Will Liverpool's Back Four Be Strong Enough to Mount a Top-4 Challenge?
For the first time in eight years, Liverpool’s back four are lining up in front of a goalkeeper that isn’t Pepe Reina.
That isn’t strictly true of course. The Reds’ undisputed No. 1 goalkeeper has had a range of deputies of varying competency and abilities over those years―Jerzy Dudek, Charles Itandje, Diego Cavalieri, Alexander Doni, Brad Jones―but they all knew that they were merely understudies. Simon Mignolet is the new No. 1.
Questions will be posed of the Belgian as he steps into Reina’s shoes at one of the most talked about clubs on the planet, but the goalkeeper will also have a few of his own on his mind. Chiefly, are this lot that I’m playing behind good enough?
Liverpool’s back four will be tested throughout what promises to be a fascinating season.
As the Reds strive to get back amongst the elite clubs on the continent, there will be much talk of the pleasing-on-the-eye style that manager Brendan Rodgers looks to implement, but they’ll have to be solid at the back too.
Last season, Rodgers’ first, was notable for a number of defensive errors in the opening half of the campaign as the Reds looked to build their game from the back. It is what led to the manager restoring veteran Jamie Carragher to the team in January in a bid to give his team more leadership.
With Carragher now retired, that leadership will be sought elsewhere, and from the two centre-backs who look certain to start Liverpool’s opening match of the season against Stoke City at Anfield on Saturday.
For how long that remains is dependent on the outcome of Barcelona's interest in the elegant centre-back, but with Rodgers installing the Dane as the club’s new vice-captain and Liverpool showing no willingness to sell―see also Luis Suarez―it looks likely the 28-year-old will be around for some time yet.
This season, he’ll have a new partner in defence too.
When Kolo Toure joined from Manchester City on a free transfer this summer it was seen as a solid addition to the squad.
Liverpool’s failure so far to add another centre-back has seen Toure pressed into the middle of Rodgers’ plans, and the experienced Ivorian certainly looks more likely to make regular starts than Martin Skrtel and Sebastian Coates, both of whom could be set to leave before the closure of the transfer window.
Toure has impressed in preseason, and if he can have the same impact that Carragher had in the previous campaign then his will be seen as an astute arrival. Carragher was only on the losing side once in the Premier League after he came back into the team in January, after all.
Either side of Agger and Toure, there could be even more changes.
The impressive Glen Johnson will continue to be one of the first names on the teamsheet on the right-hand-side of defence, even in spite of competition from the fit-again Martin Kelly and the promising Andre Wisdom, who is likely to be used as a backup centre-back anyway.
The left side is a little more complicated though, especially given that Jose Enrique could be about to get some real competition.
The 27-year-old is an attacking full-back―almost naturally given where he’s from―and so his addition would place scrutiny on Enrique’s role as a constant starter. He’d have to fight for his place.
So Mignolet will be playing behind Johnson, Toure, Agger (if he stays) and Enrique or Siqueira (should he join). Is that good enough for a top four spot?
You’d have to say that, like everything else with this current Liverpool squad, there would need to be some improvement in that area if Champions League football is to be secured this season, something that Reina was used to.
Things have moved on since Reina, but they are going to have to move at a pace if they are to get there again soon.
The back four will be a big part of that challenge, but they are likely to have to be patient for now.
Are they good enough yet? Probably not. But providing transfer activity goes well, they can be.
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