Should Carragher still be first choice defender for Liverpool?

Jamie Carragher has become as much a part of the Liverpool furniture as the club’s iconic Welcome to Anfield sign, however, most will now agree he is entering the twilight of a prominent career. The defender missed his side’s recent victory against West Bromwich Albion and, while it may have been a mere coincidence, in his absence the Liverpool defence showed an assuredness they had previously lacked this season, resulting in just their third Premier League clean sheet.

Bootle-born Carragher is as synonymous with the Reds as his good friend and teammate Steven Gerrard, but both missed the clash at the Hawthorns where we witnessed the future of a Liverpool side without their two loyal servants. Carragher’s game was never built on an abundance of pace and with increasing regularity we are starting to see the traits of an ageing defender. It poses the question whether he still warrants a starting berth?

His calf injury meant Kenny Dalglish paired Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel in the centre of defence playing a slightly higher line and subsequently limiting Roy Hodgson’s side to mostly half chances. Liverpool was more compact and, without attempting to excessively demean Carragher, the back four played with cohesion built from players who have the pace to deal with balls in behind.

The current circumstances surrounding Carragher can be likened to that of another club legend, Sami Hyypia. The experience the latter possessed was priceless, especially in his final days where he lacked the pace to command a regular starting place. The one-year extension he signed in 2008 was as much to help nurture younger defenders such as Skrtel and Agger as it was to bolster the first team. That much was demonstrated by just 16 league appearances in his 10th and final season at the club.

New arrival Sebastian Coates is effectively Carragher’s long-term replacement and the Uruguayan has already passed the proverbial “wet night away in Stoke” test. It shows he is quickly adapting to the demanding characteristics of English football and his impressive start will not only have buoyed his manager but, more relevantly, given the latter more options at the back.

To a degree, the Carragher situation is also mirrored at both Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge where Rio Ferdinand and John Terry are beginning to be exposed by a lack of pace that comes as a natural side-effect of the ageing process. Continually selecting these defenders, who have given such formidable levels of commitment, can be dangerous. Managers are there to make the calls that optimise the chances of success; sentimentality should never cloud their judgment.

It would be a mistake to completely shun Carragher after just one game; his professionalism shown over 15 years should trump such disregard. However, the Liverpool management must take note of the defensive quality displayed without him in the west Midlands. Dalglish must now decide whether to tinker with what appeared a well-oiled defensive unit or offer Carragher less first team opportunities.

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