You cannot doubt the performances of any Liverpool player in their opening two matches, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t desperate to see Fabinho in a No. 6 position, dovetailing with Naby Keita as a No. 8. Until now, Georginio Wijnaldum has played as Liverpool’s defensive screen with Fabinho missing and Jordan Henderson still finding full match fitness after a long World Cup campaign.
It is a little concerning that we have not yet seen Fabinho, who was not even in the matchday squad at Crystal Palace. Jurgen Klopp has admitted that the Brazilian needs time to acclimatise to English football, but having been signed straight after the Champions League final and without a World Cup to distract him, it is surprising that he is still not deemed ready for selection even for the bench.
But Klopp said the same about Andrew Robertson, and look how that one is now turning out. Liverpool have a clutch of central midfielders who can comfortably cover for Fabinho, and it makes sense to get Keita comfortable – in the area of midfield where Liverpool most needed improvement – rather than throwing both in at the same time and thus risking teething problems.
Issa Diop (West Ham)
Diop arrived in England with a stellar reputation, with plenty in France believing him to be on the conveyor belt from the national youth teams to the senior setup. He arrived in England for a fee of £22m, and joined a club who were defensively shambolic as standard last season.
In West Ham’s first two games, they have conceded six times and Diop has remained on the bench throughout while Angelo Ogbonna and Fabian Balbuena have both struggled. Balbuena was used more than Diop in preseason and has kept his place.
Now West Ham supporters are understandably wondering why a central defender who was the club’s record signing at the time of his purchase cannot get minutes ahead of either of the existing pair. Rumours of James Collins returning to the club might not make them feel much better.
Yerry Mina (Everton)
Everton are the home of non-playing new signings, with Kurt Zouma, Bernard, Andre Gomes and Mina all still to make their debuts. But while there is intrigue in where Gomes fits in and whether Bernard can oust Theo Walcott’s position on the right wing, seeing how Mina copes with the Premier League will be damn interesting.
Mina gained great plaudits for his performances at the World Cup, but you have to wonder whether some people get a little blinded by his three goals – the most ever scored by a defender at a single World Cup. Of course those goals helped Colombia to the last-16, but that’s hardly what Mina is there for. At Barcelona, the accusation was that he was rash in the challenge and too often caught out of position. There’s a reason why they sold him.
But there’s also a reason why Barcelona have a buyback option. Mina is clearly still raw (and there are doubts about whether Marco Silva is the best manager for developing raw centre-backs), but if he flourishes in the Premier League then his star will soon re-rise. That buyback clause is worth £54m.
Caglar Soyuncu/Filip Benkovic (Leicester City)
These two are lumped as a pair for two reasons:
1) I still can’t quite work out which of them is further up in a central defensive queue that currently has Harry Maguire, Jonny Evans and Wes Morgan in the front three places. They are a similar age, have similar experience (Soyuncu has senior international caps, Benkovic has played in the Champions League) and were signed for roughly similar transfer fees.
2) Leicester could play all three, although Claude Puel seems determined to ignore the 11 elephants standing in a 3-4-3 formation in the room. Puel stuck to a flat back four in preseason, but the options in his squad really are screaming out for a switch.
Three of Maguire, Evans, Benkovic and Soyuncu in central defence, Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell as wing-backs, Adrien Silva and Wilfred Ndidi in central midfield with a first-choice front three of James Maddison, Demarai Gray and Jamie Vardy. What’s not to like?
Leander Dendoncker (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
In August 2017, Dendoncker was being linked with a move to Manchester United as his agent desperately talked up a move to an elite club. Now he’s at Wolves, a client of Christophe Henrotay in a sea of Jorge Mendes.
Dendoncker will surely soon become part of Wolves’ first team, but it will be interesting to see where he fits in. The central midfield partnership of Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho is unlikely to be broken up other than as a necessity.
One option is for Dendoncker to play as a passing central defender in Nuno’s 3-4-3, with Ryan Bennett the likely casualty. But with Romain Saiss and Danny Batth both without a league appearance so far this season, there is plenty of competition there too. Wolves have more options than most non-top-six clubs.