Along with signing Ben Davies from Preston North End on Deadline Day, the reigning Premier League champions also secured the services of Ozan Kabak.
Brought in on loan until the end of the season, the Reds have the option to recruit the 20-year-old permanently for £18 million in the summer transfer window. As such, the onus is now on Kabak to prove that he’s capable of playing Premier League football for Liverpool for years to come. So, is he the short-term solution to ongoing defensive issues?
How Does He Compare?
To declare the 20-year-old a panic buy is somewhat unfair given that he was on Liverpool’s radar before the start of the 2020-21 season. Although he played his part in a Schalke defence that conceded 49 goals in 19 matches, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Regarding how he compares to Joe Gomez, Matip, and Virgil van Dijk, the statistics make for interesting reading.
According to Squawka’s comparison matrix, in 2019-20, Kabak completed 42.8 passes per game. In relation to Gomez, this is considerably less, as the Englishman played 78.8. Of course, it’s worth remembering that Liverpool often dominated the ball last season, whereas Schalke was less commanding. Moreover, the 20-year-old also won 3.9 aerial duels, 0.7 more than Gomez.
Crucially, the Turkish-born defender isn’t shy to play long passes, attempting 8.8 per 90, just 1.1. less than Van Dijk. One area that stands out concerns ground duel success. Although tasked with defending more, Kabak enjoyed a ground success rate of 68.32 per cent last season. By comparison, Gomez, Matip, and Van Dijk recorded 52.5, 54.29, and 69.57 per cent, respectively.
The Importance of a Partnership
At face value, Kabak’s arrival could be seen as a panic buy following a lack of movement in the early stages of the winter window. It appeared that the Reds weren’t going to dip into the market until Joel Matip suffered a season-ending injury in Liverpool’s 3-1 win at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. As per reports, the six-time European champions enquired about numerous options, including David Carmo, Duje Caleta-Car, and Samuel Umtiti. However, in the end, they opted for the financially-sensible solution in Kabak.
In Kabak, the Reds have acquired a defender capable of playing on the right side of the defence. Davies, on the other hand, is left-footed. Between the pair, this will bring much-needed balance to the champions’ backline.
During his time at Preston, who are 40/1 in Championship betting to finish in the top six in 2020-21 as of February 8th, Davies established himself as one of the best ball-playing defenders in the division. As such, with Kabak’s aerial dominance and the Englishman’s passing ability, as well as their combined pace, the Reds now have the tools to form a natural defensive partnership.
Playing for His Future
Although Kabak has only just arrived on Merseyside, his future in Jurgen Klopp’s squad isn’t guaranteed. With an option buy, the Reds are under no obligation to spend £18 million on the 20-year-old come the end of the season. That said, should he play to his potential, then Liverpool may have a gem on their hands. Given that he's comfortable on the floor and in the air, Kabak’s assertiveness may be exactly what Liverpool are missing.