The hidden factor behind Liverpool not being able to sign a centre-back this month

Liverpool are facing ongoing calls to bring in a new centre-back in the January transfer window, but a restriction to their Premier League squad may be holding them back.

Without Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and, on and off, Joel Matip, Jurgen Klopp has faced a crisis at the back for the majority of the campaign so far.

Given it is now mid-January, scrutiny over the lack of business on Merseyside is ongoing – though it should be noted that only Man United and West Brom have finalised anything close to a high-profile signing so far, with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic clear.

That has been Klopp’s explanation, too, with the manager saying “it’s just not likely because of the situation in the world,” though he admitted “if the world would be in a normal place” a centre-back would have been brought in.

But beyond finances, there is another big factor for Klopp to consider along with Michael Edwards and his recruitment staff.

Liverpool will be required to submit a revised squad list for the remainder of the Premier League season after the deadline for the winter window at 11pm on February 1, with any changes notified to the top flight.

A maximum of 17 non-homegrown players can be named in the squad at any given time, with eight homegrown players required if a club is to register a full 25-man group, along with any number under the age of 21.

Liverpool’s Premier League Squad

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 22, 2020: Liverpool’ players stand to remember former Liverpool and England goalkeeper Ray Clemence who died earlier in the week, before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Homegrown (8): Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Hardy, Henderson, Kelleher, Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Phillips

Non-Homegrown (16): Thiago, Firmino, Alisson, Fabinho, Keita, Mane, Matip, Minamino, Origi, Robertson, Salah, Adrian, Shaqiri, Jota, Tsimikas, Wijnaldum

Notable under-21s: Cain, Clarkson, Pitaluga, Jaros, Jones, Koumetio, Ojrzynski, N.Williams, R.Williams

Not registered: Van Dijk

Klopp has eight homegrown players registered in Gomez, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Caoimhin Kelleher, Nat Phillips and under-23s striker Joe Hardy.

Currently, there is one non-homegrown slot vacant, with Van Dijk removed from the squad list submitted in October due to his potentially season-ending injury in the Merseyside derby.

But this poses a big decision if Klopp were to bring in a new, non-homegrown player in the transfer window: either omit Van Dijk from the squad for the rest of the campaign, or part ways with one of the 16 already registered.

The Liverpool squad is largely settled, and in a unique season with the threat of injury or illness looming constantly, the manager will be reluctant to make any changes.

However, there are two potential departures that could pave the way for relief at the back, with the futures of Adrian and Divock Origi the most uncertain.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 17, 2020: Liverpool’s goalkeeper Adrián San Miguel del Castillo during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 237th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Adrian has fallen out of favour this season, and has been usurped as Klopp’s No. 2 goalkeeper by Kelleher, who most recently started ahead of the Spaniard in the 4-1 win over Aston Villa in the FA Cup, with Alisson on the bench.

With just six months remaining on his contract, Adrian is set to depart at the end of the season, but his absence in training ahead of Sunday’s clash with Man United could hint at an exit in January.

Klopp called upon youngsters Marcelo Pitaluga and Jakub Ojrzynski instead, with Pitaluga also filling in for the warmup at Villa Park, it may be that the manager is content with the summer signing from Fluminense as third goalkeeper.

A move for Adrian may make more sense than Origi, even, with the Belgian seemingly short of suitors at this stage despite regular links with clubs in both England and elsewhere in Europe.

Origi is far down the pecking order at Anfield, and only came off the bench to play the final 16 minutes against Villa, but the lack of guarantees in terms of fitness – paired with injury to Diogo Jota – could see him deemed more valuable than Adrian.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 16, 2020: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp celebrates with Rhys Williams at the final whistle during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Naturally, the most likely resolution to the winter window is that the Liverpool squad remains the same, with Klopp and Edwards focusing on the summer ahead in terms of recruitment.

But if they are eager to bolster the centre-back ranks between now and February 1, they will need to either move a player on or accept that Van Dijk won’t play again this season.