Struck down to just one fit senior centre-back, Liverpool have been linked with a myriad of options – Sven Botman is the latest potential target, but who is he and what can he offer?
The duo were both out of contention by November, leaving only Fabinho and Joel Matip as the senior options in the heart of the defence, but the latter continues to prove unreliable in the fitness department.
Having failed to replace Dejan Lovren in the summer, Liverpool are now shorthanded in the position and there is a growing sense that action must be taken in the January window as opposed to waiting until the summer.
Various targets have emerged throughout the season to date, but Lille’s Botman is the latest to gain traction – but who is he and what can he add to Klopp’s side?
Who is Sven Botman?
As centre-backs go, Botman is on the young end of the spectrum at just 20 years old, and is a member of Ajax’s conveyor belt of talent.
The Dutchman’s footballing education started in Amsterdam at the age of nine back in 2009, where he remained – albeit with a loan spell – until the summer of 2020 when he made the switch to Lille.
He never made a senior appearance for his boyhood club having only worked up the youth ranks, with his loan at Heerenveen in 2019/20 providing his first experience in the Eredivisie.
Botman made 30 appearances for Heerenveen in his first full season in a senior environment, before the season was brought to an abrupt halt due to the pandemic.
- Age: 20
- Nationality: Dutch
- Height: 6’4″ (1.93m)
- Position: Left-sided centre-back
- Current club: Lille
- Strengths: Aerial duels, tackling, passing range, availability
As a regular starter, he attracted interest during the summer and was surprisingly let go by Ajax for around £9 million, as he swapped the Eredivisie for Ligue 1.
He has since played each of Lille’s 23 games so far this season, sitting alongside club captain and former Southampton centre-back Jose Fonte as part of the league’s second-best defence – siting second in the table on goal difference after 17 games.
“He’s settled in very quickly, despite the language barrier,” Lille manager Christophe Galtier said of his new signing back in October.
The 20-year-old has featured for his country at every youth level, from under-15s to under-21s, and he most recently eared a senior callup to Frank de Boer’s Netherlands squad in November – but never made his way off the bench.
It’s been a swift rise for the youngster, having found himself as an ever-present in his respective sides over the last season-and-a-half.
What is his style of play?
You will find Botman on the left side of centre, with the left-footed defender also adept at using both feet with ease – which plays a key role in his ability to help build from the back.
He is a focal part of Lille’s play having completed the third-most passes in Ligue 1 with a completion percentage of 86, and he is ninth in the division for average passes per game with 67.3.
The fact he is comfortable on the ball is key in modern football, as is his desire to drive from the back and be progressive, but his long passing is an area for improvement.
Importantly, especially for a side like Liverpool, he has proven strong in the air as part of the defensive unit – but also as a threat in the opposition box.
It is his best asset and one which has him placed in the top seven in Ligue 1 for aerials won per game, with an average of 3.8 – which would see him 14th in the Premier League at the time of writing.
“Botman’s aerial ability is comparable to Harry Maguire – which even Liverpool fans would admit is pretty good,” is how Trust the Process assessed the youngster.
His aerial success ratio is 71.4 percent, and he is certainly not shy in competing for the ball and using his tall frame to his advantage – in the air and on the ground.
Botman’s defensive capabilities are ones which have currently see him achieve the highest success rate of any Ligue 1 player to contest 20+ duels so far this season:
396 players have contested 20+ duels in Ligue 1 so far this season, Sven Botman has the highest success rate:
? 143 contested
? 105 duels won
? 73.4% success rate
Lille don't seem to miss. ? pic.twitter.com/TiNMWFfTQh
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 1, 2021
The Dutchman also has pace and has proven comfortable in a system which sees full-backs deployed higher up the field, though he is not as quick off the mark as the likes of Van Dijk and Gomez.
Crucially, he has proven to be consistent and readily available having been an ever-present for both Heerenveen and Lille.
While young and certainly with plenty of time to grow and improve, a common note for an area to improve is in one-on-one situations where he can, at times, jump into a challenge and lose his man.
Where would he find his place at Liverpool?
The Lille defender would come in as a much-needed specialist senior reinforcement, as while younger than Phillips and only one year Rhys Williams‘ senior, Botman has more experience on his side.
At 20, he is certainly young enough to be moulded into the player Klopp and Co. desire while working alongside national compatriot Van Dijk, Gomez and current centre-back convert Fabinho.
With Lille facing financial woes following on from the ongoing impact of the pandemic, they could forced to sell their prized youngster for a cut-price fee in the region of £20-£30 million.
His aerial ability, maturity, injury record and quality in possession make him a centre-back in the mould of what the Reds require in both the short term and for years to come.
For a player with as high of a ceiling as projected, the bargain price presents a welcome opportunity for Liverpool, and would add another left-footed player into the mix – one capable of providing Van Dijk with the ability to rotate from the side as and when required.
Having thrived in a senior environment, he would not prove too risky of a signing, as the Reds will not need to break the bank for his signature.