Liverpool's search for a new left-back this summer has reportedly turned them to PSV Eindhoven's Netherlands international Jetro Willems, with reports in the 22-year-old's homeland suggesting he has been subject of interest from the Reds.
According to SoccerNews (h/t the Liverpool Echo's Chris Beesley), it would take a bid of €13 million (£10.86 million) to bring Willems to Merseyside, with the player in the final year of his contract with the Eredivisie champions.
This comes after a likely failure to sign Leicester City's teenage star Ben Chilwell, with the Mail's Simon Jones reporting that the England under-21 international is poised to sign a new five-year contract with the Foxes, after Liverpool saw their initial £7 million bid rejected.
Jones also discussed the Reds' interest in Willems and Aston Villa left-back Jordan Amavi, while also relaying word of a week-long trial for former Barcelona youngster Juanma, who featured in the Liverpool under-23 side's 4-1 win over Rhyl FC on Sunday.
Reports of Liverpool pursuing Willems' signature likely stem from the Dutchman's recent Twitter post congratulating compatriot and former team-mate Georginio Wijnaldum on his move to Anfield from Newcastle United:
"We'll see each other again soon," came Willems' praise, prompting speculation over a possible move to join the No. 5 at his new club.
However, if Liverpool's quest to find cover for first-choice left-back Alberto Moreno—and a possible replacement for Brad Smith, who is set to complete a £6 million to Bournemouth on Tuesday, per the Liverpool Echo's James Pearce—has led to Willems, would he be a wise addition to manager Jurgen Klopp's squad?
Despite his tender age at 22, Willems has been established as a senior left-back at PSV for the past five seasons, and he made his debut for Sparta Rotterdam at 16 as a starter in a Jupiler League clash with Go Ahead Eagles at the beginning of 2011.
His career has been one of many early beginnings, with Willems becoming the youngest player to feature in a UEFA club competition when he started against Hapoel Tel Aviv in the Europa League in November 2011, as well as being the youngest player to feature in the UEFA European Championship on his involvement in 2012.
So far in his senior career, Willems has amassed 176 club appearances, having left Sparta for PSV ahead of the 2011/12 season, as well as 20 caps on the international stage with the Netherlands.
This experience at such a young age should endear Willems to Klopp, with the German showcasing his focus on youth development already in his short time with the Reds.
Players 22 and Under to Feature Under Klopp, 2015/16
- Emre Can (22)—38 appearances
- Jordon Ibe (20)—33 appearances
- Divock Origi (21)—29 appearances
- Kevin Stewart (22)—11 appearances
- Sheyi Ojo (19)—11 appearances
- Brad Smith (22)—10 appearances
- Cameron Brannagan (20)—eight appearances
- Connor Randall (20)—seven appearances
- Jerome Sinclair (19)—two appearances
- Pedro Chirivella (19)—one appearance
- Joe Maguire (20)—one appearance
- Jordan Rossiter (19)—one appearance
- Sergi Canos (19)—one appearance
- Ryan Kent (19)—one appearance
(All data courtesy of Transfermarkt.co.uk.)
"For me the character of a player is the most important consideration, he must have the will to improve himself," Klopp told reporters on his arrival at Liverpool in October. "When I am managing a club I think each young player should smile, because the door is wide open for him."
This emphasis on character, and the will to improve, has been seen in Willems during his time with PSV, steadily growing into his role on the left-hand side of Phillip Cocu's defence—though injury hampered his progress during the last campaign, where he made just 19 appearances, all in the second half of the season.
Nevertheless, on his return to the field, Willems continued his positive work, and in assessing his strengths and weaknesses, he provides an intriguing option for Liverpool in the summer transfer window.
Willems is a stocky 5'7", 65 kg full-back whose upbringing in the Dutch leagues is evident through watching him play: an attack-minded left-back, the Rotterdam native has fuelled PSV's forays into the attacking third since his debut.
This was no more apparent than in their title-winning campaign in 2014/15—PSV's first Eredivisie triumph since 2008, following a long spell of dominance from Ajax.
The left-back laid on 13 assists in 30 games, averaging 2.7 key passes per 90 minutes in the league, serving as PSV's most creative player, while Memphis Depay showcased his prowess in front of goal, scoring 22 times in 30 appearances.
On their landmark Eredivisie title win, PSV released a package of Willems' highlights from the campaign:
This highlights Willems' fine delivery from deep, closer toward the the byline and from set pieces, with the left-back regularly taking corners for Cocu's side. Crucially, it also shows Willems linking up well with Wijnaldum, who benefited from his accurate crosses when surging forward with intelligent third-man runs.
The 2014/15 season marked Willems' best stretch of performances to date, but he has long been a powerful attacking threat on PSV's left flank, and with Klopp looking to improve his side's attack in 2016/17, this would be a welcome addition.
Where Willems struggles, however, is when tasked with a more rigorous duty at the back, as he has shown throughout his time in the PSV first team—and this should present a major red flag for Klopp.
In the opening game of the 2013/14 Eredivisie season, for example, Willems notched the third goal in PSV's 3-2 triumph over ADO Den Haag, but he produced a shambolic defensive display that saw his poor positioning exposed as Ninos Gouriye laid on Danny Holla's 44th-minute strike.
More recently, Willems struggled throughout as the impressive Joel Veltman inspired Ajax's 2-0 victory away to PSV in March, with the left-back resorting to rash challenges due to his lack of awareness in the role—he received a yellow card for his troubles, continuing a worrying trend.
Willems' indiscipline makes him an unreliable option in the defensive third, making him a similar prospect to Moreno.
Throughout the latter months of 2015/16, Moreno was criticised for his abject defensive displays, with the Spaniard seemingly more concerned with driving up the field to support attacks—like Willems, he performed admirably in that respect, averaging 2.2 key passes per 90 minutes in the league last season.
It became a regular sight in Klopp's first season with the Reds to see the German bellowing at Moreno from his technical area, with the former Sevilla star often distracting himself with running battles with opposing wingers rather than the team's defensive effort.
With Klopp seemingly intent on keeping his faith in Moreno for 2016/17, however, the 49-year-old clearly feels these are problems that can be ironed out.
But moving to sign a wholly similar left-back in Willems would be unwise, particularly given the Dutchman averaged a combined total of fewer successful tackles, interceptions and aerial duels won per 90 minutes last season than Moreno, suggesting his defensive output is less extensive:
|Jetro Willems vs. Alberto Moreno, 2015/16|
|Tackles||Interceptions||Aerial Duels Won|
Instead, Klopp would be best advised to target a more conservative, defensively rigid alternative, possessing the experience required to step in and perform when called upon and provide Moreno with invaluable mentoring; a different option, rather than a like-for-like addition.
Signing Willems would be exacerbating Klopp's issues on the training ground, as he looks to mould Moreno into the ideal, front-footed left-back for his high defensive line at Liverpool.