After six long years in Merseyside, Dejan Lovren looks to be on his way out of Liverpool. The 31-year-old is said to be ‘close’ to signing for Zenit St. Petersburg for around £10m when the transfer window opens.
With the move edging close to completion, Jürgen Klopp and the Reds hierarchy may now be thinking about a replacement. Although Lovren only played in 27% of games this season, Klopp needs defensive depth and a solid backup option if he wants to retain the Premier League title. With the World Cup finalist out the door, Liverpool will have just three first-team centre backs to call on.
1. Diego Carlos
Sevilla man Diego Carlos has been linked with the Reds for months, and helped his side qualify for next season’s Champions League.
A solid, rugged defender, the 27-year-old is at the perfect age ahead of his prime years.
Rather than coming in as fourth-choice however, Carlos could challenge for a starting spot, offering solid competition to Joe Gomez and Joel Matip.
However, his €75m release clause may be much too steep for Liverpool, even if they can haggle a fee down a few million.
2. Ben White
If Liverpool want a young English defender, they should look no further than Ben White. Spending the season on loan at Leeds from Brighton, the 22-year-old helped the Whites win promotion back to the Premier League, playing every single minute en route to Championship glory.
The Reds have already been monitoring White this season, and it is easy to see why. Able to play as a right-back and defensive midfielder, White’s versatility and youth him a very enticing transfer target for the champions.
Brighton are unlikely to let him go on the cheap, but he may be seen as a solid investment, while good relations exist between the two clubs with Adam Lallana heading for the Seagulls this summer.
3. Aïssa Mandi
Carlos is not the only transfer target from Andalusia, with Liverpool also occasionally linked to Real Betis’ Aïssa Mandi. The Algeria international can play across the backline, and as he looks unlikely to extend a contract which runs out next summer, Estadio Deportivo claim that Liverpool are interested.
Mandi has international experience, and could be a cheap option for the Merseyside club this summer. Going to Anfield would be the next big step in the 28-year-old’s career, while he could be a sound signing for Klopp to bring in more depth at the back.
4. Sepp van den Berg
Liverpool may choose not to spend money to replace Lovren at all, as Sepp van den Berg could be promoted to a more significant role.
The 18-year-old has made four senior appearances since joining from PEC Zwolle in his native Netherlands, showing some promise in his early days on Merseyside.
There will be concerns over whether Van den Berg is ready to make the step-up yet, questioning whether it is too soon to fill Lovren’s boots. But, with big things expected, the signing of a more experienced layer may just stunt the Dutchman's development and a chance to learn on the job alongside the world's best in countryman Virgil van Dijk.
Quite simply, if he is good enough, he is old enough.
5. Ki-Jana Hoever
Another youth option for the Reds comes in the form of Ki-Jana Hoever, who only turned 18 in January. The Dutchman has been with Liverpool for two years, with four appearances to his name. He also has the added bonus of offering extra cover at right-back, as well as in the heart of defence.
Hoever has shown promise when given the chance in the senior side, scoring his first goal in the Carabao Cup win over MK Dons and is highly rated by those in the know. But if Liverpool want to challenge across all fronts - whether it be the Premier League, Champions League or FA Cup - do they need to sign new experience?
Hoever will be part of Liverpool’s future, but - as with Van den Berg - Klopp must make a decision on if their time has come. It comes down to whether he wants to spend, or stick with the kids for the near future.