Liverpool may get Joel Matip’s ideal heir with free Chelsea transfer raid
Liverpool are well supplied with a central defender. There is no doubt about it. Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konaté, two extremely promising young players, are especially forced to wait behind the scenes thanks to the prowess of Virgil van Dijk and Joël Matip. That’s before even mentioning Nat Phillips, who remains at the club as a fifth pick. As such, turning to the transfer market in this position will not be high on the FSG’s priority list. However, there are times when a deal is too good to ignore: it could be the case with a developing situation at Chelsea.
The situation in question concerns Antonio Rudiger. At 28, he is in the prime of his life. He’s a regular at Thomas Tuchel, who made Chelsea’s defense one of the nastiest units in Europe. It is difficult to see why he would want to leave the London club. However, according to the latest reports, he is looking for a way out – he has entered the last year of his contract and negotiations on new terms are “not going smoothly” (by standard).
Another report – from Fichajes – claims Rudiger could push for a move as early as January, even neglecting to see the season with Tuchel’s side. Chelsea would likely be open to it if a new deal couldn’t be struck, as it would represent the last chance to avoid losing one of their incumbents for nothing. Regardless, whether it’s a free transfer or a lowball deal, Liverpool should be in the conversation.
Rudiger is around two years younger than Matip and Van Dijk, offering some sort of bridge option before Konaté, 22, and Gomez, 24, are given the starting spot entirely. He also has a strangely similar profile to Matip when it comes to how he approaches the role of center-back. According to FBRef, the Chelsea defender is the fourth closest stylistic match to Matip in all of European football.
Statistics confirm this. Hardly anyone comes close to Matip’s numbers when it comes to progressive rear reaches, but Rudiger has progressive ranges well above the 3.55 per 90 minute average. Player pass completion rates are the same within 0.2%. Both are also much more creative than typical center-backs, although, again, Matip has the advantage. Under the formation of Jürgen Klopp, Rudiger could surely come to reproduce the function of Matip within the team.
The significantly lower number of aerial duels won by Rudiger for 90 initially appears to be of concern, but a deeper dive shows that it has more to do with Liverpool and Chelsea’s respective systems than anything else. Rudiger is one of Tuchel’s three center-backs, all of whom are targeted roughly equally. Matip is deployed in two by Klopp, and most opponents have essentially given up on targeting Van Dijk. As such, the Cameroonian simply has more air balloons to deal with than Rudiger. In terms of the percentage of duels won, Rudiger’s 75% from last season will be more than enough to impress Liverpool’s recruiting squad.
There is bound to be some trepidation when it comes to stopping the progress of Gomez and Konate, who both showed their class against Norwich City. However, the FSG has to be ruthless and the chance to sign a European champion in his prime for nothing doesn’t come too often. Rudiger would significantly bolster Liverpool’s options for at least the next four years – if salary demands prove prohibitive the club can move on knowing that the existing set of center-backs are elite, but if a reasonable deal can be made. concluded, he has to consider it seriously.
Matip himself was transferred for free in 2016 and has become one of Klopp’s best deals. The club’s need for a center-back is much less pressing now, but a move from Antonio Rudiger could be just as smart.