Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine
Fifth choice centre-backs are an overlooked species when it comes to identifying key components in title winning squads.
Marcin Wasilewski, John O’Shea and everyone’s favourite Ivorian Kolo Toure have all scooped league medals this decade for sporadic appearances at centre-back, filling in for six or seven games a season when required.
It’s that kind of strength in depth — deep depth — that title-winning sides often need to ensure there are no cracks as a long season progresses.
For all Liverpool’s defensive faults over the last few years, having the Estonian National Captain as fifth-choice defender going into the season suggested that they weren’t in particularly bad shape.
However, wisdom turned to wonderkid as the Reds agreed a deal to sell Klavan to Serie A side Cagliari, Jurgen Klopp putting his faith in Nat Phillips to deputise at centre-back should there ever be an occasion where three of his senior men in the position are injured.
Unlikely for most teams. Not for Liverpool.
Virgil van Dijk is probably the least injury prone of the remaining centre backs and, given he missed months for Southampton with a foot injury less than two years ago, that’s a concern. Thankfully for Liverpool, he looks fit and back to his best.
The same can be said for Joe Gomez, either Liverpool’s second, third or fourth choice defender depending on who you believe. He missed 15 months with an ACL injury shortly after Klopp took over and underwent ankle surgery towards the end of last season. Another lay-off at some point wouldn’t come as a surprise.
Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip, Liverpool’s other senior centre backs are constantly missing a game or two at a time with something or other. For example, Matip spent the end of last season on the treatment table with a knee problem, similar to the one that kept him out of much of pre-season.
Lovren himself remains sidelined with a pelvic injury, aggravated by playing through the pain in Croatia’s World Cup run. Coincidentally, he’s unlikely to return until after the first international break of the season.
With all this in mind, Klavan’s role looked somewhat important, marginally more so than the fifth choice defenders at Chelsea, Manchester City or Tottenham.
Something of a cult hero at Anfield, fans will be disappointed to see him leave just two years after signing from Augsburg, both for his performances as well as his personality.
A reliable 6/10 in a time of inconsistent defensive displays from Liverpool, Klavan pocketing Sergio Aguero despite receiving an early booking in a 1-0 win over Manchester City on New Year’s Eve 2016 and scoring a dramatic winner against Burnley in January provided the Kop with some fond memories.
KEY STAT: Liverpool averaged 1.9 points per game in Klavan’s 40 league appearances, eight of which came against other ‘top six’ teams.
Now, he’s out of the door: quietly with little attention received in the press. Will his exit be felt later in the season, exactly when Liverpool need him most?
Phillips, who garnered much playing time in pre-season, is undoubtedly a talented young player but is yet to play a minute of senior competitive football.
Whilst Klavan’s desire for more playing time led to the move, it’s undoubtedly a risk by Klopp to stick with what he’s got. A group led by Virgil van Dijk, with inexperienced or injury prone defenders around him.
Down the motorway at Manchester City, Aymeric Laporte, Vincent Kompany, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi would all lay claim to being better than any Liverpool defender bar Van Dijk.
In a title race set to be dominated by attacking talents, could defensive depth be a determining factor?
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