It has become increasingly difficult to ignore Liverpool's need to bring in a centre-back during the January transfer window.
After initially coping well following injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, the Reds opted to field two of their best midfielders, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, in the heart of defence during their 1-0 defeat to Southampton recently.
Although the pair did not fare that badly, their side's balance in possession was negatively affected, suggesting that sporting director Michael Edwards may need to pull off another trademark 'Liverpool transfer' in January.
Two rumoured solutions to their defensive woes are Juventus' Merih Demiral and Lille's Sven Botman. The Reds have not made contact with either player yet, but both represent interesting propositions nonetheless.
Question is, which one would be better suited to Liverpool? Here's 90min's deep dive to find out...
Being a centre-back for Liverpool requires a specific set of skills. As well as all the normal attributes required of a defender, such as tackling, intercepting, blocking and heading, Reds defenders also see a lot of the ball and must be capable of driving out from the back.
Last season, no player in the Premier League completed more carries than Van Dijk and only Trent Alexander-Arnold enjoyed more touches. Gomez - the Dutchman's most common partner - echoed this trend, racking up the 10th most carries per 90 minutes in the entire division.
Passing is another attribute that Liverpool will be considering. Van Dijk and Gomez both ranked in the top five for passes completed per 90 by Premier League centre-backs last season with long passing being of particularly importance.
Switching the ball to the flanks is a key part of Liverpool's tactical DNA. Therefore, it is little surprise that Van Dijk and Gomez led the league in completed long passes (over 30 yards) last campaign. Both averaged close to 16 per 90 minutes, racking up success rates of around 80%.
Despite the emphasis placed on playing out from the back in 2021, modern day defenders still need to be able to, well, defend.
In this category, there is little to choose between the two players. Last season, as per WhoScored, Botman averaged 1.8 tackles, 1.5 interceptions and 0.5 blocks per game. Demiral, meanwhile, endured an injury hit campaign but across his career he has posted eerily similar numbers.
It is similar story when comparing the pair's aerial prowess. They both stand at over 190cm tall and during their peak seasons averaged just shy of four aerial wons per game.
Overall, it is clear that both players have a high level of defensive intelligence, are strong in the tackle and generally possess solid defensive fundamentals.
Carrying the ball
Botman is a product of Ajax's famed youth system and it shows. In Amsterdam, players are schooled in the Total Football philosophy, an education that has equipped the Dutchman was remarkable composure and technique.
No centre-back has completed more carries in Ligue 1 this season, although his average of 47.5 per 90 minutes is still well below the numbers that Van Dijk and Gomez recorded last season.
Demiral is not quite as comfortable striding out from the back but he still impresses with the ball at his feet. He has not miscontrolled a single one of the 268 passes he has received in Serie A this season, while his 43.7 carries per 90 minutes is only marginally fewer than Botman has managed.
Both of the Liverpool transfer targets' passing stats may set alarm bells off at Anfield.
As previous mentioned, long passing in particular would be a desirable trait in any new arrival and it is not clear that either player possesses it.
Demiral's numbers are the more alarming. The Turkey international has never played in a team famed for knocking it long and it shows, as he has consistently averaged around five completed long passes per 90 minutes during his career.
On the other hand, Botman is currently averaging short of the 16 completed long passes that Liverpool's starting pairing managed last season at 9.59. These numbers are far more encouraging and suggest that he may have the potential to slot into Liverpool's system if afforded a short period to adapt.
Experience & injury record
This season is Botman's first in one of the big five European leagues and he has taken to it like a duck to water. He has not missed a single second of Lille's campaign so far and was even rewarded with call up to the Netherlands squad in January.
He may not have played but if he continues his current form, it will not be long until he receives his maiden senior cap.
Demiral is already a seasoned international, earning 16 caps for Turkey despite only being 22-year-old. While he has the advantage in the experience stakes, he is sadly earning a reputation as injury prone.
A nasty ACL injury kept him out for the majority of last season and a string of muscle complaints have kept him on the sidelines more recently. Liverpool are not entirely against signing players with a patchy fitness record, as evidenced by the arrival of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Thiago Alcantara in recent times, but Demiral's struggles will still be a worry.
One of the main reasons that Botman is so highly coveted this window is that he could represent incredible value. Following the collapse of French football's television deal, many Ligue 1 clubs could be forced into selling their top stars in January to break even.
A transfer fee as low as £20m has been mentioned, although Lille are likely to hold out for more if possible as Botman only arrived at the club in the summer, and has four and a half years left to run on his current deal.
Juventus are also unlikely to part with Demiral easily. Last January, Leicester, Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund were all issued a hands off warning and little has changed in the last 12 months.
However, with Demiral said to be unhappy with his limited role in Turin, the player - whose is under contract until 2024 - could force through a move in the Premier League champions come calling.
After crunching the data, it seems Botman would be the more likely success story at Liverpool.
There is very little to choose between the pair defensively, but he seems to be more comfortable on the ball than Demiral and is also a more accomplished passer. Add to that his knock down price and exemplary injury record and it is difficult to look past Botman as the answer to Liverpool's selection crisis.
Whether they make a move is an entirely different story...
Source : 90min