Liverpool are desperately short of centre-back options and, with the likelihood of a permanent signing fading, a potential loan arrival could be the solution this month.
Long-term injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, and the ongoing issues of Joel Matip, have left Jurgen Klopp with two midfielders and two inexperienced academy graduates at centre-back.
Fabinho has been a revelation in the role, so much so the question could be raised over whether he stands to be Van Dijk’s new long-term partner, but Jordan Henderson, Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips have all struggled at times when filling in.
Klopp has admitted the Reds’ situation is one which, in ordinary circumstances, would have led to a new centre-back being signed in the January transfer window, but the financial impact of COVID-19 has led to a cautious approach.
In all probability, Liverpool will head out of January with the same options as they began it with, which, in a way, is a testament to the manager’s faith in his youngsters.
But Klopp did also touch upon the prospect of a “short-term solution” if the club were able to bring in another defender this month, which opens up the discussion over a loan signing.
Steven Caulker remains the only player Klopp has acquired on loan since arriving at Anfield in 2015, and rightly so, as Liverpool is not a club that generally relies on short-term fixes – but the unique landscape of 2021 may require a change of tack.
So who could the Reds target on loan? Here are five possible options.
Fikayo Tomori (Chelsea)
In another example of Frank Lampard’s shaky management, the Chelsea boss has now decided to send Tomori out on loan this month, having previously considered the 23-year-old a first-choice option.
Kurt Zouma, Thiago Silva, Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger are all preferred to Tomori, with Lampard revealing after he went unused in Sunday’s 4-0 win over Morecambe that “there is a possibility he could be going on loan to get games somewhere else.”
Whether Chelsea would consider allowing the England international to join Liverpool – a direct rival – is unclear, but he would be an interesting option to consider.
Crucially, Tomori has the speed and knowhow to operate in a high line, while he is strong on the ground and comfortable in possession, which would suit Klopp’s system.
There is potential to be unlocked in the Canadian-born defender, but more importantly as a short-term addition, he has already amassed 118 appearances over spells with Chelsea, Derby, Hull and Brighton, so could step in and play immediately.
If Chelsea are open to a deal, Rudiger may also be an option – with his experience a valuable commodity.
Eder Militao (Real Madrid)
Liverpool faced off against Militao in 2019, during the Champions League quarter-final clashes with Porto, but since then the Brazilian has found game time hard to come by.
Militao scored the Portuguese side’s only goal of a 4-1 defeat in the second leg, a month after agreeing to join Real Madrid in a £43.5 million deal in the coming summer, underlining his rising stock as one of Europe’s best young centre-backs.
After arriving at Real, however, Militao has found himself low down in the pecking order – though an ever-present in the matchday squad in LaLiga and the Champions League in his first season, he mustered only 13 starts, while this term he has played three times overall.
It has been suggested that the 22-year-old could depart the Bernabeu this month, with Tottenham among the clubs linked, and it is a situation Liverpool should be monitoring closely.
Quick, solid in the tackle and dominant in the air, Militao could step in and form a strong partnership with his countryman Fabinho.
Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona)
Would Barcelona really do business with Liverpool again, after the Philippe Coutinho deal?
If so, perhaps a short-term switch for Umtiti could be considered, as the Frenchman finds himself on the periphery after returning from a knee injury a month ago.
“Each player can take their own decision as to whether or not he wants to [leave on loan],” Ronald Koeman told reporters at the end of 2020, “but we’ll give this advice to players who can expect to have fewer minutes.”
Sport have named Umtiti among the players Koeman was likely referring to, and given his possible availability, Liverpool should jump at the chance of bringing the 27-year-old to Anfield.
Umtiti has not been without fitness problems of his own, but he is an accomplished, top-level centre-back with a fine reading of the game and the ability to play out from the back.
Dan-Axel Zagadou (Dortmund)
For the long term, Liverpool may be mulling over a move for one of Dortmund’s first-choice centre-backs in Manuel Akanji; but for now, the situation of 21-year-old backup Zagadou may be of interest.
Like Umtiti, Zagadou recovered from a long-term knee injury earlier this season, which partly explains his lack of minutes at Klopp’s former club, but the partnership of Akanji and Mats Hummels will prove difficult to break up either way.
Of outfield players to make Dortmund’s matchday squad on five or more occasions this season, Zagadou has played the fewest minutes, with 228, but he is tall, strong, adept in possession and has real potential as a young defender.
A product of the Paris Saint-Germain academy, Zagadou is part of a long line of promising centre-back talents to emerge in France, and could benefit from regular game time at Liverpool.
Whether Klopp would see him as a more suitable option than the bedded-in duo of Williams and Phillips is unsure, but perhaps the manager could call in a favour from his former club to bolster the ranks.
Dejan Lovren (Zenit St Petersburg)
Hear us out with this one.
If Klopp is after a real “short-term solution,” and has reservations over whether any player coming in would be able to adapt to Liverpool’s playing style quickly enough, why not turn to a member of his title-winning squad?
Lovren left for Zenit St Petersburg in a £10.9 million deal in the summer, having seen his first-team opportunities dwindle at Anfield, and has since taken up duties as a key player for the Russian club.
But with Zenit not in competitive action again until February 20, perhaps an agreement could be struck to bring Lovren back to cover for Matip’s absence.
It was almost commonplace for a period with deals between clubs in the Premier League and MLS, and a similar situation played out with Phillips’ return from Stuttgart during last season’s winter break in Germany, so there is precedent.
If not, perhaps Klopp still has numbers for Caulker, Ragnar Klavan and Mamadou Sakho in his phone…