Liverpool's Internal Options to Replace Jamie Carragher at Centre-Back

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2013

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:   Jamie Carragher of Liverpool reacts during the UEFA Europa League round of 32 second leg match between Liverpool FC and FC Zenit St Petersburg at Anfield on February 21, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Liverpool's legendary central defender Jamie Carragher has taken the decision to retire at the end of the present season, leaving the Reds with a gaping hole to fill on several counts.

Carragher has been not just any old player for a decade-and-a-half, but one who has won countless trophies, captained the side to glory on numerous occasions—including lifting a trophy in his own right—been a leader and an organiser, and a piece of the city itself represented within the team.

Talk about a local lad made good; Carragher is Liverpool's second-highest all-time appearance holder, and will end the season, and his career, with more than 730 games to his name in the Red shirt.

He has also played 150 times for Liverpool in Europe, which is a club record.

So how do Liverpool go about replacing such a long-standing great?

They will, of course, be active in the transfer market. As well as Carragher, Seb Coates and Martin Skrtel (via Daily Mirror and Daily Mail, respectively) have been linked with moves away, so Liverpool could very well be looking at having to sign two central defenders to cope with the departures.

Though it will be no easy task to directly replace Carragher, there certainly are a number of defenders around who are of the standard required by the Reds to push on for a top four place next season. The difficulty comes in finding the right name, or names, who can become a partnership at the back.

Paris Saint-Germain's Mamadou Sakho is a very good defender—but would he be a good partner for Daniel Agger?

Therein lies the problem for Brendan Rodgers during the summer, in finding and forming not just a great defender, but a great defence.

The Reds do though have options within the squad to turn to, with a number of younger defenders hoping to get their chance to become a first-team regular.

One or two can likely be discounted even before the summer.

Danny Wilson, currently on loan in Scotland with Hearts, is out of contract in the summer and is likely to depart. Stephen Sama remains a regular for the reserves, but is now 20 years old and has still not made his first-team debut in a competitive environment.

He still has time on his side to make an impact, but it certainly doesn't look as though he's destined for the first team any time soon.

Lower down the age groups, Lloyd Jones continues to impress hugely—watch out for his name if you don't already follow the under-18s.

And then there are two players who are already members of the senior side, Martin Kelly and Andre Wisdom.

Both of these players have gained fans and followers for their committed displays in the first team, and both share the attribute of being natural centre-backs who have been converted to right-backs as they progressed into the first team.

Can either of them reverse their career paths to become central players again?

Wisdom is the current deputy at right-back, having made the breakthrough to the first team this season in the absence of Kelly, who has missed most of the campaign through injury.

Both players are athletic, strong, powerful and have no shortage of pace, and though they are of course naturally defensive-minded, both have shown admirable endeavour to break forward and support play in the final third, as their role demands.

It is Kelly, though, at 22 years of age (he will be 23 when next season starts), who is the more experienced of the two and who perhaps shows more natural attributes to his game which are suited to playing in the centre.

A tall and imposing figure, Kelly frequently holds his body closer to the ground to give himself a lower centre of balance, giving him deceptive agility and speed on the turn.

His pace in the backline would be a great attribute for Liverpool, as would his committed manner of making challenges and his aerial strength.

Kelly is far from the finished article, but he does possess all the raw talents which would be needed to make the grade as a top centre-back. The trick will be getting someone to work with him on the training ground who knows how to iron out the errors and increase the assets which make him a good defender, and also, importantly, having patience.

Liverpool will want to make an assault on the top four next season, that is clear, and to do that they'll need a good, solid defence.

The temptation—perhaps even the need—will be to sign a first-choice centre-back this summer who can play with Agger, and then make Kelly maybe the third choice.

Kelly, though, will need games in the middle to improve significantly. His few stints in the centre since making his debut there against PSV Eindhoven have seen him take up questionable positions during play, which is borne as a result of being used to operating on the right side of defence—a different line of looking across the field of play, and a different size of space between the player on your left and the touchline on your right, to playing in the centre.

It will take him time, perhaps 10, a dozen or even 20 games, to get used to playing centrally again. Some of these can come in preseason, maybe some can come in the under-21 games as he builds up fitness, but most importantly plenty have to come in a competitive environment alongside someone he will be playing with for the long haul.

Daniel Agger and Martin Kelly; they have plenty of attributes between them which make up the ideal combination.

Kelly is a very good technical defender. He doesn't let opponents get past him easily, he is committed, strong and reliable.

Shifting from right-back to centre-back will also reduce significantly the strain on his muscles and ligaments which have given him problems for years; no more stop-start sprints down the touchline, no more doubling back after turnovers and no more whipping the ball across himself at pace when crossing opportunities arise.

Even so, his experience in playing with the ball at his feet make him an ideal defender to bring the ball out of the back line and play into midfield, rather like Agger does on the opposite side.

Kelly has the potential to marry the very best between a physical and a technical defender, but tactically he has lots to learn.

If he's given the chance to improve in that role, and the patience and understanding that he'll need—because mistakes will happen early on, no doubt—then Liverpool might have themselves a top-drawer centre-back for the next decade.

And, like Jamie Carragher, one who came from the youth system to make good, in the best possible way.


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