Jurgen Klopp couldn’t help but chuckle when asked the most direct of questions. There was no beating around the bush - what he was asked was as comprehensive as it comes during a press conference.
“Are you looking to buy a defender this summer?” was the query. It brought a vociferous laugh from the Liverpool manager. He seemed to relish the frankness of it. And he gave an equally candid answer.
“We look in all departments apart from goalkeeper at the moment,” Klopp replied. “Yes, if there is a good one out there, I would not deny it.”
Midfield is the obvious area of Liverpool’s squad that requires bolstering. With James Milner, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain departing, the Reds are short of bodies. In truth, they needed a new engine-room operator anyway given the underwhelming season that’s resulted in Liverpool failing to challenge for silverware and a likely jettison from the Champions League.
But a new defender could also arrive in what looks set to be the busiest transfer window for some time at Anfield. Perhaps a right-back may be in order to provide cover for Trent Alexander-Arnold. Calvin Ramsay’s injury issues since he arrived from Aberdeen last summer mean he may not deemed ready to fulfil that remit yet, while Klopp will no longer call on the versatility of James Milner to feature in the rearguard.
But sections of supporters may concur that strengthening central defence may prove more prudent. By his own admission, Virgil van Dijk hasn’t had his best season and only underlined that he needs additional support.
Joel Matip has proven a fine servant since arriving on a free transfer from Schalke in 2016 but has dropped down the pecking order while Joe Gomez has also been out of favour of late.
There’s a resounding agreement that Ibrahima Konate is the most adept partner alongside van Dijk. The France international, when fit, simply starts. That’s underlined by the fact he’s played a full 90 minutes in 14 of the past 15 matches. Konate missed the 2-1 win at West Ham only because of injury.
Like many of his team-mates, Konate has a new role after the change of system. It’s his responsibility to provide cover when Liverpool lose possession and Alexander-Arnold is out of position in his new hybrid midfield role.
The 24-year-old has proven competent in doing so and barely put a foot wrong before the 1-1 draw against Aston Villa. Ollie Watkins surged into the box and a mistimed challenge from Konate resulted in Villa being awarded a penalty - which was luckily struck wide from Watkins.
It was an uncharacteristic error from Konate. Perhaps it was due to him slightly being fatigued. There’s no doubt that the former RB Leipzig centre-half has the athletic prowess to fulfil the role but someone of a similar ilk may be required. Konate has had his share of injury problems this term and missed a total of 20 games.
In several matches since Klopp tweaked Liverpool’s formation when in possession, opponents have tried to hit the gaping hole that’s left when Alexander-Arnold forays into midfield. It’s evident that the player operating in the right centre-back role requires pace should a counter-attack be launched.
That’s perhaps why Micky van den Ven has emerged as a potential summer target. The Wolfsburg defender ticks plenty of boxes that Liverpool look for when signing players; he’s still recently turned 22 and is several years away from hitting his apogee. He’s also racked up 35 appearances in the Bundesliga this season with Wolfsburg sitting a respectable seventh in the table.
A report from iNews suggests that Liverpool have been tracking van de Ven - valued at around £13 million by CIES Football Observatory - and they could have the perfect person in place to help complete the move.
Jorg Schmadtke is set to become the Reds’ new sporting director and succeed Julian Ward. Indeed, Schmadtke was responsible for overseeing the transfer of van de Ven from Voldendam to Wolfsburg when serving as the German outfit’s sporting director.
What’s most striking about van de Ven is his blistering pace. At top speed, the Dutchman has clocked a maximum speed of 35.97km per hour. That places him joint-eighth in the Bundesliga this season - ahead of the likes of Leroy Sana (35.9kph), Marcus Thuram (35.72kph) and Kingsley Coman (35.65kph).
Indeed, van de Ven’s top speed only places him behind Darwin Nunez (36.5kph) in the current Liverpool squad. Standing at 6ft 4in, there’s more than just pace to van de Ven’s game. This season, he’s won 58.6% of aerial duels which is a similar figure as Bayern Munich’s Matthijs de Ligt (58.68%) and rated 13th in the Bundesliga for successive defensive duels (66.29%).
But it is van de Ven’s speed that could well entice Liverpool.