After capturing the imagination of football supporters across the world with an expansive brand of vibrant, attacking football, Liverpool looked set to land their first Premier League title in 24 years not so long ago.
But there was always a lingering suspicion that their longstanding defensive frailties would cost them, and after their dramatic collapse against Crystal Palace in Week 37, the Reds' need for defensive reinforcements became embarrassingly apparent.
It’s something that Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers touched upon after the Reds conceded three goals in the last 11 minutes against the Eagles, effectively ending any hopes of winning the title, per LiverpoolFC.com (h/t David Anderson of the Mirror):
We gave away the full three points having played so well.
But if you defend like that, you’re going to concede goals and that was the disappointment.
It’s an area that we know we need to be better at. We’ve improved a lot in many aspects of our game and that will be an area I’m sure we’ll look at - and nobody more so than myself.
Reports have emerged this week suggesting that the Reds will turn to Argentinian international defender Marcos Rojo in an attempt to bolster their back line, and he’d be an undoubtedly shrewd capture for the Anfield outfit.
According to Portuguese newspaper A Bola (via the Metro), Liverpool have been keeping tabs on the 24-year-old, who has enjoyed a season of unshakable solidity and steady progression at Sporting Lisbon.
Rojo has helped Sporting to the second-best defensive record in the Portuguese top flight, with the Lisbon outfit conceding just 19 goals in 29 games, per WhoScored.com. His astute showings encouraged Liverpool to send scouts to watch him back in March:
Liverpool had scouts to watch Sporting defender Marcos Rojo's MotM performance vs Guimarães last night. [ZeroZero]— Jan Hagen (@PortuBall) March 30, 2014
Capable of playing at left-back and also in a centre-back berth, Rojo is a player who would fit seamlessly into Rodgers’ Liverpool philosophy.
Standing at 6’1”, he is a dominant presence within the back four. He uses his physicality to unsettle attackers and excellent anticipatory skills to defend on the front foot, an attribute that will have certainly caught the eye of the Liverpool boss.
With the ball at his feet, Rojo is extremely capable too. He doesn’t panic in tight situations, capable of picking a pass into midfield or using his somatotype to conjure up a yard of space and keep possession. His adaptability is also a very desirable attribute, meaning he could offer excellent cover for Liverpool’s only orthodox left-back in Jose Enrique.
In many respects, he’s a player comparable to Daniel Agger: left-sided, adaptable, physical and strong on the ball too. There have been reports that the Dane could be on his way out of Anfield this summer, per Gary Jones of the Daily Star, and Rojo would be a like-for-like replacement.
Granted, Agger is a much more experienced, familiar figure, but at 24 years old, Rojo could potentially blossom into a player as good as or potentially even better than the current Liverpool vice-captain.
Reds supporters reading this may feel like history is repeating itself here, after the club completed a deal for Tiago Ilori last summer: a young central defender from Sporting Lisbon.
Rodgers sent the 21-year-old out on loan to Granada in January to gain some much needed playing time, but Rojo is definitely ready to challenge for a spot in the Liverpool first XI.
He's an experienced defender who has played in vital clashes for both Sporting and his previous club, Spartak Moscow. Rojo also looks set to be a starter for Argentina at the 2014 World Cup this summer, a measure of his assurance and quality.
What position would Rojo play for Liverpool?
So often this season, Liverpool’s back four have retreated to deep positions, seemingly crying out for a dominant, physical presence to help push them up the pitch. Rojo can bring that kind of dimension to their defensive work.
To be playing in central defence at the age of 24 is not easy, but after a move to Russia from Estudiantes in 2011 and a subsequent move from Moscow to Portugal in 2012, Rojo has a mature, cultured head on his shoulders for one who is still relatively young.
Rojo has a reported release clause in his Sporting contract of £25 million, but you suspect that if Liverpool managed to snaffle Ilori for £7 million, per BBC Sport, the price for Rojo may not be too much upwards of that.
After a mixed bag of signings in the summer of 2013, Rodgers needs to reaffirm his credentials in the transfer market.
He’s shown throughout the course of this campaign that he can channel and facilitate the development of young talent, evident in the improvements in the game of Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Jon Flanagan.
There is plenty for him to develop with Rojo too, and if Liverpool can construct a deal for the Argentina international, expect him to quickly become a vital cog in the Reds defence next season under the tutelage of Rodgers.