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Agger offers a calm counterpoint to Skrtel's aggressive defensive style.
It starts with the obvious.
Agger, being left-footed, allowed Skrtel to move over to his natural side—the right—something which Carragher’s presence had previously denied him the opportunity to do.
Skrtel was immediately more comfortable and his confidence grew as a result. He quickly developed an understanding with Agger, with Agger’s calm approach to the game a natural balance to Skrtel’s more aggressive tendencies.
In their first 15 matches playing together, Liverpool kept eight clean sheets, setting a standard across the league for disciplined defending. It wasn’t enough for Kenny Dalglish to keep his job, but it certainly gave Brendan Rodgers one less thing to worry about.
That’s what he thought, anyway. The first game of the season was a poor demonstration of their prowess, but also showed how much they need each other.
Agger was harshly sent off for a professional foul—Shane Long continuing his inability to stay on his feet anywhere near 16 yards from goal—and a penalty was awarded.
In a rare case of footballing justice, the penalty was horrendous and saved by Pepe Reina, almost in slow motion.
Skrtel then conceded a penalty of his own within five minutes, again a strange refereeing decision that showed more about Long’s ability for deception than the defender’s poor tackling.
Long won the ball cleanly, but opted to flop over Skrtel’s legs rather than bear down on goal. Peter Odemwingie took the kick this time, making no mistake.
This distracted from a performance in which Liverpool looked like the better side for at least the first 45 minutes, with Luis Suarez and Glen Johnson missing chances on several occasions. It was when Agger left that Liverpool fell to pieces.
What had previously looked organised now looked panicked. West Brom penetrated the defence with ease and it was only because of Reina that the score remained slightly respectable.
Skrtel and Agger are better players when they are together; it’s a simple as that. They know where the other player is at all times and trust their own games as a result.
It’s a partnership akin to the famous Alan Hansen-Mark Lawrenson duo of the 1980s—Agger being Hansen and Skrtel, Lawrenson—where one provides the elegance and the other the grit.
Skrtel won 80 percent of his aerial battles last year—no other player in the league won more—as well as 75 percent of his tackles. Agger won 64 and 66 percent of aerial battles and tackles respectively, but that’s not his natural game.
The way he contrasts Skrtel is ably demonstrated by his interception stats over 2011/12. Agger has excellent vision and quick judgement, chalking up an interception every 36.29 minutes (all stats via EPLIndex.co.uk).
Keeping Skrtel and Agger together is of paramount importance, for the sake of balance along the Liverpool defence. Carragher has also admitted that the team needs the pair together, even if it costs him his place:
It’s probably not so good for me but, joking apart, it’s absolutely vital we keep them. I know Vincent Kompany was great for Manchester City last season but, for me, as a defensive partnership these two are the best in the Premier League (via The Daily Star)