Juergen Klopp always had a thing for tough-as-nails defensive generals. Neven Subotic, the man who could mark the remarkably un-markable (ask Tom Mueller) was his right-hand-man out in the pitch – he was a sweetheart of humble Mainz, and then a hero at the Signal Iduna Park – on a perpetual prowl, snuffing out any inkling of threat with his front-footed play, putting his head in where other wouldn’t dare to stick a leg out. Vociferous off the ball, and fearsome for his hunger for the collective cause, he was one of those players who Bill Shankly would deem willing enough to run through a wall. But this isn’t about Neven; but the gregarious German’s new-found Lord Commander of Castle Anfield – the unassuming, smooth operator, Ragnar Klavan. The first of his name.
Ragnar Klavan seems the unlikely solution to Liverpool’s defensive ailments. Quietly having gone about his business, he has taken a quite a few knowledgeable fans by surprise – while hipsters would attest they knew all along about his qualities of the Estonian block of ice, formerly of Augsburg. Their claim wouldn’t be too far off from the truth, as any Bundesliga follower with the fundamental knowledge of the league would vouch that the 30-year-old was on the better centre-backs plying his trade in Germany. While Liverpool fans who saw their team take on Augsburg in the Europa League the past season would have a passing recollection of his golem-like built.
Our resident hipster, JD, elaborates on the virtues of Ragnar, the harbinger of headed clearances and interceptions, and why you shouldn’t be surprised if he’s the man who puts an end to Liverpool’s defensive ailments, which have plagued their previous campaigns.
The Beauty and The Beast
The 6’1” defender is built like a tractor, and it’s natural, you’d imagine that he has cultivated a name for himself as being agricultural at his time with Augsburg. But that’s only one-half of his game. For the Dutch side, AZ and then for the German side, the battle-hardened, naturally left-footed centre-back has turned out on many occasions, as a competent left-back – showing commendable technical ability belying his outwardly countenance. Equally capable of operating on the right side of the defensive third, his versatility means he could slot right in with either of the returning Mamadou Sakho or Joel Matip.
Captain for his national side, Estonia, he exudes a quiet aura of authority, and leadership. Vertically gifted, his aerial dominance is telling at either end of the pitch – attested by him creating seven goal scoring chances for his German side, Augsburg, this past season. His coolness with or without the ball is apparelled by his technique and vice versa, having been booked just twice for a player who loves a full-blooded thump.
Klavan’s inception as a footballer was as a midfielder, in fact, a defensive pivot. No surprises there, when his passes completed (1262) and completion of attacking passes (1062) trumps both Dejan’s (872, 798) and Mamadou’s (1065, 1014). His stats also underlines the fact that he’s a clinical tackler, winning more challenges (34) compared to his new team-mates (20 for Sakho and 25 for Lovren).
Klavan almost single-handedly asserted Augsburg’s credence in the Bundesliga. A stalwart in their no-nonsense backline almost immediately after joining, made him seem like he’s been there for ages. Only Mönchengladbach Schalke, Dortmund, Leverkusen and Bayern boasted of more clean sheets in his debut season. The following year, the Estonian Player of the Year for a record third time, turned out to play each single Bundesliga minute, to help his club finishing 5th and accentuating his natural fitness.
Ragnar may very well prove to be the most understated buys of the summer, and may change the course of Liverpool’s season.