Liverpool face a nightmare weekend of Elm Street proportions. They make the testing trip to third-placed Leicester on Saturday, while fellow Champions League chasers Chelsea and West Ham face favourable Monday night fixtures at home to Newcastle and Sheffield United respectively.
Come Monday night the Reds could be down to sixth, with both Everton and Aston Villa breathing down their necks with multiple games in hand. Jurgen Klopp’s side must act now to avoid embarrassment.
With Fabinho out as injuries to centre-backs and makeshift centre-backs alike, the German manager must throw both of his new defensive signings straight into the starting XI at the King Power Stadium. Ben Davies, who signed from Preston in the January window, has over 200 Football League appearances to his name and has been a leading defender in the Championship across the past two seasons. He isn’t a young talent who needs to be nurtured but a rugged central defender who needs game time. More importantly, Liverpool need him.
He was brought in to plug gaps in Liverpool’s defence this season, and if they don’t utilise him now, what was the point in buying him at all? "You can imagine that in the last few weeks and days we had always to consider our situation and to think what we have to do, so we were looking all over each league in Europe," Klopp said after signing Davies. "Playing in the Championship he's used to playing a lot, playing more than he trains." But it feels like the Reds are already wasting the opportunity to get him in and take the pressure off the side elsewhere.
Davies is hardly going to get a look-in when Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are back fit. The same could be said of fellow signing Ozan Kabak, whose move was brought forward six months to help cover gaps in the squad. At the age of 20 and with a permanent move on the horizon in the summer, he could be seen as a long-term signing who could break into the first team over the coming years. Either way, the talented Turkish international needs to be trusted by Klopp this weekend and partnered with Davies.
The truth is, Liverpool need to field two natural centre-backs in order to give Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson the confidence to play higher up the pitch and become an attacking threat once again. More importantly, it would allow Jordan Henderson to move into the holding midfield role where he is so desperately needed at the moment.
Henderson provides cut and thrust to that midfield three, his energy is relentless and his leadership admirable, all of which brings stability to the side. From there, Thiago Alcantara and Georginio Wijnaldum are able to create in the final third rather than worrying about their defensive duties, giving Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Fimino more balls to run onto behind the defence. The domino effect caused by bringing the two new centre-backs into the side would be hugely beneficial for the Reds. A Liverpool win with both teams to score is 3/1 with Betfred online, but a Reds win will surely over come about if Klopp bites the bullet and does something about their recent malaise.
Liverpool’s opponents this weekend will not only test them, but provide the perfect reason for Klopp to chuck in both Davies and Kabak. In Wilfried Ndidi, Youri Tielemans and James Maddison, Leicester boast one of the strongest and most creative midfield trios in the entire league and, given the chance, they could dominate a Liverpool engine room which is anything short of its 100 per cent capacity. If Henderson continues at centre-back and Thiago or Wijnaldum are forced to fill the holding role, Brendan Rodgers and his talented trio will surely fancy their chances of causing some damage.
Instead, if Henderson is pushed forward to close down that creative threat, Liverpool should be able to get more of a foothold in the game. Admittedly, it is asking a lot of Davies and Kabak to deal with the returning Jamie Vardy, but these are the challenges they would have dreamed of when they signed for the club.
Both players were signed to fill gaps on the pitch this season, not just to make up the numbers in training. And this weekend Klopp must show some cojones and give the duo a chance to prove themselves, his side could reap the benefits and get their season back on track as a result.