Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger formed a formidable partnership during Kenny Dalglish’s reign last season, so much so they dislodged club legend Jamie Carragher from the starting line up, and haven’t looked back since.
Despite Liverpool’s nightmare league campaign last year, Skrtel and Agger were two of the few players to walk away from the season with their heads held high. Liverpool managed the third best defensive record in the division, despite a lowly eighth placed finish.
Ahead of tonight’s Europa League tie with Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala, goalkeeper Pepe Reina has said how he thinks the pair will only get stronger, following both of their decisions to commit their long term futures to the club.
The Liverpool goalkeeper also believes the pair can go on to form a partnership as formidable as that of Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia, who were the central defenders throughout Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League winning campaign.
‘It’s good they’ve signed contracts because it’s a fact that they are one of the best centre-back couples in the Premier League,’ Reina told Liverpoolfc.com.
‘The understanding between them is great and they’ve been really solid lately. In the last year and a half or so they have been brilliant for us.
‘If I am not mistaken they are similar ages to each other, so they have five or six years still to play their best football.
‘I don’t see any reason why they can’t do the same as Carra and Sami did, though they were one of the greatest centre-back couples this club has ever had.’
High praise indeed for the pair, who you feel will play a critical role in Brendan Rodgers bid to revive the Red’s league fortunes. Back to back clean sheets in the league have done well to lift some of the gloom at Anfield surrounding their lowly league position.
Last seasons defensive form looked a thing of the distant past during the opening thirteen games of the Rodgers era, with a total of nineteen goals conceded in all competitions.
A series of individual errors cost Liverpool dear, with Reina culpable on more than one occasion. Skrtel was caught out twice in the opening two games of the season, firstly conceding a clumsy penalty at West Brom, before a poor back pass gifted Carlos Tevez the equaliser in the 2-2 draw with Manchester City – an error which spoilt an otherwise faultless display.
Agger found himself off the pace early on as well, picking up a red card in the opening day defeat to West Brom for a last man challenge which saw him concede a penalty in the process.
Too often without the injured Lucas Leiva, the centre back pairing have been left overexposed and have looked more vulnerable than usual. The defeat to Arsenal in early September was the most obvious example of this, with the Liverpool back four looking overexposed to Arsenal’s quick counter attacks time and again.
Brendan Rodgers looks to have gone back to basics following the defeat to Udinese in the Europa League, a performance that saw the manager openly criticize the defending of his team. Clean sheets against Stoke and Reading have followed, not spectacular perhaps but certainly a step in the right direction.
Glen Johnson has also slotted into the left back role with minimum fuss, whilst youngster Andre Wisdom has started the last three Premier League games, looking faultless in all three.
The new style of football Rodgers is trying to implement has seen the side make several mistakes, gifting possession to the opposition in dangerous areas. On almost every occasion Liverpool have been punished, with sides able to rob possession and counter attack at pace far too easily.
It is not to be underestimated how much of a loss Lucas Leiva has been however, the one out and out holding midfielder on the clubs books, since Jay Spearing was sent to Bolton on loan. Joe Allen, Steven Gerrard, Jonjo Shelvey and Nuri Sahin have all taken it in turns to try and shield the back four, all with limited success.
The last two Premier League games however have seen the side defend far better as a unit, and Liverpool fans will long hope it continues. The signs have been encouraging since Rodgers took the Anfield reigns, and Skrtel and Agger’s form will be crucial in determining how successful he is at Anfield. The fact both have committed their long term futures to the club bodes well for the clubs future, and shows the belief they hold in the new manager.
It’s all about small steps in the right direction for Liverpool at the moment. A first win of the season was followed by a first clean sheet of the season, which in turn was followed by a first home win of the season. With six goals conceded in their opening two Europa League matches, a clean sheet last night was very welcome indeed.
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