THREE weeks ago this would have been significantly shorter. What’s next for Mamadou Sakho you ask? It all seemed pretty obvious didn’t it? Stay fit and prove yourself to be one of the top centre backs in the Premier League now you’ve belatedly been granted a much deserved automatic starting place in the team. The rest would probably have read something like this:
Mamadou Sakho is Liverpool’s quickest centre back. He’s Liverpool’s strongest centre back. He’s Liverpool’s most physically dominant centre back. He’s Liverpool’s most reliable and progressive centre back when in possession. Liverpool concede less, score more and win more when he plays. Sakho is Liverpool’s best centre back and only needs to remain on the pitch this season in order to flourish. So good luck, stay healthy and go well in 2015/16, Mama. See you all later.
What else needed saying? It was all fairly clear to my mind.
Then the friendlies happened and now I’m left scratching my head and worrying that we’re going to have to sit through the worst reunion tour since the Sex Pistols in ‘96.
First of all, I realise that it can be dangerous to read too much into pre season games. That said, there has been a concerning pattern developing over the past month or so that leads me (and pretty much everyone else) to suspect that Brendan Rodgers has decided to get the band back together and pair Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren alongside each other at the heart of Liverpool’s defence when the new season begins next weekend. The manager has publicly claimed that he is still deliberating which centre halves will play together against Stoke City, but that seems highly unlikely at this juncture.
Much has been made of the Rodgers’ consistent partnering of Jordan Henderson and James Milner in midfield throughout the friendly games. Presumably that has been done to allow the two Englishmen to forge a coherent partnership ahead of the new campaign as they will likely feature alongside each other regularly when the real stuff begins. Fair enough. Makes sense. As would getting your first choice centre halves on the pitch together whenever possible for the same reasons.
Skrtel and Sakho were selected alongside each other just once in the six pre-season matches Liverpool played this summer (seven if you include that weird training session that morphed into an unscheduled game) while the Slovakian has played next to Dejan Lovren on four occasions.
It seems apparent that this has been done by design and that the manager is going to subject us all to watching a reunion of the Lovren and Skrtel partnership that had us tearing our hair out throughout the early months of last season. The only other alternative is that the manager of Liverpool Football Club thought that his two best centre backs only needed 45 pre-season minutes together before the new Premier League campaign began. To be frank, I’m not sure which scenario would be more damning of Rodgers.
I’ll do my best to prevent this from devolving into a rambling, scathing hatchet job on Lovren, but quite how there is any debate around who should be partnering Skrtel at Stoke and beyond is unfathomable to me. In fact, for me, the question I’d be asking would actually be ‘who deserves to partner Mamadou Sakho this season?’
I understand the concerns surrounding Sakho’s less than stellar injury record and it’s clearly fair to say that he does have the odd mistake in him – usually as a result of overzealousness – but if Dejan Lovren is the only realistic alternative to play alongside Skrtel this season then there really shouldn’t be much consideration required, should there? Even against substandard opposition this summer, the Croat has made some notable blunders and managed to look uneasy. Basic defending has seemed beyond him since he walked into Anfield, which isn’t something you can level at his French counterpart.
Is there a way to rationalise Rodgers’ reluctance regarding Sakho and his apparent love of the Lov? Well, perhaps the manager sees things in training that we don’t. Perhaps he’s worried that Sakho’s fitness record will not hold up and he wants Lovren in from the off to pre-empt that inevitable injury. Or perhaps he’s simply more willing to give additional undeserved chances to a player that he talked up and signed for mega money last summer than to a reported ‘committee signing’ that he’s never seemed fully convinced by.
Whatever the reason for his ‘deliberation’ regarding his central defensive partnership, I hope Brendan does the unexpected this weekend and selects Liverpool’s best centre half to partner Martin Skrtel at The Britannia. As we all know, his name is Mamadou Sakho. Not Dejan Lovren.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo