By Karl Matchett.
Liverpool picked up an impressive and important first leg victory in the Capital One Cup at Stoke City on Tuesday night, winning 1-0 thanks to Jordon Ibe's first-half goal-but the success came at a cost, with three players suffering hamstring injuries on the night.
Philippe Coutinho went off injured in the first half and Dejan Lovren followed him shortly afterward, leaving Lucas Leiva having to fill in alongside Kolo Toure at centre-back-and Toure himself hobbled toward full time after suffering severe cramp in his hamstring. With Martin Skrtel sidelined with the same issue, Mamadou Sakho also sidelined and Joe Gomez out for the season, the Reds are down to just one mostly-fit veteran centre-back as they head into a run of five games in 18 days.
With that in mind, manager Jurgen Klopp has admitted he may need to look for defensive reinforcements in the January transfer window-so here are three routes for him to consider.
Liverpool may not have to spend money to bolster their back line-they have two young defenders of their own out on loan at present, Tiago Ilori at Aston Villa and Andre Wisdom at Norwich City. The latter has been featuring heavily, at right-back most frequently and in the centre at times, and there has been no suggestion that the Reds have the option to recall him in January.
Ilori, however, is a different matter. Having performed very well at Granada in 2013-14 and after impressing intermittently at Bordeaux in 14-15, interspersed with frustrating injuries, Ilori has yet to set foot on the pitch in competitive action at Villa in 15-16. A recent return from injury has seen him feature for the under-21s, but Villa have a new manager now from when he signed and there appears no quick integration into the team for him.
It has been rumoured for several days that he could be recalled by Liverpool; if it were to happen then an FA Cup tie on Friday at Exeter City would be the ideal setting to finally hand him a competitive Reds debut, but nearly a week into January he still hasn't returned to the club.
If spending turns out to be the required approach, there's always value to be found, even in the inflated January markets.
At least two viable options can be found this month whose contracts are up at the end of the season, meaning the Reds could feasibly talk to them now about a move in summer on a free transfer-and even potentially negotiate a small fee to bring forward the move immediately.
Nicolas N'Koulou of Marseille and Joel Matip of Schalke have to be the primary considerations; both are powerful, have pace and are reasonably strong aerially. N'Koulou may be the superior option in a purely defensive comparison, but Matip of course, based in the Bundesliga, may take Klopp's preference if he likes what he has seen over the past few years.
Of less probable cause could be Martin Caceres or Daniele Rugani on a short-term deal, currently both well down the pecking order at Juventus, while the romantics among Liverpool fans might be more interested in Daniel Agger's soon-to-be-expired contract at Brondby.
Rafa Benitez, Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish, Brendan Rodgers, Jurgen Klopp. Not too many players have spanned the entire quintet of recent Reds managers, but one who has occupies a central defensive slot: Martin Skrtel. And, for much of each tenure, hopes have been high among the fanbase that sooner or later, one coach would see fit to upgrade the Slovakian.
This might be the right time, at last.
A big statement move for a top drawer centre-back would not only boost Liverpool's ability to see off teams and challenge for the upper reaches of the Premier League this year, but would also be a first building block in place for Klopp to establish a new spine of the team.
The options are almost limitless, once the initial genuine top-tier of the world's best have been breezed over.Â
Mateo Musacchio of Villarreal has all the technical traits required to help attack from the back and yet is a fierce competitor, reliable defender and clearly capable of performing to Champions League standards. Injuries have been a cause for concern but he has quickly gotten back to top form this year after his most recent return. In Germany, Jonathan Tah or Neven Subotic might appeal to Klopp, while Timo Kolodziejczak or Diego Reyes would also be interesting options to consider, though the Sevilla man typically plays on the left rather than the right.
Of course, in terms of a big transfer fee and the potential to be among the best, someone already far closer to Anfield would be a perfect fitÂ…but even with the optimism generated post-semifinal, Liverpool fans wouldn't be dreaming that their neighbours Everton allow John Stones to make a cross-city move!