Comparison: Martin Skrtel vs Steven Caulker vs Dejan Lovren


Martin Skrtel has enjoyed a terrific season at Anfield on the whole, while Cardiff’s Steven Caulker and Southampton’s Dejan Lovren have both been strongly tipped to join Liverpool this summer. Henry Jackson (@OnFootballTweet) compares the trio’s various attributes.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 15, 2013: Liverpool's Martin Skrtel in action against Tottenham Hotspur during the Premiership match at White Hart Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

(all stats via Squawka and WhoScored)

Skrtel, Caulker and Lovren were three of the standout centre-backs during the 2013/14 Premier League season.

With Liverpool looking to improve defensively ahead of the new season, both the Cardiff and Southampton stars have been linked with a move to Anfield in the coming months.

Despite Skrtel’s excellent season – he was far and away the Reds’ most consistent defender – there are some who feel Brendan Rodgers can do better. Could Caulker or Lovren partner Mamadou Sakho at the back next season instead of the Slovakian?

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The table below gives a good indication as to who was the most effective of the three last season.

[table id=60 /]

Strengths of each player

Skrtel’s goal tally was hugely impressive, and many of them were at critical times. His doubles against Arsenal and Cardiff, and his towering header against Manchester City back that up.

His pass completion rate has also been superb, especially when you consider the 29-year-old is not always associated with being the most accomplished centre-back on the ball. It’s a testament to how he has improved since losing his place in the side in 2012/13.

The statistic that stands out with Caulker is the fact that he has not made a single error leading to a goal all season. While that’s impressive enough if you’re playing for a top four team, to do it in a side that has been relegated is almost unheard of.

CARDIFF, WALES - Sunday, November 3, 2013: Cardiff City's captain Steven Caulker in action against Swansea City during the Premiership match at the Cardiff City Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The former Tottenham man has also chipped in with a decent amount of goals, while his average blocks per game show that he is a player difficult to get past. At 22 he has a lot of potential, and could well be a future regular for England.

Lovren’s terrific reading of the game is highlighted by his interception statistics. To make 2.7 per game on average shows just how important he was to Southampton’s success this season. The same applies with his tackling.

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The Croatia international also only made one error, which highlights the consistency in his game. There is no doubt he is someone who can play at the very top.

Weaknesses of each player

Skrtel is comfortably the most error-prone of the three, and the argument that some have against him is that his goalscoring has masked some of his defensive flaws.

He has scored four own goals, while his positional sense can also be slightly erratic. The way he and Sakho capitulated in the 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace was concerning.

It’s hard to pick out flaws in Caulker’s game this season, but you could perhaps look at his pass completion rate and say it’s not particularly strong.

Rodgers’ risky but ultimately rewarding style of play means his centre-backs must be comfortable on the ball and be confident of playing it out from the back. Whether the Cardiff man is top class in that respect is debatable.

Lovren’s statistics are hugely impressive, and it really is hard to criticise him in any aspect of his game. His goalscoring has not exactly been prolific, but that’s no major issue.

The one thing you could potentially say is that, although his tackles and interceptions per game are the best of the three players, that could be because he’s got himself into the wrong position in the first place.

Someone like Sami Hyypia, for example, never had to be lunging into tackles because positionally he was almost perfect.


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LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 21, 2013: Liverpool's Raheem Sterling and Southampton's Dejan Lovren during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There can be no denying that Skrtel, Caulker and Lovren have all enjoyed superb seasons in their own right, but with Sakho clearly looking like a definite starter for the foreseeable future under Rodgers, who would be the best partner for him?

Skrtel’s age works against him, and there is a nagging feeling that Rodgers isn’t totally convinced by him.

Caulker is still very young, and has the potential to get better and better over the years. Whether or not he’s ready to be a regular at such a huge club i’m not so sure.

In my opinion, Lovren would be the best option of the three. At 24, he is still a few years from his prime, but he has the experience- he already has 23 caps for Croatia, and will start for them at the World Cup- that Caulker lacks.

He’s good on the ball, is a strong, dominant presence- something Liverpool have lacked hugely at the back- and would be the perfect signing by the club.

[poll id=”191″]

Who would you prefer out of Skrtel, Caulker and Lovren? Let us know in the comments section below.


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      • Not entirely true. Yes, he wasn’t a superstar defender talked about in every rag, but he was a fan fave at Willem, even captaining them into CL qualification.

        We should be so blessed to have a CB of his qualities again. A true leader and gentleman.

        Also, thanks for this report. It was informative. :)

      • perhaps not there but for me agger is first choice when it comes to liverpool defence. and agger is getting fit and when he is fully fit he sorting out all the problems together with skrtel.. i think liverpool needs ashley cole at the moment and dm ( yann m’villa or de jong)

        • Agger has been struggling for defensive form all season apart from the injuries. I like him but he’s been getting exposed aerially, physically, and on the turn and he’s never been a big talker. I’d love to keep him but would’nt say he’s the best at purely defending by any means.

          • yes but almost every liverpool fan i asked half year ago he replied without doubt that agger is the “pace” in LFC defence.. i think its just neglecting him .. he is far better than sakho and doing less own goals than skrtel .. he is fast on the air .. perhaps u can remind yourself when he return to the squad against newcastle he shone aswell. was far better than sakho

          • 1. Pace is not a strength of D.Agger. On the turn also…not the quickest. We don’t have especially quick CB’s and Agger does’nt make much of difference pace wise.
            2. He’s more comfortable on the ball than Sakho however Sakho’s pass accuracy suggests he’s better than ppl give him credit for, he just looks awkward.
            3. Agger struggles in aeriel duels – this is the main reason in my opinion he’s lost his place. Go check it out. he gets bullied, and the opposition know it.
            4. One game against a team playing for nothing at the end of the season.
            But i like Agger and would like him to stay.

          • still i do not agree. sakho is really not comfortable on the ball he is very slow and shaky when it comes to pace.. i am fully confident by saying that Skrtel Agger at this moment are the best pair for 11 squad perhaps sakho should move a bt forward to DM as there he can flourish unless he should be sold.
            Agger is not from yesterday and we know well what he can do.. he’s not rubbish and in my opinion one of the strongest defender in the EPL at top form he even better than skrtel.

          • Ok mate, I get it. Your an Agger fan. No problem but The sakho suggestion in DM is enough for me to leave this discussion. I guess BR has the final say, as I said, I hope they all stay but we add at least 1. Ta’ra

          • You clearly do not watch games there allan. We all love Daniel Agger for everything he stands for, and I personally would love him to be vice captain of a winning LFC side. But as much as we love him & try to defend him, he is clearly no longer good enough to be a first choice at the club, and I don’t believe Skrtle is either. We have to put our trust in Brendan to choose who he wants for those positions.

  1. Skrtel still comes out on top me for me. Lovren is no doubt a class player and Caulker will be a star in the future but, bar last season, Skrtel has been immense for Liverpool. Admittedly, he is error-prone but his overall game is brilliant. He offers a threat from set-pieces and puts his body on the line with endless blocks and last-ditch tackles. I might be biased as I’m a big Skrtel fan but I think he is our best defender. I still think one of Lovren and Caulker (maybe someone else) should be signed. That way we would have Skrtel, Agger (hopefully he stays), Sakho and the new signing – four great options to have at centre back and quality depth.

    • Couldn’t agree more. Four top quality CBs battling it out can only be good for the team. Even if Dagger leaves, there’s still Wisdom and Illori to provide some competition.

      Side note: not sure if it’s fair to Caulker to compare his pass completion rates against two CBs in sides that try to dominate possession.

  2. I think one of the main things that should be considered is personality. They are all clearly very good defenders but what we lack at the moment is someone to marshal the back line. I haven’t seen enough of Lovren or Caulker in games to know if they are this type of player but I do know that Skrtel, Agger and Sahko are not

  3. Good report, would be interesting to see Sakho, Toure and Aggers stats in relation to this though. I have a feeling that statistically Skrtel has been the strongest, as well as the most played. As such it is a little concerning that he appears to be the one we are looking to replace.

  4. Lovren would be like £ 20 M ! That’s the biggest con. Caulker might be 22 but he is a leader and this is what we need at the back. Carragher returning in a coaching capacity to sort out this miserable defense would be great.

      • no way he is too critical of rodgers
        you dont want someone who undermines your authority at the club

        this is not an attack against hansen he just speaks his mind , maybe a bit too much though

      • I think the fact that Carra already knows the squad, is well liked by Rodgers which kind of reflects the view of Sha makes the case for him. Also Hansen hasn’t been ”on the pitch” recently.

  5. Great report. But, the question shuld be who shuld partner Skrtel, not Sakho.
    Sakho is a loose gun, and it was a huge mistake to play him instead of Agger at the end of the season. I say buy Caulker, keep Agger, sell Sakho.

  6. I read a lot about our CBs and their failings, but one fact that isnt included is our fulll backs. They are not good at defending and this leaves the CBs with more issues. Sign Kostas Minolas as CB, buy good LB and RB, and get a defensive coach.

    If you look at the stats of BR’s teams starting from Reading,there’s a recurring trend- all his teams leak goals. We need a top defensive coach to make defenders better and sort out theleaky defense to go along with BR’s attacking play.

  7. always feel skrtel struggles in the box especially at set pieces, a bit like agger, maybe time to replace them both and get somone that can actually jump and head the ball, rather than tugging somones shirt

  8. Why mess around? Get both. Ship Agger and Toure out. Bring back Illori and have 5 centre backs battling it out for 2 positions. Chelsea have 5 top drawer CB’s so what’s the issue? It’s all about competition. Someone will get injured and by Christmas one can go out on loan. Done.

    • chelsea have 5 terry,cahill,luiz,ivanoivic ? that is 4

      are you involving kalas or zouma who together have played only oen game ?

      plus ivanovic plays primarily at rb

      skrtel, sakho,lovern and toure will do

      iloris out on loan in pl , wisdom on loan to derby if they get promoted

      moreno in

      tehn season after jonno and toure leave , wisdy and iloris come in

  9. Bit of topic but its an issue, for me a lot of the defensive errors came from the goalie putting our cb’s in a vulnerable spot or vise versa, later on in the season we started to see them just boot the bloody ball out of dangers way, but till then we seen so many scary moments that were completely self created by always playing from the back.
    So anyone we bring in will have the same issues, the tactics need to be tweeked more than the line up.
    I’d prefer some real competition between the sticks rather than at cb

    • Agreed, it’s a combination of both the Defence and the GK positions. Better communication between the two is essential next season. Good point.

  10. I’d have none of them, but if i really had to choose – Caulker. At least he’s not an accident waiting to happen.

  11. Hummels!!!! If we’re gonna spend 20+ million on a CB why not go out and get the best one to play in Rodgers system? It’s a no brained to at least try, and I thought we should have signed lovren last yr when he was at lyon but instead of paying 8.5 we now have to pay 20+ geez! !!! Is there an open seat on the tranfer committee? YNWA

  12. lovern can play lcb as well , if iloris is not good neough i think rodgers should sign caulker

    skrtel / , lovern/sakho

  13. Lovren. Another strength of Lovren is in one-on-one situations. He has the speed, agility not to be beaten by many which is valuable especially when defending counter-attacks. He’s also CL ready. His price will probably be under 15m.

    • Anything around the £15m mark would be a good deal for us. CL and PL experience and a great all-round defender.
      £20m is the price mentioned in the papers, which is on the high-side, but he’d still be worth considering, at that price.

  14. Its a testament to Skrtel that majority of us (And probably Brendan) do not consider our centerback the weakest position in defense. Fullbacks need addressing moreso than CB: We got like six defenders who can play center (Skrtel, Agger, Sakho, Ilori, Kelly, Coates). Kelly and Ilori can also play at Fullback. Last summer getting so many defenders in we called Rodgers and co. mad; A year on it seems like a great long term decision.

    • It’s not weak in terms of numbers, but in terms of quality, I think it’s certainly needs strengthening. I don’t think either Skrtel or Agger are the kind of player Rodgers wants. Having said that, with his performances during the second half of the season, Srktel’s earned another year. Agger hasn’t been so lucky and will probably be off in the summer and a better, more complimentary partner for Sakho will be sought.
      I can see Skrtel leaving next summer, with Ilori joining the squad and making a real impact.

  15. According to the press, and they are usually 100% correct, Louvren is quite happy at Saints. Would be a good addition no doubt, but I feel Brendan was very well aware of lapses in defence and will have it sorted out before the season starts

  16. I think the combination of Stevie & Caulker at set pieces could be worth 10 to 12 goals a season. Don’t let the fact that he is English turn you off.

  17. We need a left CB Skertel is fine his partner is what we need. Sakho makes me nervous is position. Agger is not a very physical player so he can’t really play certain games

  18. Why does Sakho have to be a definite starter under Rodgers? IMO, he’s been the weakest of the pair. If we do buy one of the other two CB’s, I don’t think they should displace Skrtel, based on his performances this season. Yes, Skrtel has been error prone, but he’s also got us out of a lot of sticky situations and has looked our best defender since stifling out RVP early on in the season. I know Sakho is a ‘marquee’ signing, but Rodgers has not backed away from dropping his signings when they haven’t been playing well (e.g. Borini, Aspas, Alberto). It depends on the price, but I think Caulker will be a quality, quality player in the near future.

  19. Henchoz did OK. He was Hyypia’s partner for several seasons under Houlier. and was part of the treble winning team. Hypia was always the rock at CB but Henchoz wasn’t bad, apart from the odd dodgy game.
    Same with Westerveld.

  20. Lovren mostly played at LCB, didn’t he? Even though he’s right-footed. So I think if we buy him, he will definitely start and Skrtel and Sakho will compete for the other spot. I think Lovren is exactly the kind of quiet, cerebral, intelligent defender who could complement either Sakho or Skrtel well.

    But my first choice would be to prize Vetonghen from Spurs. He is a real master of defense.

  21. I think Skrtel gets to much stick. He had a really good season in my books and proved he can play in this system. He did make errors, but what the stats don`t always show is why those errors happened.

    Sakho for me makes more errors, but they prob don`t show on the stats. He makes bad choices when passing. They often find the player, but leave the player in a very pressured position. Thus Sakho gains a pass completion stat an no error stat when really it might have been his fault. When Gerrard slipped, he was being closed down fast, Sakho shouldn`t have passed the ball to him. It didn`t change the slip, or the reason for it, but it wasn`t a smart pass. He did a pass like this to Skrtel which left Skrtel having two attackers right on his heels, of which he lost the ball and the other team nearly scored.

    For me, I would keep Skrtel but use someone else in Sakhos place.

    • Spot on mate. Yes, M.S. scored a few own goals – but more a consequence of our cavalier style of play where, when we lose possession our defence is running back towards our goal, than any shortcomings on Skrtel’s part. It seems to me that his name comes up so often in this context on this site (comparing him in this instance with players who probably aren’t even on Brendan’s wish list) that TIA must have some kind of an agenda against him. The truth is he has been a rock for us all season – close to being our player of the year in my opinion, and the problem, as you correctly identify, is his CB partner and definitely NOT him. PS. Bring Illori back and loan him out to an English team as he will never get the hang of the Prem League playing in Spain.

    • Great point about Sakho’s passing. He often passes into ill advised places, it seems often like he’s trying a bit too hard to make spectacular passes. He over hits passes, etc.

      However, Gerrard’s slip had nothing to do with Sakho. Stevie wasn’t being closed down. The problem only happened when the ball got under Stevie’s foot and slid out into Ba’s path. If Stevie either traps the ball correctly or doesn’t slip, then it probably wouldn’t have resulted in that dreadful goal.

  22. I would take Lovren. He seems like a younger version of Agger, and even though he only scored 2 goals, I feel he could get more, because he throws his whole body at the ball when he is attacking. However I am a little skeptical that Southampton would let us take Lallana AND Lovren. (Especially considering they just brought in Lovren last summer.)

  23. In terms of statistics, sometimes we have to also analyse how the numbers came about… Total Error “0” should also implies that Caulker was completely outplayed and/or out positioned when the opposing team scores, that will mean his positioning and reading of the game is basically zero to none. Think about it, how can a defender whose job is to get into the tackles, breakdown the oppositions’ play and take down their best players not be committing errors now or then UNLESS he is not doing his job right. Only scoring goals and duel won to me are more reliable stats to look at :-) …. as for Sakho, he still needs to convince us on his ability to be a great defender…. Another thing to look at with the Skrtel and Agger partnership is their past records, just like statistics, it is history, and BR should consider why their performance past seasons can be better conseding less goals than now and work on his game plan :-)

  24. Not really convinced by any of them. Lovren couldn’t run out of sight on a dark night and that is a major concern for a team that plays with split centre halves set high up the pitch. Skrtel is always a good chance for a cluster*uck under pressure. Caulker looks a decent player with potential but whether he has enough quality for us is debatable. He is defensively very solid and has good pace so is the best choice of these three but I can’t help wishing there was a better option.

  25. All 3 very good players judging from the stats. Lovren has had a pretty phenomenal season but I think he will end up costing a lot more than Caulker. It just irks me that Rodgers prefers Sakho over Agger. There really is no foreseeable logic to choosing him over Daniel. Our entire defensive framework ends up looking a lot more stable when Agger is around. The mistakes, the dropping back and errors really only start at away venues when Skrtel is paired up with Sakho.

    One question I had with regards to errors. Aren’t passes that are not completed from the back also errors themselves? Losing possession in that part of the pitch would almost always lead to some kind of goal scoring chance at that end of the pitch.

  26. What about Papadopulous or Alderwierled? Apart from their lack of Premier League experience, would love to see them compared to Lovrern too.
    Who would you rate the better centre back from these three?
    Lovren, Papadop.. and Alderwiereld??

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