Nerdy by Nature – Ozan Kabak

It’s finally summer time.  This year’s window will be so wacky –  it is super short and there is (generally) a lot less money available.  Some teams will be desperate to sell in order to make up for massive revenue losses; other regular buyers no longer have the money to go on large spending sprees.  Chelsea has some money left in their coffers, mostly due to their transfer ban last year.  They get to spend almost as usual this year, which makes me think they will in great shape (ed. – R.I.P. Timo Werner 🙁).  City should be relatively unaffected as well… because they cheat and rules and fair play apparently do not apply to them.  For clubs like Liverpool, we will have to be creative and look in some more obscure places than usual.  To that end, let’s take a quick trip to Germany to check out one of the potential options, Ozan Kabak.

Kabak came on my radar only in the last month or so.  He is a young Turkish right-footed center back currently at FC Schalke 04.  He arrived at Schalke last summer and quickly became a regular, earning 21 starts and 26 appearances total out of 34 matches.  Kabak is still relatively raw talent: he has only 41 starts in a top-level league (including an additional 15 with Stuttgart).  He is tall, standing at 6’1″ (186 cm), and can theoretically play alongside Virgil.  Let’s examine the numbers and see where he excels on the pitch, where he struggles, and whether he is a fit for Liverpool.

Aerial Prowess: The guy is already a world-class defender in terms of aerial prowess.  His aerial duels won statistic is impressive, however this could be inflated depending on if the team’s playing style allowed them to get bombarded regularly.  It is super important to take that statistic in consideration with his aerial success rate (win %).  Kabak was successful in over 70% of his aerial duels, which is excellent.  His ability in the air can easily translate to the Premier League.  Since Liverpool typically hold the ball much more than his previous teams, Kabak’s number of actual aerial wins should go down (after all, the other team usually has to have possession to launch the ball downfield and allow him to demonstrate his prowess).  Regardless, being successful over 70% of the time is massive.  That could help on set pieces both in our box, and on offense (we’ll get to that later).
Tackle/Dribbled Past %: With a 53% success rate, opponents are not very successful dribbling past him.  While he is no Virgil Van Dijk (but who is really?), Kabak’s numbers are nothing to flinch at.  He would make getting past the Liverpool defense even more difficult.  It obviously does not hurt that “Superman” Virgil would play next to him, but to have additional security on the right side would be really nice.  As Trent Alexander-Arnold is more focused going forward, Liverpool need a player who is good at stopping dribbles and aerial duels – the two easiest ways to regain possession before getting the ball down the field on the counter.  Kabak would definitely strengthen these two categories on the right side of our defense.

Pass Completion:
Averaging 83% overall pass completion is great if a player is a forward or someone who is constantly trying stuff like TAA.  For a center back, it is not as good enough for a team of Liverpool’s quality.  While this does give me some hesitation, there is reason to believe this could change if he transfers to Anfield.  With Liverpool’s style, he would not be getting pressed as frequently, as his team will have the ball more.  Kabak would not to have responsibility to create chances, either – more likely he would be instructed to get it to Fabinho or TAA on the wing.  Occasionally he could try some long balls, which he averages a decent 75%.  He was the better of the two CBs at Schalke as a ball player and with a David Wagner system (the manager at Schalke now), more pressure was on him.  That won’t be the case here.  So while it’s not great, it’s not a massive worry.
Fouls Committed: Kabak is committing one foul every 90 minutes.  This is not helpful:  though he is good at aerial duels and does not let people get past him dribbling, he tends to be physical and commit fouls.  His disciplinary record, while not terrible, is not stellar.  He averages a yellow card every four games.  Over the course of a season this would equate to almost ten cautions in a season, which depending on their timing could lead to suspensions.  I anticipate this statistic would go down because – again -Liverpool tend to have possession more than Schalke, so logic provides that he would not be defending as often.

Here’s the key question:  if Kabak joins, where would he be on the CB depth chart?  To me, the determination if he is a starter vs #3/4 is a clear indicator of how much he is worth to Liverpool.  Let’s compare Kabak’s stat radar (colors) to Joe Gomez (black outlines):

In every single passing category (yellow), Gomez is better.  However, in every defensive category with the exception of interceptions, Kabak is better.  In addition to these, we can get a sense of their offensive ability by looking at their expected and actual goals.  Gomez has an xG of 0.2 and zero goals in the past two seasons, total.  Meanwhile, Kabak has a xG of 2.5 and has tallied six goals over the same period, despite having played three less games.  His aerial ability is likely be the reason for this, as each of his goals have come from set pieces.  On the other side, Gomez is an absolutely excellent passer as a CB, with much better numbers across all distances (short, medium, long).
With such differences in their games, the question then becomes who would be more helpful to the squad?  For me, having Gomez and Kabak rotate through the second CB spot would give us more flexibility tactically (match selections depending on which ability Klopp wants to lean on more). Additionally, if Matip reamins, it allows us to bolster our CB core (Kabak is better than Lovren) and help us add depth at fullback as Gomez can add cover at RB when preferred over Neco Williams.  Given these scenarios, I believe Kabak would compliment any defender he played next to.

Ultimately, everything comes down to money.  Transfermarkt has his current value at $31.9 million pounds down from $35.2 million valuation earlier this year (due to a market-wide COVID-19 adjustment).  If Liverpool were able sign him at or under his current valuation, I would be over the moon.  He is only 22 years old, and CBs are like fine wine – they get better with age.  With normal progression under Klopp, I believe he could be a stalwart in the side for years.  Having four great CBs would be crucial to competing for four+ trophies a season, especially considering Matip is getting older and injury-prone, and Gomez has been no stranger to major injuries himself.  Actually, for anywhere under $40 million, I am all in on buying this kid.

What do you think?