While Glen Johnson made his expected return from illness on the right side of that defence, there was also a recall for centre-back Daniel Agger, who had sat out the previous five league matches as a substitute. Agger's return, partnering Martin Skrtel centrally, coincided with the Reds' first clean sheet since early September, as Liverpool beat Fulham 3-0.
The poser for Rodgers now will be whether or not to alter that back four ahead of arguably the most important game of the season up until now: the away derby game at Everton.
Agger in the Middle
As the Reds' vice-captain, it is to be expected that Agger features more often than not, but his injury in September and relatively poor form previous to that dictated that he sat out of the side for a spell.
His qualities are well known to supporters and the management, as he brings a composure and technical ability on the ball that few others can match, but he is also aggressive in his defensive work and a good reader of the game to make telling challenges and blocks.
It was a surprise that he didn't get the chance to display his more offensive-minded talents in rampaging forward from a back three with plenty of cover behind, but he was hardly tested against Fulham as the Reds reverted to their usual defensive layout.
Agger brings experience to the Merseyside derby, he knows what it takes to beat the Blue half of the city and he should be more determined than ever to train and perform well, having suffered a spell on the sidelines of late. That certainly appears to be the case, as per his own comments on LiverpoolFC.com:
It was good to be back as it's been a difficult time for me. It's difficult to describe really. I want to play every single game. When you are not playing, it's difficult. I just tried to work even harder every single day in training. I didn't complain - I just did everything with that little bit extra.
Sometimes it's difficult to change that in training. You have to grab the chance when it's there. That's what football is all about, to take your chances. I'm not the type of player who needs an explanation.
I was out of the team for longer than I hoped for but when you get a chance you have to do everything you can to keep it. Physically, I am probably better now than when I played before. When you haven't played for a while you need to get the timing right. That takes some time but we did okay against Fulham and kept a clean sheet, which is always good as a defender.
The Case for Sakho and Toure
While the Agger-Skrtel combination resumed in the centre, that meant a temporary absence for two new signings, Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure, both of whom have impressed of late on either side of the three-man defence.
Out of the two, it is perhaps easier to drop Toure than Sakho for a run of games given his age, the fact he arrived on a free transfer and his experience meaning he is capable of simply coming into a game, perhaps as sub, to have an immediate impact to shore things up at the back.
Sakho, though, has shown already he can be a top-class defender—but he has not yet played regularly in a two-man centre-back system for Liverpool. The derby doesn't appear to be the best match to try that out, but then, Sakho's dominance and excellent use of the ball also means he could be a mighty addition to the defence.
Skrtel appears to have done nothing wrong and so should keep his place, so it could well be a straight fight between Sakho and Agger for the left-central defensive slot alongside the Slovakian.
What those two new arrivals do have is an element of versatility.
Sakho can play as a full-back on the left side, Toure can do the same on the right. While Johnson's excellent display against Fulham means there is no doubt he will take up the same role against Everton after the international break—fitness to all permitting, of course—it is plausible that Rodgers might opt for an element of caution on the opposite side.
Aly Cissokho has yet to put in a top-quality display in Red, while Jose Enrique is still working his way back to fitness.
Slotting Sakho in at left-back could give Rodgers the best of both worlds; he provides balance in a steady, solid defensive unit which will see Johnson push forward from the right and Sakho sit deeper on the left, while also allowing the Agger-Skrtel combination to remain in place centrally.
Sakho doesn't offer the same attacking thrust, of course, but away in a derby match and with the Premier League table so tight at the top at present, caution might well be uppermost in Rodgers' mind—at least to start with.
There is also the option to then switch back to the three-man defence if the boss feels that is the right way forward during the match.
Liverpool's attack almost picks itself at the moment and it is there that the fans and management will look to win the derby and consolidate the team's position near the top of the league table. But the defence will be key in ensuring that the match isn't lost, and therein lies an interesting decision for the manager in mixing his ample squad depth in that position with the talent and tactical balance to see off Everton on their own turf.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!