Ragnar Klavan

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Klopp tabs Matip as ‘one of the best pieces of business’ for Liverpool

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On Friday, in Liverpool’s run-up to a Premier League battle with Sheffield United, Jurgen Klopp labeled Joel Matip as “one of the best pieces of business we did in the last few years.”

He’s not wrong.

“In a world of big transfer fees, to sign a player like Joel Matip on a free transfer is incredible,” Klopp said. Again, he’s not wrong.

The 28-year-old signed on a free from German side Schalke back in the summer of 2016, and he has become a fixture of the Liverpool defense, standing strong next to Virgil Van Dijk as part of one of the best back lines in Europe.

It essentially happened by accident. Matip, signed as nothing more than defensive cover for a squad that included Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho, Joe Gomez, and Ragnar Klavan. Yet he started 27 matches that season, forging a partnership with Lovren with Sakho on his way out, Gomez still too young for a consistent role, and Klavan down the depth chart. The next season van Dijk was brought in and yet Matip pushed through hamstring and ankle injuries to make 22 starts. Last season, en route to a vicious title challenge and a Champions League crown, Matip again was not meant to start, but with Lovren and Gomez both injured, Matip formed a critical partnership with van Dijk and has led by example.

So who else has come from relative obscurity on a savvy bit of business to take a starring role? Here are the five best bits of business in the Premier League currently playing for the club that snagged them, outside of Klopp’s prized center-back of course.

5) Kasper Schmeichel, Leicester City (Leeds United, $2 million)

Goalkeepers never draw the same massive transfer fees as their outfield counterparts, but even so, the Leicester City shot-stopper has been a true man of the badge since joining in 2011, making 341 appearances for the Foxes and proving a key cog in the legendary run to the title a few years back. That team was full of great value players (more on that in a bit), and while they cashed in on some, the son of the legendary Manchester United goalkeeper stuck around the club he loves.

4) Dele Alli, Tottenham Hotspur (MK Dons, $6 million)

As just a teenager, Alli was sent to Spurs in the winter of early 2015 and immediately loaned back to MK Dons for the rest of the season. Immediately, they had to know their mistake. Alli was selected as the Football League Young Player of the Year in April, and his career skyrocketed from there. Providing both a physical presence and free-flowing nature on the ball, Alli has proven a versatile option in midfield for Spurs, and while he struggles to maintain consistent form, his best is both fearsome and artistic. Still just 23 years old, it seems the best may be yet to come for the England midfielder who has already racked up 187 appearances for the London club.

3) Andy Robertson, Liverpool (Hull City, $10 million)

Sure, Joel Matip came for free, but he still might not be the best bit of business on the club. Andy Robertson, Liverpool’s stellar left-back, signed for $10 million and looks to be the makings of a downright star. At 25 years old, he also looks set to be a Red for quite some time, giving the club incredible value for its money. $10 million in today’s market doesn’t net teams what it used to, making it all the more impressive the Reds could snag a player of his promise for such a price. Along with Trent Alexander-Arnold on the other side, the Reds appear set for a long time with one of Europe’s best back lines.

2) Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea (Marseille, $9 million)

The Blues are known for splashing the cash, but the then-23-year-old Spaniard came over from Ligue 1 in the summer of 2012 to little fanfare. He has gone on to make 345 appearances for Chelsea, serving as captain for many and proving a versatile and consistent option along the defense. Perhaps the most stunning part of Azpilicueta’s career is that he only has 25 caps for Spain, a shockingly low number for such a valuable player at one of Europe’s biggest clubs. Still, his service to Chelsea has been a far cry from his measly up-front cost.

1) Jamie Vardy, Leicester City (Fleetwood Town, $1.5 million)

Much has been made of Vardy’s story, having come from the semi-professional ranks and risen up to a Premier League title. For what he’s given Leicester City – 277 appearances and 110 goals, including 83 Premier League strikes in 182 appearances – the fee is next to nothing. Not many could have predicted what Vardy would provide, or that he’d become a regular for the England national team before the rise of Harry Kane, but now the tale has been written. Vardy will go down as one of the most undervalued transfers in Premier League history, deservedly so.

Liverpool offloads Klavan to Cagliari for cheap

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Liverpool is starting to offload some of its extra weight, and it comes at the expense of the back line.

The Reds announced the sale of central defender Ragnar Klavan to Cagliari, with reports in England claiming the transfer fee was a paltry $2.5 million.

That leaves Liverpool with a relatively thin remaining central defensive corps behind starters Virgil Van Dijk and Dejan Lovren, with just Joel Matip and Joe Gomez the only ones left as natural center-backs. It’s a bold move by the Reds in a campaign full of high expectations.

The 32-year-old Klavan joined Liverpool in the summer of 2016 from German club Augsburg for around $5.5 million, but struggled to crack the first team in a consistent manner. Klavan made 39 Premier League appearances in his time at Liverpool, but was pushed back in the pecking order after the Reds brought in van Dijk last January. Still, he made a solid eight Champions League appearances last season – three of them starts – and was an important piece of Liverpool’s squad depth.

Klavan signed a two-year contract at Cagliari, where he will compete for playing time with the likes of Marco Andreolli, Fabio Pisacane, and Luca Ceppitelli.

Already-thin Liverpool center back corps loses Matip to quad injury

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Liverpool’s 3-1 loss to Borussia Dortmund featured an injury to a position with very little depth.

The Reds lost Joel Matip to what Jurgen Klopp said could possibly be a “small tear” in one of his quads.

[ MORE: Marketing Pulisic with BVB ]

If Matip, 26, needs any significant time to heal up, he’ll put a major question mark into Liverpool’s opening day center back pairing.

Virgil Van Dijk, who scored against BVB on Sunday, already won’t have Dejan Lovren as a partner thanks to a post-World Cup vacation.

That leaves Joe Gomez and Ragnar Klavan as options next to Van Dijk.

Matches at Crystal Palace and home to Brighton and Hove Albion follow the Aug. 12 visit from West Ham.

Pulisic wins, converts penalty against Liverpool (fan video)

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USMNT star and Borussia Dortmund teenage winger Christian Pulisic won a penalty kick off James Milner, then insisted on taking the spot kick in front of his home crowd.

[ MORE: Mina to Everton? ]

Pulisic, 19, took the ball off Mario Gotze and finished his chance clinically to equalize against Liverpool, his second won penalty of the American tour.

Pulisic began the game on the bench after starting in Chicago against Manchester City, and Liverpool had gone ahead early when Virgil Van Dijk took advantage of poorly set up BVB zonal marking.

But Pulisic cut past Milner and was tripped by the veteran before clattering into Ragnar Klavan and earning the PK.

Gomez undergoes ankle surgery, out for CL final, World Cup

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The injuries keep coming for Liverpool.

Already missing three starting-caliber midfielders due to injury, the club reportedly lost defender Joe Gomez for the season, after the 20-year-old underwent ankle surgery. He reportedly played through the injury for the club against West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City in recent weeks.

(Update: Liverpool confirmed the news, stating Gomez will be back for preseason training with Liverpool in July.)

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Liverpool has yet to confirm the news, but if true, it’s another blow to Jurgen Klopp‘s side as they head into the home stretch. That leaves Liverpool with just Nathaniel Clyne at right back, though Ragnar Klavan‘s return has given Klopp some depth at centerback behind Dejan Lovren and Virgil Van Dijk.

It’s also another injury blow to Gareth Southgate, who could have taken Gomez to the World Cup as a backup centerback or outside back, such is Gomez’s versatility. Gomez earned man of the match honors in November in a friendly match against Brazil.