in the Europa League.
By the same token, if Caulker is deemed a failure by the end of the season, he will return to QPR and Liverpool will have suffered no loss, as has been the issue with other signings in recent years.
Importantly however, Caulker’s arrival must not see him stand in the way of a developing Ilori.
But so long as Klopp retains a long-term view of the Portuguese as a Liverpool centre-back, adding Caulker to his squad is a real no-brainer this January.
STEVEN CAULKER JOINS LIVERPOOL
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- LOAN HISTORY: From Anelka to Manquillo – Liverpool’s loan signings of the 21st century
- STATS: Caulker’s aerial presence superior to Liverpool’s other centre-backs
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