Liverpool FC: Assessing the Case for the Defence
With Liverpool set to announce the signing of Sebastian Coates before tomorrow's game at home to Bolton, I thought I would have a look at how Coates' arrival affects the Liverpool defence not just in the immediate future, but also in the long term.
There has been much debate over the past few months over what Liverpool's strongest defence is at present, much of it with regards to who should start at the right back position and who Liverpool's best options are at the heart of the defence.
The only selection that fans seem to universally agree on is that of new signing Jose Enrique at left-back.
With this in mind, I thought I would share what I believe are the best option in the short, and long term in each defensive position for Liverpool.
When I look at Liverpool's options at right-back, I see a group of players that is unmatched in the Premier League. In Martin Kelly, Glen Johnson and John Flanagan, Liverpool have, what I believe to be, the best selection of right-backs that can currently be found in England.
Whilst Manchester United fans might disagree and claim that in the Chris Smalling and the da Silva twins they have the superior options, I don't think it's even close.
Martin Kelly is, for my money, the best young English defender in the game today. Kelly is a magnificent defender who's aerial ability, pace, positional sense and timing of a tackle sets him apart.
Injuries are the only thing that can stop Kelly from becoming an England regular for the next decade and beyond. While Chris Smalling is unquestionably a talented defender himself, he is far better in a central position than played on the right.
His positional play, and recovery skills, are questionable at this time, although they should improve with experience. As things stand, at right-back, Kelly is superior to Smalling in every aspect of the game.
Glen Johnson has his critics, I am most certainly one of them, but the fact remains that he is, for now, England's first choice right-back and being first choice for his national team is an achievement that neither da Silva is ever likely to match.
Johnson is capable of excellent attacking performances, and while he will never be the greatest defender, he showed improvement last season when switched to left back.
John Flanagan is rough around the edges, but he's a tough, hard-nosed defender who will never let the side down. He's prone to mistiming challenges, but he will hopefully grow out of that with age.
The debate around the right-back position generally centres around who should start between Kelly and Johnson. Nobody would debate that Kelly is, by far, the superior defender, but people have made the case for Johnson based on his attacking capabilities.
Personally, I don't think there is a huge gulf in their attacking abilities. Johnson is obviously more adept at taking on and beating players and getting to the bye-line, but I think Kelly's pace, power and intelligence make him a good attacking player for Liverpool.
He supports the attack well by always making himself available, and his read of the game allows him to get back into defensive position very quickly. I don't hesitate at all in saying that Martin Kelly should be Liverpool's starting right-back right now.
In the long term, I think Kelly should stay there. I realize he's a natural central defender, and I have previously written that I believe he should replace Jamie Carragher in the centre, but with the signing of Sebastian Coates, I don't think that is necessary.
When I look at Kelly, I see a young Markus Babbel who was arguably the best right-back in the world the year Liverpool won the cup treble, despite being a natural central defender. Babbel was Liverpool's last great right-back, I believe Kelly is their next one.
The right side of Liverpool's central defence has been unquestionably the most settled position for Liverpool over the last eight years. Jamie Carragher has been an inspiration, a rock and a leader. Carra is a club legend who will always be remembered for his heroic defensive displays which, at times, carried Liverpool over the last eight years.
Unfortunately for player and club, the sun has begun to set on Carragher's Liverpool career. While I won't, unlike some others, write him off just yet, I think we have just begun what will prove to be the final season of Jamie Carragher's time as a first choice defender for Liverpool.
Over this past summer, the likes of Gary Cahill, Ryan Shawcross and Per Mertesacker have all been linked with Liverpool, and it was very clear that if any one of them was to arrive at Anfield, that Carragher would be the one to replaced. It would now appear that none of the above will be arriving as Liverpool are poised to complete the signing of the hugely talented Sebastian Coates.
Coates is a giant of a defender standing 6'6". He's an hugely talented player who is potentially the most dominant defender you will find when it comes to aerial potency.
I've been watching Coates play since he broke into the Nacional first team, and I'm not sure if I've ever seen him lose an aerial duel. The signing of Coates is a fantastic one for Liverpool in my opinion and represents a far better purchase both in terms of value for money, and long-term potential, than anyone else they've been linked with this summer.
It is my opinion, that Jamie Carragher should continue to man the right side of the Liverpool defence for this season. The deployment of Martin Kelly at right-back takes a lot of the pressure off Carra and allows him to focus on his own game. Coates can be given playing time when Carragher needs a rest and should also feature in the Carling and FA Cup.
If Liverpool are not in contention for a Champions League place come March, then Coates should be drafted in on a permanent basis so himself and Daniel Agger can build an understanding for next season.
I see Coates making this position his own from the beginning 2012/13 and becoming a main stay for a decade.
Right now, there is no debate about this position. If fit, Daniel Agger must start in this role if Liverpool want to maintain a solid defence.
Agger is one of the best central defenders in Europe, and for my money, as good as anyone in the Premier League, when he's fit. As all Liverpool fans will be aware, the only thing that has stopped fans all over Europe from realizing just how good Agger is, is his terrible injury record.
He has played in both league games this season and turned in excellent performances on both occasions. Fingers crossed he can maintain his fitness, and his form.
Should Agger suffer an injury, Liverpool do have the capable Martin Skrtel to call upon. Skrtel is a very frustrating player. He is capable of turning in fantastic performances such as his display against Arsenal in the 1-1 draw at the Emirates last season.
Unfortunately, he is also capable of gifting the opposition a goal by making a schoolboy error. I don't think Skrtel is good enough to start for a team with aspirations of contending for the title, but I do think he provides a good reserve option in the event Daniel Agger needs a game off.
Liverpool's youthful options in this role are Danny Wilson and Andre Wisdom. Both have huge potential and look to have good careers ahead of them.
Wilson is a stylish, composed, ball-playing central defender who reminds me on Daniel Agger in many of things he does well. He is still prone to errors and is definitely in need of an appointment with a strength coach, but those are things that will improve as he gains more experience.
If someone looked into a crystal ball and told me that Danny Wilson is going to fulfil his potential and become a Liverpool regular for the next decade, I would be more than happy with that.
Unfortunately for Wilson, but fortunately for Liverpool, Wilson is not the most talented young player they have for this role. That player is Andre Wisdom. Wisdom is a fantastic defender. I see no reason why he can't develop in the same manner Phil Jones has and become a Premier League-calibre defender in the next two years. When looking at his potential, I think he can become a world class central defender.
Wisdom should, in my view, replace Agger in the team in the next couple of seasons. Although Agger is only 26, I don't know how long his body will hold up for him, and I don't think Liverpool will be in a position to carry a part-time first-choice player when Champions League football returns to Anfield.
Enrique now, Robinson for the long term.
It really is that simple at left-back.
Jose Enrique arrived this summer and has already begun to win over his doubters, myself amongst them. While questions still remain about his positional sense, he has fitting into the Liverpool team next to Daniel Agger as if he has been playing there for years.
He had a good game against Sunderland in his debut and was close to flawless against Arsenal, a game in which he was almost certainly Liverpool's best player.
Jack Robinson will be the Liverpool and England left-back for many, many years. I can write that and have no reason to think that it may be a bit of a unlikely prediction. Robinson is already an excellent defender who shows so much maturity in his play that you forget that he is only 17.
His attacking play is also a big plus for Liverpool looking forward. Anyone who has been watching him and Raheem Sterling combine down the left flank for the Liverpool Youths will be looking forward to the day that combination pairs up to terrorize Premier League right-backs.
I think, realistically, it will be asking too much of Robinson to expect him to start on a week in, week out basis for the next two seasons. I see Enrique starting for the duration of that time without much debate, and in year three, I expect the battle for the Liverpool left-back spot to became a major tussle.
One that I am hoping Robinson wins because he is, after all, a product of Liverpool.
So having looked at each position, I believe we are currently best served to stick with the defence which started our most recent league match against Arsenal.
Right-back - Martin Kelly
Right-sided Centre-back - Jamie Carragher
Left-sided Centre-back - Daniel Agger
Left-back - Jose Enrique.
Looking into the future I see the best possible lineup being:
Right-back - Martin Kelly
Rightsided Centre-back - Sebastian Coates
Left-sided Centre-back - Andre Wisdom
Left-back - Jack Robinson.
When I look at the current defence that I have suggested, I think it ranks amongst the very best in the Premier League, and at right-back, left-back and left-sided centre-back, we have players who are arguably in the top two or three in each position throughout the league.
When I look at that potential long-term defence, I see one that could be our first-choice defence for a decade or more, and when you take into account that it will have cost us less than £10million when you factor in transfer fees for Coates and Wisdom and developmental costs for Kelly, Robinson and Wisdom, that's a potentially great defence that could serve the country for a very long time, for just over half what people are suggesting we should pay for Bolton's Gary Cahill.
When you factor in Flanagan, Wilson and a number of other promising defenders currently coming through the Liverpool ranks, it is very possible that Sebastian Coates may be the last defensive signing Liverpool need to make for a very long time.*
I hope you've enjoyed reading this article, and I encourage you to leave your thoughts and ideas on what the present and future Liverpool defences should be when looking at our current crop of players.
For anyone wondering why I chose the pictures I did for each position, those are my choices as Liverpool's greatest ever in each defensive role.
Phil Neal at right-back, Tommy Smith right of centre, Alan Hansen left of centre and Gerry Byrne at left-back
Thanks again for taking the time to read this article.
*Disclaimer: It is possible Scott Dann will arrive in this transfer window, but we don't really need him unless Martin Skrtel is leaving.