A Team of Carraghers: Liverpool FC's Top 11 Premier League Defenders

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2011

A Team of Carraghers: Liverpool FC's Top 11 Premier League Defenders

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:  Fernando Torres of Chelsea looks across a Liverpool defenders Martin Skrtel (L), Daniel Agger (2R) and Jamie Carragher )R) during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Februar
    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Liverpool Football Club have, through their long and illustrious history, been blessed with some of the finest defenders the game has seen.

    From those who have made it into the Reds' Hall of Fame, such as Alan Hansen and Ron Yeats, to the equally great Tommy Smith and Phil Thompson.

    The '80s and early '90s were brim full of classy and uncompromising Reds such as Gary Gillespie, Glenn Hysen and Mark Lawrenson.

    Unfortunately, the Kop was also subjected to the so-called defending of Torben Piechnik, Julian Dicks and Frode Kippe, amongst others.

    The song at Anfield is sung by the Liverpool faithful, "We all dream of a team of Carraghers."

    We can't get 11 of the same man, but which are the 11 best defenders the Reds have been able to call upon to have guard the goalkeeper during the Premier League era? Attacking fullbacks, ball playing defenders, no-nonsense centre backs and even goalscoring heroes, the Reds have had the lot over the past two decades.

    Read on and find out who makes up the best of the best.

    You can follow me on Twitter  @karlmatchett and on EighteenAndFive.

Honorable Mentions

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    LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 26:  Glen Johnson of Liverpool in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Fulham at Anfield on January 26, 2011 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Might as well get them out of the way now before starting the list: Honourable mentions go to Dominic Matteo and Steve Staunton, two left backs who served the club well during the Premiership era.

    Though never fully regulars during more than a full season apiece, Matteo played well over a hundred games for the club before being sold to Leeds, while "Stan" Staunton was a true hero in his first spell at the club during the '80s.

    In between his spells at Liverpool, he played for Aston Villa, who he also re-joined after leaving the Reds a second time under Gerard Houllier.

    Current fullbacks Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly, you feel, could go on and make a place on this list their own; certainly both have the ability to do it.

    Johnson has been slightly hampered by his own injuries and Liverpool's worst on-the-pitch 18 months since the Souness era ended, while Kelly, with less than 30 Reds appearances to his name thus far, will surely go on to be one of the greats should he continue with his impressive form to date.

    My substitute, however, for this list would be Stig Inge Bjornebye. Stig, a Norwegian left back, played 184 times for the Reds and delivered a succession of pinpoint crosses for the likes of Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore and enjoyed his best spell for the club around the mid '90s.

    On to the players who did make the list then....

11. Vegard Heggem (1998-2003, 65 Games, Three Goals)

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    1 Nov 1999:  Vegard Heggem of Liverpool celebrates his goal against Bradford City during the FA Carling Premiership match at Anfield in Liverpool, England. Liverpool won 3-1. \ Mandatory Credit: Ben Radford /Allsport
    Ben Radford/Getty Images

    In 11th place comes Norwegian right back Vegard Heggem.

    Skilful and tricky with pace to burn, Heggem was a fantastic attacking wing back who was equally at home in a wide midfield role.

    He was a great asset to the Reds during Gerard Houllier's early seasons in charge, before a succession of repetitive hamstring injuries forced him to eventually quit the game altogether.

    His first two seasons on Merseyside were comfortably his most productive, after which both his international and later Liverpool club career were cut short. His Reds career was for that reason very much a case of what might have been, after such a promising and exciting start which he provided.

    Heggem was the only player to be signed by Liverpool during the joint managerial campaign of Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier.

10. Mark Wright (1991-1998, 210 Games, Nine Goals)

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    24 Aug 1996:  Mark Wright of Liverpool in action during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Sunderland at Anfield in Liverpool. Mandatory Credit: Clive Brunskill/Allsport
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Mark Wright was a classy, ball-playing defender who was exceptional in the tackle and adept at bringing the ball out of defence into the midfield.

    After impressing at the heart of England's defence in the 1990 Italia World Cup, Wright joined Liverpool from Derby County a year later and was named captain by Graeme Souness.

    After a mediocre start—he was injured in his second game, missing three months—his first year at Anfield turned out to be a good one. He lifted the FA Cup at the end of the campaign as Liverpool defeated Sunderland by two goals to nil at Wembley.

    Wright was in and out the following campaign through loss of form and subsequently lost the captaincy of the club.

    In '94, now with Roy Evans at the helm, it looked like Wright could be on his way out of the club after a public dressing down by the manager. However, he stayed and a year later for the '95-'96 season Wright re-established himself as an important player, revelling in Evans' three-man defence.

    Wright then remained part of the Liverpool team until he had to retire in 1998, having amassed over 200 games for the club.

9. Alvaro Arbeloa (2007-2009, 98 Games, Two Goals)

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    BANGKOK, THAILAND - JULY 22:  Alvaro Arbeloa of Liverpool in action during a pre-season friendly match againts Thailand at the Rajamangala National Stadium on July 22, 2009 in Bangkok, Thailand.  (Photo by Victor Fraile/Getty Images)
    Victor Fraile/Getty Images

    Spanish fullback Alvaro Arbeloa was signed by Rafa Benitez in the January transfer window of 2007 and played almost 100 games in his two-and-a-half years at Liverpool.

    Predominantly a right back, Arbeloa did however make his full debut, and played a considerable number of other games, on the left hand side of the defence for the Reds, marking Leo Messi out of the game in the Camp Nou against Barcelona.

    Arbeloa was in and out of the side during his first half a season at the club according to necessity, with the likes of Steve Finnan also vying for the right fullback role.

    He came on as a substitute in the 2007 Champions League final in Athens.

    Arbeloa was quiet and unspectacular on the ball but was as reliable as they come. He marked well and could put in a decent cross. He was also a popular player with his fellow Reds and could almost always be seen jumping on top of a crowd, celebrating every goal the Reds scored.

    Arbeloa left Liverpool in the summer of 2009 along with Xabi Alonso to play for Real Madrid.

8. John Arne Riise (2001-2008, 348 Games, 31 Goals)

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    John Arne Riise played close to 350 times for the Reds over an seven-year period, which ended when he joined AS Roma of Italy.

    Riise enjoyed many wonderful moments with Liverpool, though is probably best remembered for his stunning free kick at Anfield against Manchester United, as shown in the video to the left. The goal spawned the song which was to become a fixture on the Kop for years afterwards; a reminder of his talented left boot which also scored against the likes of Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Arsenal.

    Regularly playing at either left back or left midfield under both Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez, Riise offered the team great stamina and width for his first four or five seasons at the club and was almost an immovable part of the team.

    He scored for Liverpool in the 2005 League Cup final after just 45 seconds against Chelsea, and later that season provided the cross for Steven Gerrard to head past Dida in the AC Milan goal, setting the Reds on their way to winning their fifth European Cup.

    Riise actually missed a penalty in the shoot-out in Istanbul, though erased those memories by netting his spot-kick in the shoot-out against West Ham in the FA Cup a year later.

    Riise was undoubtedly a great servant of the club for those first years, though his final two seasons at the club were littered with average performances and mistakes, as he eventually lost his place in the team.

    His final act in a Reds shirt was not one fitting with his overall career at the club, though it did exemplify his need to seek pastures new, as he netted an own-goal in the Champions League semifinal against Chelsea in the last minute at Anfield in 2008.

7. Steve Finnan (2003-2008, 217 Games, One Goal)

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    LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 23:  Steve Finnan  of Liverpool in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Middlesbrough at Anfield on February 23, 2008 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Gary M. Prior/Getty Images)
    Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

    Irish International fullback Steve Finnan was one of the Reds' unsung heroes for his five years at the club; a dependable and consistent right-sided player if ever there was one who could deliver a great cross with either foot.

    Finnan joined the club under Houllier, and though he made several appearances that season, injuries, poor team form and the arrival of new boss Rafa Benitez saw speculation that Finnan could leave the club after just a season.

    However during the following years Finnan proved himself a more reliable and indeed better player than several who came in to challenge him including Jan Kromkamp and Josemi.

    He played right back during Liverpool's 2005 Champions League victory though was subbed at halftime to make way for Didi Hamann.

    Finnan also won the 2006 FA Cup Final and was ever present during the Reds' league campaign in '05-'06.

    The lad from Limerick scored his only Reds goal against West Brom and left for Spanish side Espanyol in 2008.

6. Stephane Henchoz (1999-2005, 205 Games, Zero Goals)

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 3:  Stephane Henchoz #2 of Liverpool in action against AS Roma during the ChampionsWorld Series at Giant Stadium August 3, 2004 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Stephane Henchoz was a solid and tough defender who formed an excellent partnership with Sami Hyypia under the tutelage of Gerard Houllier, who signed him from Blackburn Rovers in the summer of '99.

    Henchoz was a great tackler and a committed defender who never shied away from a challenge and was often the man-marker out of the two defenders.

    He played a vital role in Liverpool winning the cup treble in 2001, including a fantastic performance against Arsenal in the FA Cup final—even if he did handle one goal-bound effort which was missed by the referee —and rarely missed a game for several seasons. 

    In over 200 games for the club Henchoz never scored a competitive goal; his only strike coming in a pre-season tour of the United States shortly after Rafa Benitez had taken over.

    However, the arrival of the Spanish manager signalled the beginning of the end for the Swiss defender as Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia were the preferred partners for the central defence roles.

    Henchoz was used on the odd occasion during 2004/05 season as a right back but left the club as injuries and lack of playing time took their toll.

5. Rob Jones (1991-1998, 243 Games, Zero Goals)

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    4 NOV 1995:  ROB JONES IN ACTION FOR LIVERPOOL DURING THE PREMIER LEAGUE MATCH AGAINST NEWCASTLE AT ST JAMES PARK. NEWCASTLE WON 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Anton Want/ALLSPORT
    Anton Want/Getty Images

    Rob Jones was a terrific modern fullback who's career was cut frustratingly short by a succession of injuries which eventually forced his retirement at the age of just 27.

    He joined Liverpool in 1991 and made his debut just two days later, against none other than Manchester United where he proceeded to mark Ryan Giggs out of the game.

    Jones won the FA Cup in 1992 at the end of his first season with the Reds and had also made his England debut that season, just a few months after playing in the old Fourth Division with previous club Crewe Alexandra.

    After missing the Euro finals that summer and enduring a stop-start beginning of '92/'93 because of injury, Jones recaptured his pace and form which had made him such a hit in his first season at the club.

    He remained injury free and a first choice player for Liverpool until late in '96, by now playing as a wing back in Evans' 3-5-2 system, when he was told to forget about football for at least six months due to severe back problems.

    Jones missed almost the whole of '96/'97 but midway through the following season won back his place in the team.

    However, it was the beginning of the end for the exciting fullback, and after three serious knee operations, he was told he could not continue playing. He moved to West Ham but made only a further two appearances before hanging up his boots for good.

    Despite racking up almost 250 games for the Reds, Jones failed to ever find the net for the club.

4. Markus Babbel (2000-2003, 73 Games, Six Goals)

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    COLOGNE - JULY 16:  Markus Babbel of Liverpool takes a throw on during the friendly match between FC Cologne and Liverpool at The Rhein Energie Stadium on July 16, 2003 in Cologne, Germany.  Liverpool won the match 3-1.  (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Im
    Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

    Another in a long list of players who couldn't quite fulfil their obvious talent as much as they would have liked, Markus Babbel was an immensely talented right-sided defender from Germany who, after an incredible debut season, saw his Liverpool career hampered and eventually destroyed after contracting Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a virus which cut his physical abilities and left Babbel wheelchair-bound for a spell.

    Babbel joined Liverpool on a Bosman signing from Bayern Munich and in his first season was the regular right back for the Reds, starting a whopping 60 matches, as they won the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup, which was won in Dortmund in his native country.

    He was a fan favourite due to his powerful, lung-bursting runs down the right flank and his ability to pop up with important goals. Indeed, he even scored one in the UEFA Cup final against Alaves and another in the Merseyside derby against Everton.

    Babbel missed the entire 2001/02 season as a result of the illness and though he worked hard, signed a new contract and came back to play for the club the following season, it was clear that the virus had robbed him of his trademark strength and power, and he cut a frustrated figure at times and suffered disciplinary problems as well as failing to recapture his best form.

    Babbel made only a further dozen or so appearances for the Reds after that amazing first season but fully deserves his high placing for his incredible contributions during such a wonderful campaign.

3. Daniel Agger (2006-Current, 136 Games, Seven Goals)

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    Liverpool's great Dane, Daniel Agger, is a classy centre back who would surely have almost doubled his appearance total for the Reds if not for a succession of frustrating injuries.

    At his imperious best, Agger is as good a defender as any in Europe; good in the air, a fierce competitor and with pace and positioning skills which have frequently thwarted the finest attacking options the Premiership has to offer.

    In addition, he is a potent weapon at the other end of the field, as his goals against Arsenal, Chelsea and Benfica illustrate—as well as his long-range spectacular strikes against West Ham and Blackburn Rovers (video).

    After signing from Brondby midway through the 2005/06 season, Agger made just four appearances for the Reds over the remainder of the campaign, but he went on to displace Sami Hyypia as Jamie Carragher's main central defensive partner.

    Though injuries have prevented him from yet reaching his true potential in the game, Agger is still one of the finest defenders around and could still prove himself as one of the best ever seen in a Red shirt, if he can finally put his injury problems behind him.

2. Sami Hyypia (1999-2009, 464 Games, 35 Goals)

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    LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 24:  Sami Hyypia of Liverpool waves to the Kop after playing his last game for Liverpool in the Barclays  Premier League match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on May 24, 2009 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Al
    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    The blonde Finn, Sami Hyypia, is truly deserving of that greatest of tags too often bandied about without reason: Legend.

    Playing well over 400 games for the Reds, Hyypia won everything that domestic football has to offer Liverpool, save for the league title.

    He joined the Reds from Willem II in Holland for just £2.5 million and went on to become one of the most consistent and best defenders in European football.

    Named as Finnish Footballer of the Year in no less than seven of his 10 years on Merseyside, Hyypia was the rock which Houllier's treble cup-winning side was built on and captained the Reds in the FA and UEFA Cup finals in the absence of Jamie Redknapp.

    Sami wore the armband on a permanent basis for a year and a half before handing over to Steven Gerrard, though he continued to be a mighty presence at the back for Liverpool.

    Hyypia also won a League Cup medal in 2003, UEFA Super Cup and Community Shield trophies in 2001, the UEFA Champions League in 2005 and was still a part of the squad for the Athens final two years later.

    In his final game for the club, a massive Kop mosaic was laid on for their hero, who openly broke down in tears when the game came to an end.

    Hyypia left the club for German outfit Bayer Leverkusen but will forever be remembered by Kopites as much for his fearless and peerless defending as for his momentous goals against the likes of Juventus and Manchester United; indeed Sami is the top scoring defender in this list with 35.

1. Jamie Carragher (1997-Current, 664 Games, Five Goals)

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    ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 25:  Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher lifts the European Cup after Liverpool won the European Champions League final against AC Milan on May 25, 2005 at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Gett
    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Who else?

    No surprise perhaps, but Jamie Carragher's contribution to Liverpool since making his debut in 1997 has been huge.

    With over 650 games to his name in the Liverpool Red and, presuming he features in at least two of the Reds' last four fixtures this season, he will end the campaign as the second-highest all-time appearance record holder for Liverpool FC, behind only Ian Callaghan.

    Another who, like Sami Hyypia, has won everything going bar the Premier League title, Carra is a local boy born in Bootle and has lived his whole life in the area.

    Though originally an Everton fan, Carra is a fully committed Red these days and is so often Liverpool's last line of defence, his trademark last ditch tackles an icon amongst Liverpool folklore.

    His stand out performance in Istanbul against AC Milan is just one such example of a career packed full of such games.

    Though now firmly established as a central defender, save the odd game at right back when injuries deem it necessary, Carragher started out in football as a forward and gradually moved back down the field, making his full Reds debut as a central midfielder and playing in both fullback positions for various seasons, including the 2001 campaign where he featured largely as a left back.

    One of the game's most determined and influential figures, he is a top drawer organiser of the defence and never shirks a challenge.

    Though for a long time he has been the vice-captain of Liverpool, he did indeed lift a trophy in his own right when he led the Reds to a UEFA Super Cup victory over CSKA Moscow, with regular captain Steven Gerrard sidelined through injury.

    Carragher is certainly a "defenders' defender," with his forays into opponents' penalty areas few and far between, as evidenced by his strike rate of worse than one goal every 130 games! However he did score on his full debut against Aston Villa, as well as netting other strikes against the likes of Fulham and Middlesborough.

    Carragher remains an integral part of Liverpool's defence and though many believe—have indeed believed for several seasons now—that each new campaign may be his last, his experience and knowledge of the game remain invaluable, not to mention his ability.

    With plenty of new young defenders beginning to break into the Liverpool first team, it seems that Carragher's experience will only benefit them by playing and training alongside such a living legend of the club.

    Whether he has one, two or even more years left at the heart of Liverpool's defence remains to be seen, but he will be hoping that the return of King Kenny Dalglish can push the Reds on to challenge for the one trophy his personal cabinet yet lacks, the Premier League title.

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