What a way to announce your arrival in the English Premier League. A ferocious 30 yard strike into the top left-hand corner reminiscent of compatriot Jan Molby, and the perfect way to mark the Kop’s 100th birthday celebration. This most welcome of presents was delivered by Daniel Agger, displaying further evidence that Rafael Benitez has indeed secured the ideal successor to Sami Hyypia’s mantel.
Since his transfer from Brondby last January, Agger has made only sporadic appearances in the Liverpool first team. His cause has not been helped by the seemingly formidable defensive duo of Hyypia and Jamie Carragher, as well as a series of niggling injuries. Both circumstances had undermined the Dane’s efforts to establish himself upon Merseyside until the beginning of the current campaign.
Now, following impressive performances against Chelsea in Cardiff and Maccabi in Kiev, the heir apparent to Hyypia’s throne is pushing to dislodge the big Finn for the upcoming Merseyside Derby.
Calm and composed when in possession, Agger certainly provides an alternative to the reds’ first-choice back-line. Carragher is tough, uncompromising and a real old-fashioned defender whose unrelenting consistency has seen him gain many a plaudit in the last two seasons. His never-say-die attitude is an inspiration to all; the man is a real fans player. At 28 the club’s vice captain also has plenty of play-time left within him, though Hyypia, admittedly, is in the midst of the twighlight to a glittering Anfield career.
One only has to reminisce back to the late 1990s and the shambolic defensive showing of Liverpool in this time to fully understand the impact the towering number 4 has had at this club. The likes of Phil Babb and Bjorn Tore Kvarme were rightly maligned, forming a central defence as vulnerable as Gary Neville when shopping in Liverpool. On too many occasions Roy Evans’ title challenge imploded courtesy of such calamitous defending, something infuriating staff and supporters alike.
Without doubt Gerard Houllier’s best signing, Hyypia, a bargain at just Â£3 million when snapped up from Willem II, brought a steadying presence to this usually shaky outfit. Along with fellow incumbent Stephane Henchoz, he marshaled the back four superbly, becoming a real cult figure in the process.
One of his most memorable moments came last year at home to Middlesbrough, where, rushed off the field to receive stitches, he returned to the action sporting a huge white head-bandage, looking as dazed as Pete Doherty. To tumultuous applause and appreciation, he then re-positioned himself to defend an incoming set-play, and in typical fashion, headed clear.
His excellent form has lasted to this day and his boots will be big ones to fill. Nevertheless, Agger has shown early promise. Clearly, his attributes differ. He may not be as commanding in the air as Big Sami is, but he enjoys running with the ball at his feet in a similar vein to ‘˜Jockey’ Hansen. His manager claims Saturday’s strike has been repeated on many an occasion at Melwood, a comment which fills all Kopites with much expectancy. Some may claim that the Danish ‘˜sports talent of the year award’ is about as competitive as Michelle McManus would be in a Miss World contest, but it does make kind reading on an ever-growing CV. This prize was indeed awarded to the Denmark defender back in December.
This year will obviously mark the gradual emergence of Agger as Benitez grooms his young starlet to first-choice standard. In all truth, the reds did look a little vulnerable at times on Saturday, with both Marlon Harewood and Lee Bowyer squandering guilt-edged opportunities.
Therefore, fans should expect to see the re-union of Carragher and Hyypia for the trip to Goodison, experience the key in such a blood-thirsty encounter. However, Agger will be honed accordingly, complimenting his class with a knack of great positioning and improved defending.
So for now Hyypia must still be seen as automatic, his invaluable presence meaning he remains the benchmark. However, we can all expect to see much more of Daniel Agger this term, and if the weekend is anything to go by, it will be fantastic viewing.