Via AllinOne Sports
Thanks to injuries to center backs Mamadou Sakho and Joe Gomez, Liverpool was forced to look to the transfer market for additional help in the center of the defense. The Reds already have four central defenders all under the age of 27 that manager Jürgen Klopp believes are starting caliber. Therefore, the club set out to find a veteran option that can be a squad player that provides depth across the back line. Now, it appears that the Reds have settled on 30-year-old Estonian national team captain and FC Augsburg center back Ragnar Klavan for a fee of £4.2 million. Klavan is a veteran player that brings extensive European experience to Anfield where he will now be the Reds’ fifth center back option and fill-in left back if needed.
This past season at Augsburg, Klavan made 31 appearances in the Bundesliga, helping his side to a 12th placed finish and a run to the knockout stages of the Europa League before losing to his new club. According to WhoScored, Klavan averaged 1.3 tackles, 1.4 interceptions, and 5.8 clearances per match in domestic competitions for Augsburg. His low tackle and interception rates may be more of an illustration of Augsburg’s defensive style rather than Klavan’s defensive nous. According to Andrew Beasley, the Estonian won a stellar 83% of his tackles in the 2015-16 season, a mark that would have ranked sixth among Premier League center backs with at least 47 attempted tackles. Augsburg ranked eleventh in the Bundesliga with only 48% possession, and as the team’s Europa League ties against Liverpool illustrated, the German side was adept at sitting back in a compact defensive system. As a result, Klavan’s low tackle and interception numbers but high clearance numbers likely show that Augsburg instituted a conservative defensive strategy where the team’s compact defensive structure was heavily relied upon rather than individual defensive plays. His elite rate of successful tackles while accumulating only two yellow cards and one defensive error in 31 matches is far more indicative of the solid defender that Klavan actually is. With his extensive experience and success playing for defense-first teams, Klavan can be expected to perform as a very reliable option in the center of Liverpool’s defense.
Although Klavan is not the tallest center back at 6’1” or 1.87 meters, he is a good aerial defender that can improve Liverpool’s weakness on set pieces and against teams that employ a direct style of play. In 2015-16, Klavan won 64% of his 112 attempted aerial duels. This mark would have ranked him eighth among 19 center backs with at least 110 aerial duels. It is clear that Klavan is solid, if unspectacular at defending balls in the air. For a side like Liverpool that has been torn apart by teams such as West Ham which employ a direct style of play, Klavan’s aerial prowess will add much-needed help to this aspect of defending. Plus, Klavan’s experience and ability in the air will also improve Liverpool’s poor set piece defending that caused the team to drop numerous points over the past two seasons. Despite Klavan’s less than elite height, he has proven to be a strong defender in areas where he can make a tangible improvement to his new side.
Klavan is also a good passer that can aid Liverpool’s attack from the back. With an 85% passing accuracy, Klavan is very good when in possession and can act as a true ball playing center back. In addition, his average pass length was a whopping 25 meters last season, about six to seven meters longer than the average distance on most defenders’ passes. Klavan is not afraid to play a long ball across the pitch to jump start a counter attack, very similar to potential new center back partner Joel Matip. In fact, Klavan is very similar to Matip in that both players have spent time as midfielders in their careers giving them a more attacking mindset than most center backs. In addition to Klavan’s experience in midfield, the Estonian has also spent time playing left back in his career. Klavan’s main position is on the left side of central defense now that he has gotten older, but he used to play left back for Louis Van Gaal’s AZ Alkmaar in the Eredivisie. This is another position of Klavan’s past that includes more participation in attack that has contributed to his adept passing ability. Jurgen Klopp likes his defenders to be confident on the ball and help in building from the back, and Klavan is more than capable of accomplishing this.
At 30 years old with extensive experience playing in Europe for both club and country, Klavan is a perfect fit for a Liverpool side in need of a veteran center back. Klavan will likely not see much playing time outside of cup competitions and injuries, but he can be a more than adequate replacement at left center back behind Sakho or even at left back in a pinch. The decrease in playing time will certainly be an adjustment for a player like Klavan who has been a starter throughout his career, but moving to the biggest club of his career should help him accept less time on the pitch. Plus, the Reds are a team without much of a veteran presence in the dressing room and Klavan can help fill this void. Although he will not be a mainstay in the starting eleven, Klavan can fill many roles for the Reds. The Estonian is almost the perfect fit for what Liverpool needs, and for a minimal fee of only £4.2 million, the Reds look to be on the brink of completing another very good piece of business.
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