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Liverpool have shrewd potential centre-back solution, but January transfer has major obstacle

Liverpool haven't been directly linked with Ezri Konsa, but he ticks a lot of boxes in terms of what they'd look for when signing a centre-back.

When assessing Liverpool's strategy in the January transfer window, the following couple of statements can be made with a reasonable degree of certainty.

• Signing a centre-back would significantly bolster Liverpool's prospects of winning major silverware this season. With Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez both out with long-term injuries, Joel Matip currently sidelined and his availability perennially unreliable, it's not a viable strategy to go into the second half of the campaign with Fabinho – a converted midfielder (who admittedly performs superbly wherever he plays) – and the highly inexperienced Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips as the three main options if Liverpool are serious about retaining their Premier League title and going deep into the Champions League.

• The club will have a list of targets who have the attributes needed to play centre-back in Liverpool's system. Some of those targets may have been originally lined up for the upcoming summer window as part of the long-term plan anyway, while others might have been identified as shorter-term solutions specifically to help cope with the current injury crisis and ensure the team remains on track for its primary objectives this season.

None of this means Liverpool are guaranteed to sign a centre-back, because a lot of factors have to come together and it depends on the conditions being suitable for all parties involved: Liverpool, the selling club, agents and the player himself. Undoubtedly, though, Liverpool will look to do business if the right player is available at the right kind of price.

As Jürgen Klopp put it himself: "Doing something makes no sense, but doing the right thing makes sense." Liverpool won't just buy for the sake of it, but they'll be actively exploring potential options to see what's possible. It would be negligent of them not to be doing so.

RB Leipzig's French duo Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konaté both seemed to fit the bill in many respects, but while that may still be the case in the summer, the fact Liverpool have been drawn against Leipzig in the Champions League last 16 almost certainly eliminates any possibility of striking a deal this month.

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David Alaba would also make a huge amount of sense with his contract at Bayern Munich expiring at the end of the season and no extension on the cards, but his hefty wage demands (supposedly in the region of £280,000 per week) would be significantly higher than any of Liverpool's current top earners. If they could find a way to make the finances work, he'd be pretty much ideal in almost every other aspect, but again it's a question of whether it's actually possible in the current climate.

There has been plenty of talk around Schalke's Ozan Kabak, Ajax's Perr Schuurs and Lille's Sven Botman too, although it remains to be seen whether Liverpool do actually hold concrete interest in any of them.

Who else, then, could be on Michael Edwards' spreadsheet of potential centre-back candidates? That information will be stored on a laptop somewhere in Kirkby and kept well away from the public domain, but knowing what we do about Liverpool's transfer policy and the specific skill set Klopp wants in a centre-back, it's possible to identify the kind of player they might be looking for.

One such name who'd appear to tick plenty of boxes is Aston Villa's Ezri Konsa. He hasn't been explicitly linked with Liverpool, but as demonstrated by numerous recent deals such as those for Takumi Minamino, Kostas Tsimikas and Diogo Jota, it's not unusual for the club to sign a player completely out of the blue without any prior noise whatsoever.

Signed by Villa for £12m from Brentford in the 2019 summer window, Konsa came through the Charlton Athletic youth system at the same time as Joe Gomez, making 113 appearances in the Championship before making the step up to Premier League level last season. It took him several months to fully bed in, but by December last year he'd become a regular and ended up starting 24 league games, playing an important role in ultimately helping Villa avoid the drop.

This season he has continued where he left off as one of Villa's most impressive and consistent performers in their excellent start to the 2020/21 campaign, keeping six clean sheets in the 12 league games he's started so far (and the three when he didn't were only due to illness). Crucially, his fitness record is immaculate, not missing a single game through injury and making a minimum of 30 appearances in every season of his senior career to date, which is always a major factor to consider for Liverpool when analysing possible transfer targets, and even more so given the events of this season.

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His aerial duel success rate of 59.3% this season is superior to both Gomez (55%) and Fabinho (49%) but below Van Dijk (66.7%) and Joel Matip (71%), while his overall duel success rate of 77.2% is superior to all of Liverpool's current centre-backs and ranks sixth of all Premier League defenders to have featured for at least 500 minutes this season. Considering he's not particularly tall for a centre-back at exactly 6ft, it's pretty impressive.

Any centre-back Liverpool would consider signing also needs to be adept on the ball, possessing the composure and technique to pass calmly out from the back and contribute effectively to the initial phase of the build-up play. It's difficult to assess centre-backs operating in very different systems with different tactical responsibilities, but Konsa's numbers also stack up will in this regard.

His overall passing accuracy of 90.2% is marginally better than Matip (90.1%) and not too far behind Gomez (92.2%), Van Dijk (92.4%) and Fabinho (94.2%), while his long passing accuracy is exceptional at 73.5% – above all Liverpool's centre-backs and third of all Premier League centre-backs. Those big, raking cross-field switches from deep, central areas are a key part of how Liverpool construct attacking moves and create overloads out wide, and the statistics would suggest that Konsa is much more capable than most of fulfilling that function.

At 23, he's of an ideal age where he already has plenty of experience but still has vast scope to develop. With much of Liverpool's squad currently in the 27-30 age bracket, it's essential in terms of building for the future that Liverpool start bringing in players in the 23-26 bracket who are already capable of contributing at the required level, but still have their peak years ahead of them. Jota was perhaps the first sign of that process being set in motion, and Konsa would also fit seamlessly into that big picture vision.

He'd also add to Liverpool's homegrown quota, which is an especially pertinent issue at present with the current 25-man Premier League squad featuring the maximum permitted number of 17 non-homegrown players. Of the eight players currently assigned as 'homegrown', several (such as Nat Phillips, Joe Hardy and even James Milner) won't necessarily be around for many more seasons, so refreshing that quota with new signings who'll definitely be a core part of the team for years to come is a sensible strategy.

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It's likely that Liverpool will have been aware of Konsa from an early age when they were scouting Gomez back in his Charlton days, and so it would be no great surprise if they'd been tracking his progress since. The fact they were extensively scouting Ben White last season (also 23, homegrown and having undergone a fruitful period of development in the Championship, like Konsa) might provide another indication that this is the sort of centre-back Liverpool are in the market for.

For whatever reason, it doesn't feel like there's much general hype around Konsa as yet, which is quite unusual for a young English defender performing so well on a weekly basis in the top flight, nor is it at all clear what kind of fee would actually bring Villa to the negotiating table. They're in the midst of a really promising league campaign and Konsa has two years left on his current deal, so there's no need for them to sell this month.

As ever, though, there's always a price at which a selling club can't just turn a blind eye, and Liverpool's need for reinforcements is urgent. That doesn't mean they'll be held to ransom or pay way over the odds, but if there's a player they want who ticks enough of the necessary boxes, they'd be foolish not to at least test the water.

Would Konsa fall into that category? Who knows, but it's not beyond the realms of possibility.

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