At the start of the season, we couldn’t buy a clean sheet. That was in part due to the fact we had a square headed Belgian chap in goal – I will leave the goalkeeper debate to my learned colleague – but it was also affected by not having a settled partnership at the centre of defence.
We have found that now with Dejan Lovren and Joël Matip and they look absolutely superb. I thought we had got it sorted last season though when Mamadou Sakho was partnering Degsy in the back line. I have been thinking about what has happened to Sakho and why he has been frozen out so spectacularly.
The announcement of the signed of Joël Matip came in February of this year after he signed a pre-contract agreement to join us on a free transfer. A free transfer.
If we were going out to buy a 6ft 5, 25 year old Cameron International centre half, if we paid less than £30million I would be impressed. Joël was a free transfer. He didn’t start the season due to a knock but, when he got in the team, he hasn’t looked back.
He is so immensely assured on the ball and very strong for a guy who looks like he could blow over in a stiff breeze. He is comfortable bringing the ball out from the back. In fact, it is what he loves to do.
A centre half who likes to play the ball forward and get us moving – City paid £50million for that in the summer! He is a real threat from set pieces too. Probably the biggest attacking threat from set pieces we have had since Sami Hyypia. It is a great signing for the football club and I hope he sticks around for a good few years yet.
Joël has forged a really strong partnership with Dejan at the heart of the defence. They look like they have been playing together for years, not months. At 25 and 27, these two can play in this back four for 5 years at least which is very positive for the football club.
Both can defend well and both are very good with the ball at their feet. We have started to keep clean sheets too – things are looking good.
But things looked good last season. We gave the blue half of the city a pasting at Anfield with a 4-0 win and the centre half partnership on the day were formidable. Sakho and Lovren. So what happened to one of the most well liked members of the first team squad?
Shortly after the Everton game, it was announced that Sakho had failed a drugs test taken following the Europa League tie with Manchester United. That was a hammer blow for both player and club. For me, Sakho had been imperious last season.
He was strong, his positioning was often faultless and the guy would tackle a tank if it had the ball – and he would probably win it. There were always question marks over his ability with the ball at his feet but the stats were always surprisingly good in terms of pass percentage completed.
He was aware of his shortcomings in that area and often gave it to the nearest red shirt who could play – nothing wrong with that.
It emerged at the end of the season that he was cleared of any wrongdoing and would be allowed to play again. By that point, Didier Deschamps had picked his France squad for the European Championship finals and Sakho had missed out.
The start of pre season saw him carrying an injury meaning his participation on the US tour was more for camaraderie than to get minutes on the pitch. Sakho has always been a playful member of the squad; known for his selfies, Snapchat account and fantastic Scouse accent. But this playful side has not sat well with Jürgen Klopp.
Sakho was sent home early from the states for his ill discipline, a facet Klopp takes VERY seriously. Turning up late for a flight, a team meal and skipping a physio session were all reasons for his dismissal from the tour.
Since coming back, Sakho was told by Klopp that it was in his best interests to go out on loan for a season to get game time. I genuinely believe that, had he gone out on loan, he would have come back next summer, Klopp would have had some stern words about his behaviour, and he would have been back in the first team fold.
As it was, Sakho refused the opportunity and insisted he would stay and fight for a place. Bad move. He has been frozen out of the first team picture completely and it looks like he is going to be sold in January.
I for one am gutted. I think Sakho is one of few centre halves in the world who buys in to the culture of a club, who will raise spirits of team mates and play with real passion for the badge on his chest.
We have been linked to a £50 million move for Virgil Van Dijk who, although an excellent player, I would much rather Sakho. If he and Klopp have a proper chat, swallow their pride and think about what is best for the club, I am sure they could resolve things. If Sakho sorts his attitude, he could be a huge asset for us.
On the point of Sakho vs Matip, they are very different types of player but both who warrant a place in this Liverpool squad. Matip is excellent at bringing the ball out from the back and getting us playing but is he going to put his body on the line in a tight game? I can’t answer that about Matip but it would be a resounding yes if we were speaking about Sakho.
Who would I prefer in the team? That is a tough question but it is a good problem to have. To have Matip in our team is a great outcome for the club after all that has happened with Sakho.
I think it is too late now and we have to accept that Mamadou’s race is run and we won’t see him in a Liverpool shirt again. He will leave with my best wishes and a reminder that he needs to sort out his attitude to get the most out of his potential. Someone is going to get one hell of a player in January. All the best, Mama, from all in the Liverpool country.
Written by @AndyBraders