Liverpool are being linked with RB Leipzig centre-back Josko Gvardiol.
Liverpool’s transfer business this summer will inevitably be focussed on revamping Jurgen Klopp’s midfield options. That isn’t to say the side wouldn’t benefit from some fresh blood in other areas though.
Chief among them is the centre of their defence. The Reds have a strong record when Ibrahima Konate and Virgil van Dijk are partnered there but injuries have meant it has not happened as often as they would like. Their absences have only been accentuated by Joe Gomez and Joel Matip having error-prone campaigns.
The good news for Liverpool transfer enthusiasts is that the Reds are reportedly targeting the most valuable centre-back in the world (at least in the opinion of Transfermarkt). Sky Germany’s Florian Plettenberg tweeted that Liverpool are interested in Josko Gvardiol. As Plettenberg broke the news regarding Roberto Firmino leaving, it’s fair to assume his information is accurate.
However, before transfer fanatics start mocking up pictures of Gvardiol in a Liverpool shirt, a word of caution. “I’ve been told that it’s not hot at this stage. No negotiations,” Plettenberg wrote, adding: “Leipzig wants to keep him 100%. Release clause in summer 2024 (!) is around €110m.
The contracts of Liverpool’s existing centre-backs almost imply they will look to replace them one-by-one over the coming years. Matip’s current deal expires at the end of 2023/24, and is then followed season-by-season by van Dijk, Konate and Gomez. If they don’t move for a central defender this summer, they look likely to need to when Gvardiol might be more readily available.
And the Croatian international, who partnered former Red Dejan Lovren at the World Cup, has plenty of strengths. He’s good at attacking set pieces for starters, as he proved in Qatar by scoring against Morocco. Gvardiol’s similar goals against Real Madrid and Manchester City in this season’s Champions League will endear him to Liverpool fans too.
In terms of playing style, the 21-year-old is very comfortable on the ball, happy to bring it forward much like Klopp’s current options in his position. While not at Matip’s level, Gvardiol is in the top two per cent of centre-backs in Europe’s top five leagues for ball carries per 90 minutes (per FBRef).
Once further forward, the former Dinamo Zagreb man can certainly pick out his teammates. He was fourth in the Bundesliga for completed passes into the final third last season and was the only non-Bayern Munich player in the top five.
Similarly, Gvardiol was Germany’s leading defender for completed through balls, with 10. Only Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joao Cancelo recorded more in the Premier League from defence in 2021/22, so the Croatian would have been the top centre-back in England for this metric too.
It’s not all positive, as you would expect from one of the youngest centre-backs playing regularly in the big leagues. He can be a little rash at times, though four Opta-defined defensive errors in the last two seasons (in Bundesliga and Champions League) isn’t too bad; Matip has made that many in his previous five Liverpool starts, for comparison.
Leipzig play a similarly high line to the Reds, so Gvardiol could follow the example of Konate by slotting in at Anfield. A comparison with Liverpool’s number five does raise another concern, in relation to prowess in the air.
In Germany, Konate attempted an average of 4.5 aerial duels per 90 minutes and won 73 per cent of them, while Gvardiol’s figures are 3.2 and 59 respectively. Konate is contesting broadly the same amount (4.4) in the Premier League but has dropped to a 63% success rate, with it much harder to prosper here. A double digit drop for the Croatian if he made the same move could present a problem for the Liverpool back line. It’s a minor worry at this point, but a valid one.
Securing Gvardiol will not be easy, even in 2024. He will still have three years remaining on his contract and competition for his signature will be hot. It’s plausible to see him fitting in at Liverpool in the future, though, even if the famous training ground lean photos will have to wait for now.