'Now we have options': Jurgen Klopp breathes easy after Liverpool strengthen their defence

Ben Davies and Ozan Kabak offer a rare luxury of choice

File photo dated 19-09-2020 of Preston North End's Ben Davies. Issue date: Monday February 1, 2021. Issue date: Monday February 1, 2021. PA Photo. Liverpool have completed the signing of Preston centre-back Ben Davies, the PA news agency understands. See PA story SOCCER Transfers. Photo credit should read Nigel French/PA Wire.
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“In the last few weeks it was always the last two men standing who play centre-half,” reflected Jurgen Klopp.

Liverpool have been a team of the depleted, deprived of their four first-choice central defenders in a scenario their manager feels is almost unprecedented. Now they have the rare riches of two new fit ones.

Enter Ben Davies, recently of Preston, and Ozan Kabak, borrowed from Schalke. One has come from a mid-table Championship club, the other from the Bundesliga’s bottom side but Klopp has often excelled at finding a positive. The Englishman’s rise appeals to the romantic in him.

“You don’t need to watch a Hollywood picture to see this kind of story,” he said. “Yesterday Preston, today Liverpool: I like this kind of story.”

Davies’ loan spells at York, Tranmere, Southport, Newport and Fleetwood have given him a grounding in England’s third, fourth and fifth tiers. His Championship career strikes a chord with Klopp, who was in a similar situation in his playing days with Mainz.

“I was a second division player myself and we all dreamt of playing in the first league,” he said.

“Ben did that as well and now it is a big opportunity for both sides. He has a lot of experience and a lot of space for development. I am a big believer in opportunities and taking chances. Ben sees it the same way.”

Liverpool’s search for reinforcements had to be accelerated when Joel Matip was ruled out for the season – “a big, big blow, really harsh and unlucky,” Klopp said – and it encompassed plenty of players.

“We were always looking all over, in each league in Europe and when I saw Ben it was really interesting,” he explained. “We watched him in a lot of games and saw he is a really good footballer. He knows how to defend.”

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Davies’ deal with Preston was due to expire in the summer and he was close to signing a pre-contract agreement with Celtic before Liverpool entered the frame. He joined for an initial £500,000, ($682,000) rising to £1.6 million. The Turkey international Kabak came on loan with an option for an £18 million deal in the summer.

Klopp’s best man managed the 20-year-old at Schalke but Klopp clarified: “He is not here because David Wagner was his coach and David is my friend. When David was at Schalke and when he spoke about Ozan, he was always very positive. In the last few days and weeks we did not speak because it was not necessary. Everybody knows everything about Ozan.”

Schalke went 357 days without a Bundesliga win until last month but Klopp insisted the defender was not responsible for their slide.

“He has a really tough time with his team but that is how it is in football, a single player cannot make the difference,” he explained.

“Even in the season Stuttgart got relegated he played a really good season. Schalke have a lot of problems at the moment but that is nothing to do with Ozan”

Now Liverpool face a race to get each accustomed to the demands of the new club. Klopp has had 12 centre-back partnerships already this season and while a 13th is possible against Brighton on Wednesday, it is unlikely to consist of both of the newcomers.

“If they have start together I think that will be not too cool,” he added. “We need time and we don’t have a lot of time. The players who are here have an advantage.”

If it points to Nat Phillips and Jordan Henderson carrying on the back, Klopp is savouring the novel luxury of choice. “Now we have more options,” he said. “Then we make decisions.”