Daniel Agger is stalling on signing a new contract with Liverpool FC. The obvious problem: his position is overcrowded with quality. The top Danish centre back must compete with Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel who have enjoyed the bulk of the starts this season and don’t forget Sami Hyypia.
Jamie Carragher: When Steven Gerrard comes off, Jamie Carragher inevitably takes the captain’s armband. With good reason. Carragher’s inherent leadership is as important to Liverpool’s defense as his ability to strip the ball from even the wiliest of attackers and, like Gerrard, Carragher’s play is an inspiration those around him, lifting the quality of his teammates with his passion and drive. At 31 with more than 500 appearances, it’s hard to imagine Liverpool FC without Jamie Carragher. But while he still has a few more years to give, one must wonder who will be there to fill the gap when Jamie Carragher steps down. Carragher has already stated an interest into managing after his playing days are over and one could certainly see him following in the footsteps of Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness and eventually taking the helm at Liverpool.
Martin Skrtel: Martin Skrtel is a rock. When he gets it right he doesn’t foul attackers: he lets them careen off of him. Despite a few missteps here and there, Skrtel adapted to his new home quickly. His impressive performances in the spring of 2008 helped Liverpool enter a string of great results, and the start to the current season was one of Liverpool’s best opening runs in nearly two decades, due in part to Liverpool only conceding 21 goals so far (only three more than table toppers Manchester United.) So when Agger became available again, he found it hard to break into the first team as Benitez understandably did not want to alter the chemistry of the back four by ousting Martin Skrtel.
Sami Hyypia: The 35-year-old Finnish defender is rightly considered a legend by the Liverpool faithful and his work this season has shown he still has much in his tanks for the club he’s served since 1999. Not the paciest of defenders, Hyypia rarely starts in the high-paced EPL, but he still shows his worth when needed. In the recent match against Manchester United, Hyypia came on in a last minute emergency roster change after Alvaro Arbeloa picked up an injury while warming up. While United might have hoped to take advantage of the reduction in pace in Liverpool’s back line, Hyypia’s cool head and great vision won out. The Fin was instrumental in breaking up United attacks and allowing Liverpool to dominate the match. Hyypia cannot always keep up with younger, pacy attackers, but he shuts them down nonetheless. He seems to say, “I can’t catch you, but I know just where you’re going and I’ll meet you there.”
Agger would probably merit a slot above Skrtel in the back line pecking order if not for the injury problems the Dane has sustained since last year. When Agger went out for the long term, Liverpool’s lack of depth in the back became painfully apparent. Arbeloa was needed in wider positions and neither Hyypia nor Carragher can offer the pace that is essential in certain contests. To compensate, Rafael Benitez broke a club defensive transfer fee record when he obtained Martin Skrtel from Zenit St Petersburg for a reported £6.5m.
Now, due to the fine form of Carragher and Skrtel, there has been no room for the gifted Daniel Agger. But when Liverpool faced Portsmouth FC in early February, Benitez fielded a surprise lineup. What appeared to be a five man back line proved to be a very attacking approach with Arbeloa and Andrea Dossena playing as wing backs, leaving Carra, Skrtel and Agger as the rear guard. While Portsmouth did score two goals and enjoy the lead twice, the Reds kept them on the back foot throughout the match, allowing Agger to do what he does best: create attacks from deep positions. His play is reminiscent of Alan Hansen’s: unafraid to push forward and penetrate gaps, Agger has the nerve and the skill to tear down the pitch, set up others and, at times, take the chance on goal himself. His 25-yard blast against West Ham was one of the best goals of that season and exemplifies the danger Agger can impose.
Agger and Skrtel are both 24 years old. When Carragher finally slows down, one can see these two building a fierce defensive partnership that could serve Liverpool for many years to come. The question is will Daniel Agger stay long enough to see that happen? Rumors abound that Benitez is sniffing out the possibility of buying Raul Albiol should Agger leave. But the qualities Agger has long displayed with Liverpool should give the manager plenty of cause to fight to keep the Dane in place.