Why Liverpool should beat Arsenal to Riccardo Calafiori transfer

With Joel Matip leaving and the potential for Kostas Tsimikas to depart this summer too, Liverpool need a defender and Riccardo Calafiori could be the perfect fit.

Those with a keen eye on the European Championships will have watched Calafiori thinking he is a stalwart of the Italy team, such was his maturity while playing for the holders.

However, the 22-year-old only made his international debut two weeks before Italy’s tournament opener against Albania.

After starting and keeping a clean sheet in Italy’s last warm-up match against Bosnia & Herzegovina, manager Luciano Spalletti had seen enough to pick the left-footed defender in each of their group games.

Within three matches, the long-haired Italian had already made himself vital to the national team, and it was certainly telling that, with Calafiori suspended, they lost 2-0 to Switzerland in the round of 16.


Liverpool don’t have enough centre-backs

2XCA333 Dortmund, Germany. 15th June 2024. DORTMUND, GERMANY - JUNE 15: Riccardo Calafiori of Italy looks up during the Group B - UEFA EURO 2024 match between Italy and Albania at Signal Iduna Park on June 15, 2024 in Dortmund, Germany. (Photo by Joris Verwijst/BSR Agency) Credit: BSR Agency/Alamy Live News Credit: BSR Agency/Alamy Live News

Matip’s exit has left Liverpool with just Virgil van Dijk, Jarell Quansah, Ibrahima Konate and Joe Gomez as their only first team centre-backs.

Normally, you would say four is enough for a squad with the help of the academy. However, Liverpool’s circumstances suggest otherwise.

Konate is a brilliant defender but misses far too much football through injuries. Already in his professional career, the 25-year-old has spent over a year out of action.

Gomez is another with undoubted quality but, in his case, he has played hardly any football at centre-back. Last season, he played just three times in the middle for Liverpool.

Instead, he spent the majority of the season at full-back and even filled the defensive midfield position on two occasions.

That leaves Van Dijk and the 21-year-old, Quansah. Altogether, this state of affairs leaves Liverpool needing another and, with no immediate prospects coming from the academy, the Reds should turn to the transfer market.

It is worth noting Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips are both still Liverpool players, but Phillips is expected to leave this summer and neither suit the Reds’ playing style.


Two birds, one stone

Aside from obviously bolstering Liverpool’s options at centre-half, Calafiori could also help solve another positional conundrum.

Having started his career as a left-back, the Bologna player has transitioned to being a centre-back having played in a back three along the way.

With Kostas Tsimikas potentially leaving this summer and Andy Robertson seemingly unable to play every game like in previous years, Liverpool could do with another left-back.

Last season, Gomez played the position 19 times but, as a right-footer, he isn’t naturally made for the role.

In Calafiori, Liverpool would have another option who can perhaps provide more going forward when he is called upon in that role.

He is no long-term option, though, with his attributes best suited to bringing the ball out from a central position for Liverpool.

In the academy, Owen Beck and Luke Chambers have both shown promise, especially in attack, but Calafiori would be a more solid option with Conor Bradley or Trent Alexander-Arnold bombing down the other side.

When that happens, the back three the Italian would then form with the centre-backs would be far from unfamiliar.


The right profile

What stands out about Calafiori when you watch him is how assured he looks on and off the ball.

He rarely panics when opponents are one-on-one and he is more than happy to command those around him, not dissimilar to Van Dijk.

Where he most feels suited to Liverpool, though, is on the ball. Over the last year, he has managed almost 0.2 assists per 90 minutes which means he is in the top one percent of all defenders in Europe’s top five leagues.

Another statistic that demonstrates his ability to help the team build from the back is in how he creates shots.

FB Ref say he produces 1.76 shot-creating actions per game, placing him in the 97th percentile among his fellow defenders.

He also ranks highly in progressive carrying (1.07 per 90), which indicates he is comfortable moving forward with the ball at his feet.

Over the years, we saw how advantageous having Matip bringing the ball out from defence was, and Van Dijk’s long passing has been equally as vital in mounting attacks.


Will it happen?

ST HELENS, ENGLAND - Wednesday, October 2, 2019: Liverpool's Director of Football Michael Edwards during the UEFA Youth League Group E match between Liverpool FC Under-19's and FC Salzburg Under-19's at Langtree Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Well, the signs point towards Liverpool having genuine interest but the outcome will depend on price, the club’s assessment of other targets and the player’s preference.

According to The Athletic‘s James Horncastle, Liverpool are among those to have enquired into Calafiori’s availability.

Juventus, Tottenham, Newcastle, Brighton, West Ham and Real Madrid have all been credited as suitors for the left-sided defender.

Arsenal, though, are reportedly closest to his signature, with journalist Gianluca Di Marzio writing that “the Londoners are the team in pole position.”

Clubs were given hope earlier this week by Bologna’s sporting director, Giovanni Sartori, who admitted a deal was possible if the fee were large enough.

“We only signed Calafiori 12 months ago, so we’ll see what happens, but in our minds we want to keep him,” Sartori said, per Football Italia.

“There has been talk of Juventus, but also many other clubs. If we were to receive big offers, we’d have to think about it.

“I don’t think he will go to Juventus, it will probably be abroad, but I repeat we will try to keep him.”

While Calafiori is clearly a strong option for Liverpool, his performances at the Euros will have driven his price up and Richard Hughes must decide whether he is worth the risk.