When Liverpool signed defenders Tiago Ilori and Mamadou Sakho in the final days of the summer transfer window, it seemed as though manager Brendan Rodgers had perhaps bloated his squad with one too many centre-backs. The Reds already had Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Kolo Toure and the injured Sebastian Coates on the books. Was it really necessary to have six senior centre-halves on the payroll?
Indeed, eyebrows were raised when Rodgers selected Sakho, Agger, Skrtel and Toure to form a defensive back four against Southampton – a game in which Liverpool suffered their first defeat of the Premier League campaign. Given the number of options the former Swansea boss has in this position, it is of little surprise that he chose central defenders to fill in for full-backs Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique, but there was also a suggestion that the Reds’ manager simply had little idea of what his best central defensive pairing would be.
It is still unclear as to who Rodgers feels would form his ideal partnership at the heart of the defence. Daniel Agger, who has shunned the interest of a number of leading clubs over the last couple of years, is likely to be one of the first names on the team sheet when fully fit given that he was appointed as vice-captain following Jamie Carragher’s retirement.
Toure performed to a high standard at the start of the campaign and brings a wealth of experience to the side, while the younger Sakho was purchased for a significant sum of money so is also one of the leading candidates to start. Skrtel, too, after falling out of favour in the previous campaign, has been praised by Rodgers for his efforts in recent weeks. It is easy to see why the manager has such a selection problem on his hands.
However, Rodgers has attempted to partly solve the issue by opting to field a back three in the last couple of games. Toure, Sakho and Skrtel have performed reasonably well under this system, with Enrique and Henderson playing in the wing-back roles. The 3-5-2 formation has also allowed in-form Daniel Sturridge to line up alongside star forward Luis Suarez, who last week returned from suspension. Loan signing Victor Moses has, somewhat unconvincingly, played in the pocket behind the strikers in the absence of the injured Philippe Coutinho.
Given the number of options the Anfield outfit have in the centre-back positions, the willingness of Enrique and – when he returns – Johnson to get high up the pitch, and also the developing understanding between Sturridge and Suarez, could the 3-5-2 system be the ideal one for Rodgers? Although this formation would limit Liverpool to using just two central midfielders, in a sense this also suits the manager, as the Reds have just Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen to fill these roles.
By using the current system, Rodgers would be able to keep his midfield fresh by rotating the players, at least until when the winter transfer window opens in January. For now, Rodgers appears to have figured a way to use his squad efficiently. It remains to be seen how long the manager will stick with this system and how many points Liverpool can gain from it.
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