Liverpool’s continued absence from the Champions League is dangerously becoming something of a self-defeating cycle. Without the prestige and, more importantly, the revenue from competing in Europe’s elite club competition, the Reds lack both the financial clout and the pulling power to compete with the top sides for the big names - and, on top of that, they’re now becoming vulnerable to other teams coming in for their star players, with the lure of big-money contracts and Champions League football potentially turning the heads of key members of Brendan Rodgers’ squad.
Both of Liverpool’s first choice centre-back pairing, Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger, have recently been linked with moves away from Anfield. Skrtel, the club’s player of the year last season, has long drawn interest from Manchester City and AC Milan, whilst Barcelona are said to be weighing up a move for Agger. Although every player undoubtedly has their price, it would be a massive blow to Rodgers if he were to lose his two best defenders so early in to his tenure at Liverpool.
One of the few positives from last season was the superb form of both Skrtel and Agger – the pair finally got the chance to develop an imperious partnership at the heart of the Liverpool defence and they instantly forged a strong understanding. With Agger being left-footed he played as the left centre back, allowing Skrtel to move to the right centre back spot – he always played as the LCB whenever he was paired with Jamie Carragher - and he looked far more comfortable on his natural side.
Theoretically, Agger is the type of player you’d build your defence around; he is every bit the complete defender. His reading of the game is exemplary, he exudes confidence and composure, and his elegant ability on the ball and willingness to carry it in to the opposition half gives Liverpool an extra dimension to their attack. The crux of the problem with Agger is, and always has been, his propensity to injuries, which is the only thing preventing him from being relied on as the leader in defence going forward, just as Carragher and Hyypia before him were.
Skrtel, the club’s player of the year last season, has long drawn interest from Manchester City and AC Milan, whilst Barcelona are said to be weighing up a move for Agger.
Skrtel is arguably the most improved player in the Premiership over the past few years. He is unrecognisable from the reckless bag of nerves that he was two or three years ago, establishing himself as a consistent, reliable member of the Reds backline, and has developed in to one of the most underrated centre-backs in Europe. Aggressive and physical, he complements Agger’s playing style well, and they look like they’ve been playing together for years.
The defence is one of the few facets of the Liverpool side that Brendan Rodgers need not worry about; it is a solid, dependable base on which to work on. The back four of Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Jose Enrique looks balanced, imaginative and mobile, and they have they key attributes to thrive under the new manager. All four are quick, technically proficient and comfortable on the ball, meaning they should have no problem adapting to Rodgers’ possession based style of play as well playing with a high defensive line.
If Liverpool are to get back in the top four they must build the side around what top players they have left. The spine of the side (Reina, Agger, Skrtel, Lucas, Gerrard and Suarez) is still very strong and few teams can boast such a quality core to their squad, but the supporting cast needs a lot of work. Rodgers, however, is working on a budget, and clearly has a ‘right player, right price’ mentality that he does his business by, so there may be the temptation to cash in one of the defenders in the hope that it will finance a move for two or three other players who can improve the side.
A case could perhaps be made for cashing in on Agger if a sizeable offer is made for his services. The Dane has been plagued by injuries since joining from Brondby in January 2006, making only 170 appearances in six-and-a-half years on Merseyside (an average of just 26 appearances a season). However, given that Liverpool are unlikely to be able to sign a replacement of similar quality, and would likely have to sign an unproven player in the hope that he may potentially become as good as Agger – much like the original signings of Agger and Skrtel, both of whom were relatively unknown players - it may well be better the devil you know.
The back four of Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Jose Enrique looks balanced, imaginative and mobile, and they have they key attributes to thrive under the new manager.
Liverpool must be wary of the last time they broke up a world-class partnership, which they have still not recovered from: the departures of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid in 2009, and Javier Mascherano to Barcelona a year later, are still sorely felt at Anfield. Despite fetching a combined £50m for the pair, neither player was adequately replaced; Lucas, whilst impressive, is a different type of player to the two and is not quite yet at that level.
Skrtel and Agger are in almost identical situations. Both players are 27 (in fact their birthdays are only two weeks apart) and are entering their prime; both have publicly stated they are happy to stay at the club, but have mentioned that talks over a new contract have been non-existent, and with just two years to run on their existing contracts, a definitive decision must be made by the club. If they leave it too late, the club risk unsettling two key members of their side and will be forced to sell for below market value due to their contract situation or risk losing them on bosman deals.
Recent comments made by the players and their agents seem like a ploy to put pressure on the club to negotiate new contracts with the pair. Both are settled on Merseyside and, whilst they may well be tempted to join clubs in a stronger position to win trophies, if they’re offered wages in line to what defenders of similar quality are earning, it is hard to see them not accepting. Liverpool need to act swiftly and do all they can to ensure that the duo remain at the heart of their defence for years to come.
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