Liverpool remain on the lookout for a new centre-back but Real Madrid could be about to rival them in the transfer market
Eduardo Camavinga of Real Madrid, Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp & Real Madrid Manager Carlo Ancelotti react at the end of the UEFA Champions League round of 16 leg two match between Real Madrid and Liverpool FC at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu
Despite Jurgen Klopp’s admission back in May that Liverpool were in the market for a new centre-back, the Reds ultimately failed to strengthen the position this summer.
“We look in all departments apart from goalkeeper at the moment,” said the German at time. “Yes, if there is a good one (centre-back) out there, I would not deny it. That’s all. We look at all areas of the pitch, definitely.”
Ultimately, Liverpool decided to focus on further strengthening their midfield instead. There had been interest in the likes of Levi Colwill and Micky van den Ven, only to see the former sign a new long-term contract at Chelsea while the latter completed a £43m transfer to Tottenham Hotspur.
After the unexpected departures of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho to Saudi Arabia, the Reds opted to focus on bringing in Wataru Endo and Ryan Gravenberch to accompany the arrivals of Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai earlier in the window.
As things stand, despite injury sidelining Ibrahima Konate for a number of games and a Virgil van Dijk serving a two-match suspension after being sent off against Newcastle United, Liverpool have not been made to regret such a transfer stance.
Joel Matip, and Joe Gomez have, so far, stayed injury-free and performed much better than they did last year, while the emergence of 20-year-old centre-back Jarell Quansah as a genuine option has been a welcome surprise.
But that doesn’t mean the Reds won’t look to strengthen further defensively in the next 12 months. In truth, they can’t afford not to, with Van Dijk comfortably on the wrong side of 30, Matip out of contract next summer and expected to move on, and both Konate and Gomez historically prone to injury.
Meanwhile, having spent the past 18 months revamping first the attack and then the midfield, it is only natural that the defence will be the next position club bosses target.
In the interim, Liverpool have continued to be linked with a number of names, with former ECHO journalist Neil Jones reporting that the Reds had looked at Sporting Lisbon’s Goncalo Inacio, Benfica’s Antonio Silva and Bayer Leverkusen’s Piero Hincapie. In the case of the latter, the player’s agent would even confirm Reds interest in his client earlier this week.
“Liverpool were interested in him, but at that time they chose to invest in the midfield,” Manuel Sierra told Joaquín Saavedra via Bolavip. “For January they are talking like other clubs, it will not be less than £50 million.”
However, the agent would later clarify such comments and insist his response had been lost in translation.
“I was directly asked about Liverpool’s interest in Piero Hincapie, and of course they like him,” he stated. “But I never said they made a serious offer or will do so in January.
“Lots of clubs are looking at him because he’s a young and interesting talent but he is focused on Leverkusen for now.”
Consequently, it remains to be seen if Liverpool actually intend to follow up initial interest in the Ecuadorian. Having partly not moved for Van de Ven because of VfL Wolfsburg’s asking price, you could argue it would be a similar story if Leverkusen stick to demanding over £50m for Hincapie.
Admittedly, the Reds’ position could change. While they had been targeting a young, left-sided centre-back as initial back-up who could develop into a long-term replacement for Matip or Van Dijk and also play at left-back, Quansah’s own emergence fills that gradual successor role – albeit without being left-sided.
As a result, Liverpool could, theoretically, tweak their desired profile of a new centre-back if/when Matip moves on.
But regardless of what the Reds plan to do next when they do look to strengthen their defence, Real Madrid could potentially throw a spanner in the works. And not for the first time.
Liverpool have seen their efforts to revamp their midfield partly derailed twice by the La Liga giants with Aurelien Tchouameni opting for a switch to the Bernabeu over Anfield in the summer of 2022, before Jude Bellingham joined the Frenchman in the Spanish capital this summer.
The Reds had already been forced to end interest in the England international before he made his intentions clear, but there is a feeling that Real Madrid would have been his preference.
The two midfielders would cost Madrid a combined initial fee of £156.3m, rising to a potential £200m with add-ons.
Alongside the likes of Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde, their selection of midfielders is one of the strongest quotas in Europe and will only get better with age.
With the majority yet to hit their peaks, Real Madrid have delivered when it comes to finding long-term successors for Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.
However, such business has been at the expense of other arrivals. Elsewhere, they have made the most out of free transfers, loan signings, cut-price fees, returning loanees, and buy-back options to bolster the rest of their squad.
Consequently, there was no big-name replacement for the departing Karim Benzema this summer following his own Bosman exit to Al-Ittihad. But beyond targeting a new prolific striker in the future, their defence will soon be in need of major surgery.
Real Madrid boast four senior centre-backs in Eder Militao, David Alaba, Antonio Rudiger and Nacho Fernandez. Yet the former is out injured until next spring with an ACL injury, while the remaining three are all on the wrong side of 30. Meanwhile, Nacho is also out of contract next summer.
Meanwhile, right-backs Daniel Carvajal and Lucas Vazquez are also both on the wrong side of 30, with the latter out of contract next summer, while left-back remains a problem position for Carlo Ancelotti’s side. From 11 matches, he has already had to play four different players in the position.
Fran Garcia has played there the most this season after the 24-year-old rejoined the club in the summer from Rayo Vallecano after activating his €5m buyback clause, having blown their transfer budget on Bellingham.
Ferland Mendy is their other proven option, but the 28-year-old’s recurring injury woes are what makes left-back a problem position at the Bernabeu in the first place.
Elsewhere, both Camavinga and Alaba have had to fill in out of position in the role, with 19 of the Frenchman’s appearances this calendar year coming at left-back rather than in his preferred defensive role.
Evidently, Real Madrid and Liverpool will be competing in the exact same transfer market again with both clubs ideally on the lookout for a left-sided defender with his peak years still in front of him.
Hincapie would be one such player, with Real Madrid also repeatedly linked with the 21-year-old alongside the Reds in recent months.
Transfermarkt credits the Ecuador international as making 38 appearances at centre-back for Bayer Leverkusen, and 32 at left-back.
Meanwhile, seven outings attributed to playing left-midfield were essentially being utilised as a left wing-back in a 3-4-3 formation. Such versatility would tick both Liverpool and Real Madrid’s boxes.
Yet if the La Liga giants do move for Hincapie, they could potentially have an advantage over the Reds with Ancelotti set to leave the club to take over Brazil next summer.
Leverkusen manager (and former Liverpool and Madrid player) Xabi Alonso is reportedly top of their wishlist to replace the legendary Italian following the most eye-catching transformation in the German club’s fortunes during his year in charge.
Reports in Germany claim a clause in Alonso’s contract makes such a switch doable next summer too, with Bild claiming he has a special clause in his deal which would allow him to depart for any of three former clubs in Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid after signing an extension until 2026 back in August.
While he would equally be under consideration to replace Klopp at Anfield or Thomas Tuchel in Bavaria when the time comes, Madrid appear to be the side ready to make such a move first.
The German certainly won’t be leaving Liverpool anytime soon, boasting a contract until 2026 and having recently rejected the advances of his homeland’s national team.
“We’re in September,” Alonso said two weeks ago when asked about rumours linking him with Real Madrid. “It’s not an issue.” That won’t stop the speculation though, nor rule out a switch back to the Bernabeu in 2024.
Should he make such a move, he would be well-placed to bring Hincapie with him from Leverkusen as Real Madrid look to strengthen their defence. That reunion would be a clear advantage when it comes to deciding the left-sided defender’s future.
But even if the Ecuadorian is not the answer, and actually regardless of who replaces Ancelotti next year, Liverpool still have to prepare to battle the Spanish giants in the transfer market once again.
Both need new defenders, and as the Reds found out this summer, there are few available, affordable, quality options around.