Even Jurgen Klopp found it difficult to settle on a reliable backline during his early tenure as Liverpool’s manager.
Having made over 700 appearances for Liverpool, club legend Jamie Carragher unsurprisingly proved a difficult man to replace in the heart of defence after his retirement in 2013.
We’ve ranked the 12 central defenders Liverpool have signed since Carra left, from worst to best. Permanent deals only, with apologies to Ozan Kabak.
12. Ben Davies
An emergency mid-season pick-up from Preston North End amid Liverpool’s great injury crisis of 2020-21.
As bad as things got for Liverpool – six straight league defeats at Anfield, anyone? – Davies never actually made it onto the pitch and was only named on the bench on a handful of occasions.
Apparently he’s currently at Rangers but we’ll have to take their word for it because we’re still not sure he actually exists.
11. Tiago Ilori
Given two-thirds of his appearances for Liverpool were against Exeter in the 2015-16 FA Cup, Ilori’s spell at Liverpool was less memorable than the music output of The Saturdays.
In fairness, he forged a decent career at Reading before moving to Sporting Lisbon in 2019, where he was reunited with another legendary former Liverpool defender in Sebastian Coates.
10. Steven Caulker
A defender signed as an emergency striker… we cannot help rating this so much. Who cares that he didn’t score?
9. Sepp van den Berg
Another youngster who has failed to make a league appearance to date, Van den Berg appeared in that FA Cup game against Shrewsbury alongside every other teenager in the Merseyside area.
Still only 20, there remains every chance that the Dutchman can rise up this list in future years. He’s made over 50 Championship appearances in loans at Preston, which could well prove valuable experience, and is currently getting top-flight experience at Schalke.
Even if the defender doesn’t make the grade back at Anfield, you’d imagine they’ll make a profit on the small fee of £1.3million they originally signed him for.
8. Mamadou Sakho
From a distance, Sakho’s time at Anfield reads like a Basil Fawlty-esque catalogue of disasters: from leaving the stadium after being dropped for a Merseyside derby, being falsely accused of violating UEFA anti-doping rules to Klopp banishing him from the 2016 pre-season tour of America for consistent lateness.
However, this was interspersed with impressive runs of form during Sakho’s three years at Liverpool. If anything this made him an even more maddening case.
A good defender, who always seemed one sandwich short of a full picnic.
7. Kolo Toure
An absolute howler at West Brom aside, which left Toure squinting like Mr Magoo searching for his contact lenses, the Ivory Coast legend proved a competent and popular figure at Liverpool between 2013 and 2016.
If we were ranking this list on goal celebrations alone, then Kolo would have been a runaway winner.
Who could forget that goal and celebration! 😄
Happy birthday, Kolo Toure. 🥳🙌 pic.twitter.com/9v877Ai6or
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) March 19, 2019
6. Ragnar Klavan
If we’re being unkind we’d suggest Klavan was the definition of a journeyman footballer, a label that’s only strengthened by the fact he once failed a trial at Sunderland.
This would ignore that Klavan was actually a half-decent player for Liverpool. Highlights included being named man of the match at Goodison Park in 2016 and scoring a last-minute winner away at Burnley in January 2018.
Cheap, cheerful and surprisingly good – Liverpool have had far worse.
5. Ibrahima Konate
The £36million man from RB Leipzig has had to bide his time for opportunities, but he looks like a solid acquisition and has slotted in seamlessly whenever called upon.
He looks especially convincing when partnering Virgil van Dijk, and was much missed for large parts of last season.
4. Joe Gomez
It’s surprising that Gomez has been at Anfield for over seven years now.
Signed by Brendan Rodgers at a time when Liverpool’s approach to transfers involved a blindfold and a dartboard, Gomez blossomed into a fine defender for both club and country.
He’s fallen down the pecking order since his injury troubles, and is now arguably the back-up right-back, but it shouldn’t be forgotten Gomez was one of Klopp’s go-to centre-backs when Liverpool won the Champions League and Premier League in successive seasons.
3. Dejan Lovren
Lovren quickly became a byword for hapless defending during his first years on Merseyside. This was a player who was once substituted after half an hour of ineptitude against Tottenham, a club that has continually redefined the word.
While never truly inspiring confidence, Lovren stuck around long enough to win the grudging respect of Liverpool’s fanbase.
The Croatia international also scored the winner in their sensational comeback win over Borussia Dortmund in 2016, providing Liverpool with yet another mind-bending European night, and was exceptional in their run to the Champions League final in 2017-18.
Leaving for Zenit after the 2020 title win, his departure was mourned by fans of slapstick comedy. The reaction of Liverpool fans was rather more subdued. Despite all the jibes, he did a lot of good.
2. Joel Matip
Despite being more prone to injury than Sideshow Bob in a field of rakes, Matip has proven himself to be a fine central defender for Liverpool.
As well as being solid in defence, the Cameroon international also has the happy habit of popping up with a goal or two each season.
Since missing much of the 2020-21 campaign through injury, Matip looked better than ever in Liverpool’s quadruple-chasing season. He failed to match those standards in 2022-23, but he remains an excellent defender on his day.
BIG JOEL MATIP 🙌
Boss header, passionate celebration 💪🔴 pic.twitter.com/QQ3Rfv7DyH
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) August 25, 2019
1. Virgil van Dijk
He might not be in his best form right now, but still. Obviously.