When Tiago Ilori joined Liverpool from Sporting Lisbon for a reported £7million, he would have known he was in for a fight to secure a place in the match-day squad; not least because he arrived at the same time as a considerably more experienced and costlier centre-back in the form of Mamadou Sakho.
That proved to be the case when Ilori failed to make a dent on the Reds’ first-team and was subsequently sent on loan to Spanish side Granada.
But since that move he has been mightily impressive, excelling despite a 1-0 loss on his debut and setting up the winner in his next match with a long cross-field pass Steven Gerrard would have been proud of.
That match – against Real Betis – also saw Ilori make 13 effective clearances and two interceptions; a performance in which he outshone his defensive teammates and grabbed one of the assists of the season for good measure.
Which raises an interesting question about the 20-year-old’s future: Will he one day slot into Liverpool’s back-line, or could he become football’s Holy Grail – a defensive midfielder with the ability to both protect those behind him and create for those in front of him?
Against Betis, Ilori had a pass-completion rate of 77%, while on his debut against Espanyol he was successful with an outstanding 91% of his passes.
So he has an eye for a pass, the ability to intercept and clear and, if you have seen his assist from the weekend, a passing-range that would be the envy of many considerably more experienced than him.
It will be a decision that he and Brendan Rodgers make together, and perhaps the young Portuguese has no inclination to play in front of a defence he could instead be marshalling. But given his considerable talent and the rarity of such players in the game, it may already have been a thought that has crossed the Liverpool boss’s mind.
image: © Vincent Teeuwen