Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Saturday, by virtue of a Mohamed Salah penalty, may not have been their most impressive victory of the season, but it might just be their most important.
After Manchester City snapped the Reds’ unbeaten run in the previous league fixture and Wolverhampton Wanderers eliminated an understrength Liverpool side from the FA Cup, anything other than three points against the Seagulls could have changed the complexion of the Merseyside club’s campaign.
But Jurgen Klopp’s men got the win they craved, proving they can win ugly in the process, grinding out results in a manner often deemed a mark of champions. They stay top of the Premier League by four points.
And they beat Brighton with midfielder Fabinho filling in at centre-back, partnering Virgil van Dijk amid an injury crisis in the position.
Liverpool are currently without Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren, while Joel Matip is yet to recover full fitness. Klopp has ruled out bringing in any new faces in the position this month, but should the Reds turn to a familiar face to remedy their strained defensive depth?
Wolves captain Conor Coady once seemed destined for a long and successful career at Anfield. As a midfielder progressing through the club’s youth ranks, he was compared to Steven Gerrard and captained England and several under-age levels.
Coady didn’t reach the heights anticipated of him at Liverpool, leaving to join Huddersfield Town in 2014 after spending a season on loan with Sheffield Wednesday.
Since signing for Wolves a year later, however, the 25-year-old has begun to deliver on his potential.
Converted into a centre-back at the heart of the Black Country club’s back three, Coady captained Wolves to promotion last season, showcasing a natural authority and a calmness valuable when anchoring defence.
His form in the Premier League this season has led to calls or the Liverpool-born defender to receive a first senior England call-up, and reports now suggest his former club and Arsenal are monitoring him, with Wolves desperate to tie him to new terms.
“He used to twist me inside out,” Coady said of former Liverpool team-mate Luis Suarez in an interview with The Guardian earlier this season. “He’s a sensational footballer and it was never the happiest times coming in from training because he showed me up a few times. But I’ve had a lot of years between then and now to improve as a footballer.”
And improve he certainly has. Chasing Suarez’s shadow around Melwood as a teen will have done Coady’s development no harm, and those lessons are now being applied to his relatively new role at centre-back.
Now, the Wolves skipper, who made just two appearances for Liverpool, the club he grew up supporting and first joined in 2005, is among the most assured English centre-halves in the Premier League.
The most impressive aspect of Coady’s assimilation to his defensive role is that he is rarely hurried and, no doubt thanks to the sound coaching he has received from Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo and his team, is rarely caught out of position.
Maintaining the technical skills honed higher up the pitch, Coady is a confident passer and can step out of the defensive line with the ball when required.
Of course, were he to return to Anfield, Coady would struggle to break into Klopp’s strongest XI when everyone is fit. But the Englishman owns an exemplary injury record, something that can’t be said of some of Liverpool’s current options in the position, and he has the versatility to play other positions if required.
The fact he would not be coming in as an already-established, world-class centre-back also means Gomez’s developmental path will remain clear; the 22-year-old had been outstanding alongside Van Dijk before suffering a leg fracture.
There will be more exotic name’s than Coady linked with Liverpool this month, with longer track records at the highest level. But, provided the price is right, the Reds could do a lot worse than bringing back the former academy standout.
*Odds subject to change