Stoke City captain Ryan Shawcross has been lauded as an "absolutely ideal" summer solution for Liverpool's defensive issues by former Anfield stalwart Phil Thompson. Jurgen Klopp's seventh-place side, who progressed to the 2016 Capital One Cup final with a second-leg penalty-shootout victory over the Potters on 27 January, have conceded 32 goals in the Premier League so far this season amid a defensive injury crisis that has only begun to ease recently.
That tally is four more than any other team currently positioned in the top 10 and seven more than Stoke, who currently sit ninth. Fitness issues have certainly contributed to a less than stellar record, with the usually ever-present Martin Skrtel having been sidelined since sustaining a hamstring tear against Watford in December 2015.
Dejan Lovren has yet to feature since suffering his own hamstring problem in the previous meeting with Stoke, while Mamadou Sakho has also struggled with knee trouble. The latter is now back in action, yet his partnership with 34-year-old Kolo Toure has hardly looked convincing and the recent 5-4 win over Norwich was littered with a series of defensive mistakes. And with Queens Park Rangers loanee Steven Caulker surely only viewed as a short-term option, Thompson believes that Shawcross is the perfect target for the next transfer window.
"When Liverpool evaluate at the end of the season and look at the sort of goals they conceded, I wouldn't be averse to see them looking towards Shawcross as a solution," the former centre-back, who won seven first division titles, the FA Cup and three European Cups during a golden era for Liverpool, told Sky Sports.
"In fact I think he would be absolutely ideal and he's been one of the most underrated centre-backs over the last five seasons. You just have to look at Stoke's stats with and without him."
Shawcross is certainly highly-regarded at Stoke, a club for whom he has made over 300 appearances since initially impressing during a six-month loan spell from Manchester United in 2007-08. A proven leader, the 28-year-old has previously been backed to return to the England fold but missed the first two months of the season after undergoing back surgery.
He was also sidelined for the second-leg tie against Liverpool after limping off just 30 minutes into a 3-0 defeat at Leicester last weekend with back and hip stiffness. However, manager Mark Hughes later confirmed that it was not a repeat of his old injury.
"Thankfully Ryan's injury isn't a recurrence of the problem he had last year," he said before the trip to Anfield. "But unfortunately he has some muscle damage and at the moment it looks likely that he will be out for three to four weeks, which is hard for us to take. Losing him was detrimental to our performance at the weekend. We will miss him."