After recording the third-worst goals conceded record in the Premier League’s top nine last season and only ten clean sheets, Brendan Rodgers has sought to bolster his Liverpool defence with the acquisition of Southampton centre-half Dejan Lovren.
The highly-rated Croatia international officially moved to Anfield last month in a £20million deal, but it remains to be seen just how he’ll fit into the Reds’ starting XI.
The underlying question being which Liverpool centre-back would partner him best? Kolo Toure is now largely considered a reserve option, leaving it a choice between three defenders – Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho.
There’s certainly some debate to be had, with each centre-back representing rather different styles and individual strengths and weaknesses.
And being the renowned mass debaters we are at Football Fancast, this article takes a look at all three.
But I think we can all agree that the Danish stopper hasn’t quite reached the world-class-ball-playing-defender heights expected since netting his sensational debut goal for the Reds way back in 2006:
Of course, the 29 year-old comes with a lot of other qualities even if the marauding runs and 40-yard piledrivers have slipped out his game. For starters he’s the Anfield vice captain, only second to Steven Gerrard, which speaks volumes about his leadership abilities.
He also has You’ll Never Walk Alone tattooed across his knuckles, so you can’t question Agger’s commitment:
Agger loves Liverpool so much & he has a tattoo on his fingers saying “YNWA” !! pic.twitter.com/t0j6zkl8RX
— Abdullah AlAttar (@AbdullahAlAttar) May 11, 2014
But Brendan Rodgers called on the 6 foot 3 centre-back just 16 times in a starting capacity last season – just once more than the much-maligned Kolo Toure.
The leading factor being, in my opinion at least, that Agger is prone to individual errors. He made just one less than Martin Skrtel last term in less than half the amount of game-time, as viewable below:
His handball against Stoke City on the first day of the 2013/14 campaign is a classic example (Skip to three mins):
That being said, the Danish international’s Premier League experience, now spanning nine seasons, is undoubted, and rather amazingly, he didn’t pick up a single yellow card last season, as viewable below:
But with rumours rife that Agger could be on his way to Barcelona – a deal that would suit both parties quite well at this moment in time – it seems more likely that he’ll be exiting Anfield this summer than starting for the Merseysiders next season:
Daniel Agger closes in on a £12m move from Liverpool to Barcelona http://t.co/IRgiL7uJXX
— MailOnline Sport (@MailSport) July 29, 2014
Furthermore, the Slovakia international was in fine form last term, netting seven times and making the most appearances of any outfield player on the Anfield roster, as detailed below:
Most of which followed this rather predictable template:
Likewise, on the statistical front, Skrtel bettered his centre-back partners by quite some way last season:
A 91% pass completion rate isn’t too bad either – especially considering the concerns over Skrtel’s quality in possession when Brendan Rodgers first took the Liverpool hotseat.
The 29 year-old’s greatest flaw however remains his ill-discipline. As you can see, he was the Reds’ worst centre-back in this regard last season by quite some way:
But he remains an ever-present organisational lynch-pin in an otherwise chaotic Liverpool backline and the continuity he provides at the heart of defence could prove vital next year whilst Lovren is still bedding in to life on Merseyside.
But Brendan Rodgers splashed out a whopping £15million on the former PSG star last summer and to get full value his complete integration into the Liverpool first team must come sooner rather than later.
Sakho will be high in confidence at this moment in time too following a strong World Cup campaign with France. Here’s his vitals from the tournament and last season:
Furthermore, for a defender often alleged to be a liability in possession, the 6 foot 2 centre-back actually recorded the best pass completion rate of any Liverpool player last season, as detailed below:
Statistically, he edged out his centre-back partners on the passing front last season, the most impressive stat being his number of forward passes per match:
Despite criticisms otherwise, Sakho’s technique looks pretty solid to me:
Here’s a look at some of the France international’s best moments from last year:
Although Sakho’s statistically-proven utility in possession might initially suggest he and Dejan Lovren are too similar in style, I believed that shared comfort on the ball could well spawn a strong partnership between the two.
It certainly falls into Brendan Rodgers’ progressive philosophy and getting both defenders, the youngest first team centre-backs available to the Anfield gaffer, working together should be the ultimate aim – the end-game scenario, if you will.
But Sakho has amassed just 18 appearances thus far in his Premier League career and Lovren, likewise, only 31.
With that in mind, and Daniel Agger likely to leave for the Nou Camp, it is my suggestion that Martin Skrtel remains ever-present at the heart of defence whilst Lovren gets over the inevitable teething pains of switching clubs.
In the long run however, Sakho and Lovren could well be the partnership that brings consistent success back to Merseyside.
The only prevailing issue could be that both prefer the left-centre-back role. With the Frenchman a natural left-footer unlike the former Southampton star, it will likely be down to Lovren to transition himself to the other side.