Karl Matchett continues his look at the potential departure of Martin Skrtel this summer, with six potential replacements for the long-serving Slovakian centre-back.
Pre-reading: The case to replace Skrtel at Liverpool this summer
Start right at the top: Marc Bartra is available for a reduced fee, is a treble-winner in name and has progressed immensely this season. The Barcelona centre-back has largely been fourth-choice under Luis Enrique as the team stormed to every major trophy, but when given his opportunity was frequently one of the team’s top performers.
No longer a slightly timid, technically good but perhaps lacking in self-confidence defender, Bartra this year has maximised his chances of game time with a series of displays which were on the front foot, reading play aggressively and intelligently to step in and intercept play before shooting chances are fashioned, bringing the ball out of defence at pace and also looking very strong aerially.
Bartra has played on both sides of central defence — left with Gerard Pique, right with Javier Mascherano or Jeremy Mathieu — and genuinely has every important trait that Liverpool could look for in a new first-choice partner for Sakho. He is composed on the ball, intelligent in his positioning and determined with his challenges, very rarely makes a mistake in possession and, perhaps most importantly of all, is used to winning.
It’s about time Liverpool started to restock their squad with that type of player.
Bartra is at Barcelona, yes, but with none of the three defenders mentioned above likely to be moving on any time soon and Thomas Vermaelen also fit again, Bartra’s lack of game time means his release clause dropped to just €10 million for this summer, after he played just over 1,000 Liga minutes this term.
It’s an absolute steal for a player who has much to his game and would complement Sakho fantastically, as well as be an upgrade on a problematic area for the Reds in any case.
“Premier League Proven”
Typically seen as a defensive all-rounder who is good enough on the ball to be able to move further upfield when the situation calls for it, the Belgian has this term perhaps shown his best traits and consistency when actually utilised as the more physical, impassable defender, holding his position and making his clearances from deep — not dissimilar to Skrtel in that regard.
Alderweireld would necessitate a sizeable outlay once again and will be in demand from the Reds’ rivals, having stated he wants to remain in the Premier League. First team football, Champions League football and a clear role in the team: they will doubtless all be considerations for the Belgian in which side he eventually opts to join.
World Cup Winner
Benedikt Howedes is our third name, with the Schalke defender perhaps finally ready to leave the Bundesliga club after they had an ending to their own season just as disappointing as Liverpool’s was.
Not for the first time, the German — who can play the entire way along the back line but is without question only a top option in the centre — is reported to be in demand by England’s top clubs and, as an international regular and an experienced Champions League campaigner, the reliability and consistency in his game would likely be reflected in his fee.
Howedes is a tremendously competitive defender, as brave in the block or challenge as Skrtel but with decidedly more developed organisational skills, better ability to read the game and drop in behind a partner and a higher ceiling to his overall game than Liverpool’s No. 37.
With Mamadou Sakho quick to step out and intercept opposition attacks as play develops, stopping danger before it really turns into a shooting opportunity, it should be a key trait of any new partner for him that they are comfortable dropping deeper, sweeping behind and making interceptions when necessary. Bartra, Alderweireld and Howedes all have that side to their game and each would be fantastic additions to Liverpool’s defence for next season.
More, More, More
These won’t be the only ideal candidates. They might not even be considered in the slightest by the club — though in the case of Bartra in particular, that would be a spectacular oversight. Even so, it is worth noting another three names who could have been included for their various strengths and characteristics… and would similarly be dismissed by some for a number of weaknesses or other reasons.
Micah Richards is on a free, a title-winner, is English and needs games. A bit James Milner-esque, indeed. He has played most of his career at right-back of course, though his breakthrough under Sven-Goran Eriksen at Manchester City came at centre-back and the suspicion remains that he would be best employed there, perhaps best of all on the right of a three.
Physically he should have all the traits required but injuries over a couple of years stopped his progression at the Etihad Stadium. He might be a gamble on quality and consistency, but for a team which has spent around £60 million on the back line in the past three years, maybe that balance of no transfer fee, versatility and having something to prove would appeal to some. [td_ad_box spot_id=“custom_ad_3″]
Mateo Musacchio is Villarreal’s Argentine centre-back who, when Arsenal signed Gabriel Paulista in January, everybody assumed Arsene Wenger had actually meant to sign. Composed, aggressive, a leader and excellent in one-on-one situations, Musacchio is a very well-rounded defender who is absolutely capable of being a regular for a Champions League team — with one large caveat.
He has taken a number of injuries, the most recent coming at the end of the 14-15 Liga season when he suffered massive lower-leg damage, dislocating his ankle and fracturing his fibula. He’ll be out for around six months as a result and will take far longer to rediscover top fitness and form.
Finally, Torino centre-back Nikola Maksimovic very much looks one to watch further. Composed on the ball and good enough reading the game to be able to drop in behind the more aggressive Kamil Glik, Maksimovic plays on the right of a three-man defence for his side and at 23 years of age has plenty of progression left in him. Other Serie A watchers can doubtless provide better insight into his consistency and weaknesses, but certainly he looks a player to bear in mind.