It must be rare for a football club to sign two players in the same position on the same day, but for Liverpool it’s somewhat of a quirky trend.
The last time the Merseysiders were active on January transfer deadline day was back in 2011 when Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez arrived at Anfield as Fernando Torres departed for Chelsea. A decade on, it was a different area of the pitch that need solving, with a host of centre-backs linked, two arriving, and then - incredibly - a third current centre-back being ruled out for the rest of the season.
Liverpool are no stranger to signing two players for the same position on deadline day, with perhaps the strangest being when goalkeepers Jerzy Dudek and Chris Kirkland arrived at Melwood to pose together holding the same scarf, while Sander Westerveld sat watching and wondering what was going on.
There was also Milan Baros and Nicolas Anelka together for a Christmas Eve (yes, really) photoshoot, and before that Phil Babb and John Scales were unveiled as part of a new look defence - and it’s that that Liverpool have sought this time around, eventually adding Ozan Kabak from Schalke and Ben Davies from Preston.
It proved to be an extremely impressive show of creativity from the Reds’ sporting director, Michael Edwards, effectively adding two new centre backs for a combined outlay of less than £4 million - Davies being around £1.6m and Kabak being an initial £2m loan fee, with no obligation to buy.
👋 @ozankabak4 pic.twitter.com/KrC6KNalFzFebruary 2, 2021
That Kabak’s arrival was confirmed 20 minutes before the club announced that Joel Matip has joined Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez on the sidelines for the rest of the season, though, was no coincidence. Liverpool did extremely well to keep news of the extent of Matip’s injury quiet until after their business was done.
However, it does beg the question, had Matip not been injured, would a defender have been signed?
Most observers, and certainly supporters of the champions, knew that a centre-back was required from the moment Van Dijk was injured in October, or certainly when Gomez joined him the following month. So just why wasn’t an addition lined up for January 1?
Why did it take until Matip had been injured and the final day of the window, by which time the Reds had fallen four points (and a game in hand) behind Man City after dropping eight points in January.
Frustrating, no doubt, but the world of football transfers is a high-stakes game of poker and when Liverpool enquired about Kabak last summer the German side wanted £30 million for the Turk, now they’ve signed him for £2m and then a potential £18m fee to make it permanent. It’s incredible business once again, effectively acquiring a high-potential player on a ‘try before you buy’ deal.
Debuts to come - but when?
There’s no way of knowing the impact of Kabak arriving a month earlier, but he’d certainly have had a better bedding-in period, with an FA Cup debut being ideal in early January. Now, it’s extremely tricky to see just when either of the new boys will make their introduction for the club.
🥰 Soaking in the new surroundings... pic.twitter.com/Nj5OKYg8mNFebruary 1, 2021
The Reds’ home game against Brighton on Wednesday night will certainly be too soon for Kabak, who didn't arrive on Merseyside until Tuesday after a visa issue delayed his arrival. It would seem extremely unlikely that Davies would be handed his Premier League debut within 48 hours of his signing, with perhaps two training sessions at the most under his belt.
After that, it’s Man City at Anfield - far from a team you want to be handing out a debut for a centre-back. Leicester a week later could be a potential for one, but seems highly unlikely for a testing ground for a completely new partnership. Leipzig in the Champions League and the Merseyside derby thereafter complete a run of some big games for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Speaking on Tuesday, Klopp said: “They will need time, but we don’t have a lot of time, so we will use the time we have in our hands and try our best.
“If they would have to start tomorrow (Wednesday) night together, I think that would not be too cool. But we will give them a few more days.”
So for the short term at least, you can expect to see Nathaniel Phillips and Jordan Henderson, plus Fabinho who should be back for that City match, in the Reds’ defence.
Add in that centre-back is a highly specialised position, particularly in Klopp’s system, and that the manager usually has a very long bedding-in period for new signings (see Andy Robertson and Fabinho in particular) and it does leave you wondering how this will play out.
The potential, though, once Davies and Kabak are deemed ready by Klopp is massive. Liverpool fans will be licking their lips at the thought of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson back in central midfield alongside Thiago - a midfield lineup seen just once, in that Merseyside derby last October.
With Kabak being a right-sided centre-back and Davies left-sided, there is a natural balance should the duo end up being paired together.
However, a completely new pairing does seem unlikely for all the reasons outlined earlier. This season, at least, it’s more likely that one of the two new boys will be alongside Fabinho or Henderson for most of their appearances.
In his first interview since arriving, Davies admitted to almost wanting this next fortnight to be out of the way so he can feel more at home. The 25-year-old is a player whose qualities include the long pass that switches play from the left of defence, something Van Dijk specialises in.
He arrives with the right attitude: humble, willing to work hard and, crucially, learn and develop. He knows he isn’t the finished product but will embrace the opportunity handed to him in these unusual circumstances.
That said, should it not work out, Liverpool know that they will comfortably be able to sell the player on for a much greater fee than they have acquired him for. For the club, it’s certainly a win-win.
Which is the same for Kabak’s deal, with Edwards having somehow forced Schalke into accepting a deal without an obligation and only an option to buy the 20-year-old in the summer. Again, Kabak will know this and know he has to impress in these six months, a deal isn’t guaranteed, he’s literally playing for his future at the Premier League champions.
Liverpool, therefore, have acquired two hungry players in an area of extreme need for an extremely low cost.
The only risk is that neither work out, but given the Reds’ record in the transfer market and Klopp’s coaching acumen, that seems highly unlikely too.
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