Liverpool FC: Why Are We Ignoring the Growing Centre-Back Problem?
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Liverpool have been one of the most prolific teams so far in this transfer window, racking up around £50 million of spending through the signings of Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing.
Even after that pretty impressive spending spree, fevered speculation still continues regarding Kenny Dalglish’s next move. The positions that have plagued the club for years are predictably the main target for the speculation: left-back, a good backup striker and, to a lesser extent, a winger.
What worries me most, however, is the seemingly oblivious attitude of most fans, and indeed the club’s staff, to another problem position that is building.
I agree that we need an experienced left-back, although I would happily play Jack Robinson in a more prominent role after his performances last season, but I believe that centre of defence is quickly becoming a more urgent problem than our need for another striker or winger.
Although another striker of decent quality would be well received by fans, myself included, I don’t think of it as a necessity. After all, if Carroll continues to get injured, I would guess that Kuyt will be used in that position, and that Henderson will be used on the right.
The main problem is when two or more injuries occur. But with the strength in depth of our midfield now, I think that Gerrard would be pushed forward, similar to how he was used when playing alongside some Spanish geezer (I've forgotten his name).
As for wingers, we now have Downing on the left, along with Meireles who performed well there after the arrival of Dalglish. We also have Adam, who could potentially play there as a natural left-footed player, whilst both Kuyt and Henderson provide good options on the right. For now, I believe that is enough—this is a work in progress after all.
Now to explain my concerns with the defence.
It may seem strange at first, since centre-back has been arguably our strongest position over the last 10 to 15 years, but that was largely thanks to Sami Hyypia’s successful partnerships alongside Stephane Henchoz and Jamie Carragher, respectively.
However, two of those three have long gone, and while we all dream of a team of Carraghers, I’m afraid that the years have caught up with him. He was never blessed with a lot of pace, but what he did have is slowly fading, and he hardly has the physique to continue to dominate in the air as Hyypia did. Sadly, few players have the longevity that big Sami had, and Carragher, in my opinion, is not one of them. I think it showed, and he was exposed too many times last season.
Arguably our most talented defender, the enigmatic Daniel Agger, is highly injury prone and unreliable over the course of a whole season. He’s played a reasonable number of games over the last few years, but it seems that every time he hits some sort of form, he suffers another injury.
This disrupts consistency, both on an individual level and in terms of team selection. If he can stay injury free, then he will be a huge asset to the club, but I have my doubts over whether he can avoid that.
Soto Kyrgiakos is dominant in the air, but shows obvious flaws when faced with pace, skill or (God forbid) both, which leads to inconsistency for completely different reasons.
In other words, depending on the opposition, Kyrgiakos can be man of the match against one team and seamlessly become the defence's weak link the following game. He’s also no spring chicken, having turned 32 last week, and will need replacing soon.
In fact, the only proven centre-back who is currently reliable and performing well consistently is Martin Skrtel.
It is said that statistics don’t lie, and Skrtel played in every minute of every Premier League game last season, one of only two outfield players to achieve that.
In the past, Skrtel has troubled me with his uncanny ability to lose the player he’s supposed to be marking, but last year he showed a marked improvement in his performances, and has always been reliable and available. This is something that I hope is continued into the new season.
Beyond the main four, we have Martin Kelly, who is unproven in the centre (his natural position coming through the youth ranks), although his performances at right-back were impressive before injury.
Danny Wilson played largely at left-back, and looked out of position there, but again is unproven against Premier League opposition—something that goes against every other young centre-back at the club.
Playing youngsters is always a risk, and while it paid off handsomely last season and I would always advocate giving them a chance, you cannot rely on it working every time.
All of the above serves to explain exactly why it worries me that there has hardly been any speculation about centre-backs.
Apart from early speculation of raiding Birmingham City for either Roger Johnson or Scott Dann, there hasn’t been anything to suggest that it is a concern for anyone connected with the club.
Unless Liverpool FC have managed to keep a future transfer quiet (a minor miracle these days, although it’s easier without certain people hacking phone calls I suppose), it seems likely that it is one area that will remain unchanged as of next year. I just hope that the staff don’t regret this decision once January arrives.
As I finish writing this, I’ve been informed that Liverpool comfortably lost 3-0 to Galatasaray: that’s six goals conceded in two games against teams that we should be beating. It may not have been a full-strength team, but I think that being unable to contain an aging Milan Baros and former Bolton striker Johan Elmander helps illustrate my point.
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