It’s difficult not to get carried away with Liverpool’s recent domestic form, and especially hard not to laud superlatives on the front pairing of Suarez and Carroll, which after the Sunderland win, looks set to bear fruit in the near future. However, one aspect which has been overlooked by the impressive turnaround under Kenny Dalglish is Daniel Agger, the dynamic Danish centre-half, who’s helped the team to 6 clean sheets in the last 6 games that he’s played in.
Agger’s upturn of form recently is one that will not surprise many, given the undoubted quality of the left sided defender and the return of the clubs most decorated no.7 to the Anfield hot seat. Troublesome and niggling injuries have stopped Daniel from showcasing his best form in the past and treating Liverpool fans to his finest qualities, which are his hard as nails approach to games and also his excellent technique, not always two attributes typically packaged together with a defender.
The game against Sunderland helped highlight these traits for Agger, as he was able to comfortably play telling passes, short or long, from out of the defence and start attacks for the team. However his trademark rampaging runs were less frequent, although this was probably down more to the cautious nature of the game being an away match and the worry of the raw pace of Welbeck and Gyan, who ended up causing surprisingly little danger to the LFC backline throughout.
Having had injury problems under Roy Hodgson and generally not being favoured by the beleaguered ex-Liverpool manager, Agger’s time at the Reds looked to be at an end, with reported interest from Italian giants Juventus and 2009 German champions Wolfsburg. A particular low point came after the 3-2 defeat to bitter rivals Man Utd in September, when the Dane was introduced with 9 minutes remaining, having played the majority of previous games under Hodgson in an unfamiliar left-back role.
Agger could no longer keep a lid on Hodgson’s tactics, claiming after the match that: “The manager’s philosophy is that we play football in attack, but not at the back. That’s not my style.
“Our play has changed, so I’ll have to adjust a bit. But to be honest, I’m not going to adjust 100 per cent. I’m a footballer who keeps the ball on the floor. I’m here to play, not to unload.
“I’m not that type of player. I like to keep the ball on the ground, and that’s what I’ll keep doing.
“Time will show if he [Hodgson] doesn’t want to play me because of that. I’ll try to change myself, but I will never be a player who offloads the ball at every opportunity.”
Agger was clearly unhappy under the previous regime and found his strong ball-playing skills were wasted under Hodgson, as he found himself lumping long balls up to the channels, where Fernando Torres was expected to pick the ball up and run spearhead attacks on his own. Criticising Hodgson in public was not the best way to go about it however. Agger, despite feeling frustrated, should have kept this outburst behind closed doors and acted in a far more professional manner, as this was a likely factor in Hodgson continuing to ignore his selection or playing him at left-back whenever he was fit.
Cue the return of the King and the sudden change in Agger’s fortunes, as Liverpool recorded wins and clean sheets over Chelsea, Stoke, Fulham, Sparta Prague and Wolves. It could even be argued that Dalglish now sees Agger as a crucial lynchpin to his traditional 4-4-2 formation with a flat back 4 defence, as he used a back 3 with 2 wing backs against the likes of West Ham, when Agger was unavailable.
It was a positive and attacking Liverpool that played at the Stadium of Light, with Agger the type of forward thinking centre half to lap up the attacking threat that, in all honesty Liverpool should be playing with in each away game they play if they want to be anything more than bit part players in the English game. The change to 4-4-2 in the Sunderland game was however more likely used to strengthen the attacking options Liverpool can now enjoy with a fit Carroll and Suarez upfront.
Agger could potentially finally cement a rock hard partnership with Martin Skrtel if he can continue to receive game time. The two complement each other very well, with Agger’s technique providing the chalk to Skrtel’s no nonsense cheese. They’ve been unable to solidify this partnership previously however, due to the aforementioned injuries and previous managers’ selection preferences.
However recent games have seen them play together in the clean-sheet wins over Chelsea, Stoke, Fulham and Wolves, keeping a watertight guard in front of Pepe Reina, who has received plenty of plaudits for his fine displays in the second half of the season. With Reina flying high and Skrtel and Agger protecting the backline (not to mention Carragher who’s still got plenty of mileage left in his game) it is looking increasingly difficult for opposition teams to find the net against Liverpool.
This defensive trio will be tested further in coming weeks however, with fixtures with the other 2 Champions League chasers, Arsenal and Man City, appearing on the horizon. How the Reds fare in these games will come largely down to whether or not Agger, Skrtel and Reina can keep out the likes of Van Persie, Tevez and Arshavin, who have all enjoyed goals against Liverpool’s defence in recent seasons. Keeping these threats out will be vital to any aspiring European qualification hopes Liverpool may have for the rest of the season, as there is no doubt now that they have the attacking talent in Suarez and Carroll to score at the right end of the park, it’s just now a matter of keeping them out at the wrong end.
There is no doubt that a fit, fighting and suitably tattooed Daniel Agger is crucial to the future of this Liverpool team. Kenny Dalglish certainly seems to rate the Great Dane, who really should never have had his ability questioned under the previous regime. It’s onwards and upwards for Agger and Liverpool now, as the Nordic centre-half looks to use his Viking talents to spearhead Liverpool to a new dawn.