Football is about opinions.
Managers, players, experts and supporters can clash on pretty much anything, and it’s part of what makes us all love the game so much. And why along with the weather, it’s the easiest topic to broach with complete strangers – preferably over a pint.
‘Walcott has to play up top!’ cry many, while some equally entitled to a viewpoint declare him a winger.
‘Mourinho’s teams play crappy football!’ fans jibe, while others Google his win percentage with a wry smile.
It’s healthy. It’s opinions. It’s football.
But nobody can feasibly argue that Mamadou Sakho shouldn’t be starting in central defence for Liverpool.
And last night he proved it for the umpteenth time against Bordeaux, not that he should have needed to.
The 25-year-old skippered Brendan Rodgers’ side, as he did for PSG at just 17-years-old, and was head and shoulders, physically and metaphorically, above his defensive counterparts.
Versus the Ligue 1 outfit, Sakho didn’t put a foot wrong – and would have been involved in a Liverpool clean-sheet had young Joe Gomez, a potential future full-time defensive partner, not dawdled late on.
— Jordan A Chamberlain (@Jordan_AC90) September 17, 2015
He’s incomparably strong, doesn’t get beaten in the air and rarely gives the ball away. In fact, the passes he misplaced last night were ambitious, longer ones – the kind Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren simply cannot produce.
And Sakho’s positives are enhanced by the inadequacies of the blundersome pair who normally keep him out of the side. Half of the six goals Skrtel and Lovren conceded past them against West Ham and Manchester United were directly their fault.
Sakho is by far and away Liverpool’s best centre-back, and Rodgers’ decision not to give him a minute of action this season until last night has baffled everybody, earning the stubborn Northern Irishman a vitriolic online backlash. In fact, Sakho’s performance last night fuelled many of his biggest detractors, who claimed the centre-back’s display proved the manager’s inability once and for all.
But Rodgers was quick to praise the £18m signing, who endeared himself further to Liverpool fans with his post-match comments.
“I’m working and I’m a Liverpool soldier. And, when you call on me, I always rise to the challenge,” Sakho told L’Equipe, while Rodgers admitted the performance has put Sakho in contention for Sunday’s crunch Premier League clash with Norwich.
“Sakho was immense at the back,” he began. “He knows he has had to be patient and his attitude has been first class.
“He has trained very well, kept professional, done his extra work on his fitness and he has got his rewards for that.
“He certainly comes into the reckoning for the weekend.”
But he shouldn’t be in the reckoning. He should be an automatic selection regardless of whether Rodgers sticks to the 3-4-2-1 or reverts to the 4-3-3.
If the manager drops Sakho for Skrtel and Lovren, having seen the game in Bordeaux, even his most ardent supporters will struggle to fight his case. But how could he…? Does Lovren have incriminating photos of Rodgers? Does the boss have a thing for Skrtel? Is Sakho a total arse in training?
All seem unlikely, especially the third.
It’s important to note that Sakho’s ability HAS been exaggerated by Reds in his absence. He’s no Alessandro Nesta. He’s not Jamie Carragher either. He does have a mistake of his own in the locker, and his infamous gait is awkward and aesthetically unpleasing.
But in pure football terms, there is no plausible reason why he’s sat on the bench behind Skrtel and Lovren. It’s not even a debate.
It’s sad to say, but many Reds are baying for Rodgers’ blood right now, and regardless of result, if Sakho is left out at the weekend, their fires will rage. For Rodgers’ own benefit, and his side’s – Sakho needs to play. Leaving him out will be as brave as it will stupid.
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