Klopp backs “young but experienced” Ozan Kabak to deal with debut pressure

Ozan Kabak’s chances of making his Liverpool debut increased after stand-in centre-back Fabinho was ruled out with injury, and manager Jurgen Klopp is confident the youngster will cope.

The 20-year-old Turkey international arrived on loan on deadline day to bolster a defence which has been playing midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson, with Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip ruled out for the season.

Ideally Klopp would have paired Kabak with Fabinho, as the more experienced of the two makeshift centre-backs, but that is not an option at Leicester on Saturday.

Nat Phillips, a genuine centre-back but with less game-time than Kabak has had for Schalke this season, could also play but the pace of Jamie Vardy would be a concern for Klopp.

If Kabak does play – he is above fellow deadline-day signing Ben Davies, the former Preston captain, in the pecking order – it will be the 13th different centre-back pairing in 23 Premier League matches this season, but Klopp is confident the new arrival will do a good job.

“Jamie [Vardy] is a proper challenge in this league, the way he plays, the way he gets set up by his mates, so that’s a proper job to do,” said Klopp.

“You have to avoid the pass as Jamie is a world-class player for sure in a specific area of the pitch, and with his speed that is really tricky.

“The boys had some sessions together where we really could work on this defensive set-up and that is really important.

“On top of that we have other players available: Nat Phillips did really well together with Hendo and together with Fab – Fab will not be available, by the way.

“He suffered again a little muscle issue so will be out for this game.

“We have to find a solution and all of them had a chance this week to show in training who is ready, and so I have to make a decision tomorrow.”

Ozan Kabak (PA Media/Imago)

Kabak has played 15 times for Schalke in a difficult season for a side bottom of the Bundesliga.

The current lockout of fans may actually, for once, be a benefit in this circumstance as he would not have to deal with the additional pressure of supporters being present and the expectations placed on him.

“He is still young, so probably yes. Of course it can help,” added Klopp.

“I was not a good player, how we all know, but I enjoyed each single supporter in the stadium, at least when there was a number over 200.

“I never saw it as pressure when supporters were there but I know what you mean: if you make a mistake you hear the whole noise of the crowd, that’s not nice.

“He is young but experienced as well at playing in front of a lot of supporters; he played at Stuttgart which was very often a sold-out stadium, Schalke is pretty much sold out every home game so he is used to that.”

With another potentially new central defensive partnership to break in, Klopp expects goalkeeper Alisson Becker to be back to his best after his two kicking errors led to a 4-1 defeat at home to Manchester City on Sunday.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 7, 2021: Liverpool's goalkeeper Alisson Becker prepares to face a penalty during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. Manchester City won 4-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Liverpool manager insists neither he nor Alisson’s team-mates have any doubt in his quality.

“Of course we had a little talk, if it’s about encouragement I don’t know,” said Klopp.

“He was not happy it happened but it is very important to realise in a moment like this goalkeepers in a long career make mistakes.

“For a goalkeeper of the quality of Alisson Becker it is pretty rare he makes this kind of mistake and then he makes two of them in one game.

“Goalkeepers are used to making mistakes: they concede a goal and they know earlier than all the rest of the world ‘I should have saved it’ and they have to deal with it always.

“There was absolutely no real criticism from our side, from the players around him because everyone knows how good he is.

“He is a very calm person. Now the next game is coming up and that is good as he can play his normal level again and everything will be fine.”