Watching Sky Sports Monday Night Football recently, it struck me how the pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher still care deeply about their respective clubs. This might seem an obvious thing to surmise, but the amount of times they are seen on the TV means many people now think of them as pundits and not necessarily as legends and ex-players.
Neville would I believe make an excellent assistant manager at Manchester United one day, potentially if (or more likely, when) Ryan Giggs takes the helm at Old Trafford, while Carragher could realistically fulfill a similar function at Anfield. I believe Liverpools greatest issue, but one that could be solved by expert practice and routine, is their defending. They have the players; Skrtel, Toure and Lovren should be Champions League quality centre-backs and they also have plenty of options in the fullback positions. Appointing Carragher as Liverpools defensive coach could go a long way towards gelling these players as a cohesive unit.
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If there was one player in the last five years of the Premier League who seemed to enjoy nothing better than the nitty gritty of physical, tight defending, it was Carragher. There were other magnificent defenders out there, but apart from possibly Nemanja Vidic and John Terry in his early years, none of them seemed to relish the prospect of a hard battle against a powerful striker for 90 minutes in quite the same way as Carragher did. His performances against Chelsea in the epic battles that the two clubs fought in the Champions League in the early to mid 2000’s were legendary. Drogba and co. learned to respect (and partly fear) the determined, bustling figure that seemed to just appear out of nowhere to clean things up.
This is why I believe he could make a real difference to the current Liverpool backline. Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho are not bad defenders. Skrtel has been with Liverpool since 2008 and put in enough high quality performances over the years for everyone to know that he can defend. Sakho came from PSG, having been their captain. He has the raw attributes to be a defender of the highest quality.
Kolo Toure was part of Arsenals Immortals in 2004, an experienced campaigner who knows the Premier League inside out and has shown he can handle whatever it throws at him. Even though he doesn’t have the pace anymore, his know-how and experience in big games could be vital. Dejan Lovren is a brilliant front-foot defender who was excellent at Southampton and again, has all the natural ability required. The handling of these defenders has not necessarily been of the highest quality. The different systems and partnerships mean that none of them can necessarily be sure of their place. While some competition for places is obviously vital to maintaining high standards, a situation where players are so nervous they cannot perform with confidence and natural freedom is not a good thing.
All that these players require, I believe, is routine and organisation. Brendan Rodgers is a coach who on the training ground likes to practise passing, movement and technical control. His assistants, Gary McAllister and Sean O’Driscoll, are cut from the same cloth, as can be seen by McAllisters elegant playing style and O’Driscolls style of play in charge of Doncaster and Bristol City. Carragher can offer something different. His knowledge of what defensive positions players should be taking up, his expertise in the arts of physical defending and body position, and his emphasis on the back four as a team within a team would all surely benefit the Liverpool defence. In his 15 years at the top of the game his hallmarks were discipline, concentration and determination. If he can pass all of those on to the current Anfield crop of centre backs and full backs then some of the enormous pressure on Brendan Rodgers might possibly ease somewhat.