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The 3-way transfer decision still facing Jurgen Klopp this summer

Jurgen Klopp has made clear that Liverpool have already concluded the vast majority of their transfer business, but there is still a three-way decision looming large.

It was only last year that the Reds were in the heart of a defensive crisis which saw them desperately short of numbers at centre-back.

Fast-forward 18 months and it’s a position where Klopp now has something of an embarrassment of riches, with multiple players heading for the exit door before the end of the summer transfer window.

The question, though, is who goes? The four first-choice options are clear. Virgil van Dijk, Ibrahima Konate, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez might just be the best set of senior centre-backs in world football.

Behind those four, there are decisions to be made. At the start of pre-season, Liverpool found themselves with four other players suddenly on the books in that position.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Monday, January 24, 2022: Liverpool's Rhys Williams during the Premier League 2 Division 1 match between Crystal Palace FC Under-23's and Liverpool FC Under-23's at the Crystal Palace Academy. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Twenty-one-year-old Rhys Williams is still at the club, having spent the second-half of last season as the club’s fifth-choice centre-back, following an underwhelming loan spell at Swansea.

Adding to that, Nat Phillips, Sepp van den Berg and Ben Davies all returned from loan spells in the Championship.

The latter of those, Davies, is now set to complete a £4 million transfer to Rangers, earning Liverpool a tidy profit on the £500,000 fee they handed Preston for his services last January.

So, what happens with the other three, and if one is staying put, then who?

 

Keep, sell or loan?

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - Wednesday, May 19, 2021: Liverpool's Rhys Williams (L) and Nathaniel Phillips during the FA Premier League match between Burnley FC and Liverpool FC at Turf Moor. Liverpool won 3-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Reds have options. Sell all three? Loan all three? Keep one around as cover?

It’s easy to forget the contributions both Williams and Phillips made to Liverpool during that centre-back crisis in 2020/21.

Without their performances towards the end of the campaign, there’s every chance Klopp’s side wouldn’t have even qualified for the Champions League, a competition they went on to reach the final of last season.

Klopp himself has openly admitted that he probably should have put more faith in the duo sooner, rather than shifting the likes of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson out of position so often.

It was always clear, though, that when the likes of Van Dijk and Gomez were back in action, Phillips and Williams would have to look elsewhere for opportunities.

At the beginning of last season, the club decided to keep one of them around as a fifth-choice option, a decision possibly facing them again one year later.

Rhys Williams. Swansea. (Credit: Action Plus Sports/Alamy Live News)

Williams was the subject of a good loan offer from Swansea City. He left, and it was decided that Phillips would stay put.

However, Williams was recalled when things didn’t go to plan for him in Wales and, in January, it was roles reversed, with Bournemouth coming calling for Phillips.

Meanwhile, Van den Berg was enjoying a fruitful second spell with Preston North End, having spent the second half of the 2020/21 season on loan at Deepdale, before extending his stay there for the duration of last season, too.

Heading into this pre-season, then, all three were at different stages of their development. They were all included in the club’s pre-season tour of Asia and all featured in the friendlies against Man United and Crystal Palace.

Phillips, Williams and Van den Berg are all said to be attracting interest from other clubs this summer, so what happens now?

 

Surely one must stay?

SINGAPORE - Friday, July 15, 2022: Liverpool's Sepp van den Berg during the Standard Chartered Singapore Trophy pre-season friendly match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at the Singapore National Stadium. Liverpool won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There’s every chance Klopp will want five centre-backs on the books, scarred by the dreadful events of the 2020/21 season.

Lots depends on the offers that are forthcoming.

Williams is perhaps the player who most will feel needs to move on this summer, be it on loan or on a permanent basis.

Championship outfit Blackpool are said to have registered an interest in taking him on loan this season.

Many assumed Bournemouth would come calling again for Phillips this summer, after he helped them to promotion back to the Premier League last season. The Cherries, though, are yet to make their move.

Bournemouth's Nathaniel Phillips in action (Image: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

Clubs in Germany and the Championship have been credited with an interest in Phillips, who has also previously been linked with Burnley.

There have also been reports in recent weeks that Liverpool have decided against the idea of selling Phillips on a permanent basis this summer, with some at the club viewing him as a potential long-term replacement for Joel Matip.

What of Van den Berg? The 20-year-old didn’t feature in the Reds’ first pre-season friendly against United, but got his opportunity against Palace three days later.

His performance caught the eye and his loan spell at Preston certainly seems to have helped him develop physically. A good one to keep around for this season?

Interestingly, Van den Berg played a lot of his football for Preston at right-back and even, at times, right-wing back. That versatility is something that may well appeal to Jurgen Klopp.

 

If they all leave, who steps up?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, November 3, 2021: Liverpool's captain Jarell Quansah during the UEFA Youth League Group B Matchday 4 game between Liverpool FC Under19's and Club Atlético de Madrid Under-19's at the Liverpool Academy. Liverpool won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A good question.

The most likely option would have to be 19-year-old Jarell Quansah, a mainstay at the heart of the defence for the under-23’s last season.

Quansah is yet to feature for the first team, but was named on the bench for the 2-2 draw with Tottenham last December and the triumph over Leicester in the League Cup quarter-finals.

He also recently helped England go all the way at the Under-19 European Championships.

However, his omission from the first team’s pre-season tour of Asia after being granted an extended holiday means he would be playing catch-up.

By contrast, left-back Luke Chambers, the other Liverpool player who featured for England at the tournament, was thrown straight in with the first team once he’d arrived home.

ROCHDALE, ENGLAND - Tuesday, August 31, 2021: Liverpool's Billy Koumetio during the English Football League Trophy match between Rochdale AFC and Liverpool FC Under-21's at Spotland Stadium. Rochdale won 4-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The other young centre-back who has spent time working under Klopp in recent years is Billy Koumetio – or ‘Billy the Kid’, as the Liverpool boss enjoys calling him.

Koumetio, though, has been loaned out for 2022/23, joining Austrian Bundesliga side FK Austria Wien ahead of the upcoming campaign.

That leaves the Reds’ other academy centre-back options limited, and would indicate the club may well look to hold onto one of Phillips, Williams or Van den Berg this summer.

Jurgen has a decision to make.

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