With their three main centre-backs out injured, Steven Caulker moving on loan to Liverpool will certainly not be the most surprising thing that happens this January transfer window. With Liverpool’s reputation for using data in their transfer dealings (although not all of them), there were some questions as to whether this had figured in their decision.
Similar questions were asked after his loan move to Southampton earlier this season, another club known for having a very good performance analysis department, though seemingly with less emphasis on statistics. However, with Caulker’s 145 minutes in the Premier League this half-season, and only 5 other appearances for the club (3 in the Europa League, two in the League Cup), it’s clear that he was only a rotational back-up option for them, and will probably be that for Liverpool as well.
Is he a good choice for the role? Well, given that players generally have to adjust to new leagues at least to some extent, the fact that he’s played in the Premier League at good clubs (Tottenham) and bad (Cardiff, QPR) is an advantage. The most important factor is that the market for players available in January is not going to be large, and possibly smaller if you wish to loan a player instead of panic-buying for an inflated price.
The fact that statistically evaluating central defenders is notoriously difficult adds to suspicions that this is an opportunity-based, rather than stats-based, signing, as does the fact that, when he has turned out for Southampton, he hasn’t exactly impressed. Against Liverpool themselves in Southampton’s 6-1 cup defeat he was poor, and wasn’t hugely better, though less exposed and less threatened, when he featured against Manchester City earlier in the season.
Were all Liverpool’s centre-backs to be fit, he would be fourth in the pecking order, behind the current injury-sufferers, and not by a small margin. His positioning and awareness can be off, though he is more comfortable and elegant on the ball than some centre-backs, but is no longer the young prodigy he seemed when at Spurs. The truth of the matter is probably that he’s the best Liverpool could get their hands on a) at short notice b) on an emergency loan-type deal.
However, with none of the three centre-backs who are currently out having performed hugely well this season so far, and with longer-term discontent with two of them, Liverpool fans may have hoped that a permanent addition would have been made in that position in January. One would imagine that this loan move dispels this possibility, as a permanent transfer that was already in the works could possibly have been hurried through, though this may have incurred a higher fee from the selling club sensing an opportunity.
Joel Matip of Schalke appears to be the most likely to join, according to the rumour mill, with Neven Subotic of Dortmund and Andrea Ranocchia from Inter also reported to be targets.
In fact, the more interesting story may be how Caulker has gone from Spurs prodigy to experienced relegation sufferer to the possibly brand new role in football of a professional emergency loan. When you get beyond the initial shock of ‘Steven Caulker signs for Liverpool’ news, the true peculiarity probably comes from the opposite end of the headline than you think.
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