Watching him flanking Sky's Ed Chamberlin, one always has the feeling Jamie Carragher is about to push him to one side like the most inconsequential of opponents and berate Gary Neville for failing to "just bloody empty it." The former Liverpool man is a ball of nervous energy, always on his toes and with his ever-motile hands ready to elucidate whatever point he's making. His delivery is wonderfully sincere and he has that rare quality that Alan Hansen once possessed of being honest enough to criticise the sacred cows or point out the laziness of the received-wisdom punditry which forms the vast majority of television footy-wittering.
To be fair, Neville is not one of those lazy commentators stealing a living, and one of the most genuinely spirit-shocking realisations of recent years, for this reluctant subscriber, has been his emergence as a balanced, astute and insightful critic of the game. Frankly, I would never have thought that any kind of redemption would be possible for that most partisan, badge-kissing and Liverpool-baiting of Ferguson's lieutenants. He was the one, of all that crew, who drew the most ire from me and those around me on a match-day, revelling as he did in being the totemic Manc; so it is to his eternal credit that he has adapted his persona for television, if not completely, then enough to render his United past almost irrelevant.
Of course, by pitching Carragher into the studio, where once the former United stalwart had only Chamberlin's gentle probing to deal with, Sky have upped the ante and Neville has been a little more spiky of late, as the Bootle boy picks up on his every vague or debatable utterance. Make no mistake, they're still rivals. The needle between the two is well hidden beneath a veneer of polite respect but some of the exchanges between them have threatened to get unruly. Frankly, it's great. After a decade of the vanilla blandness of Jamie Redknapp and the smug priggishness of Alan Shearer, this kind of edgy and insightful interaction is television manna from heaven.
It goes without saying, that Carragher has been forthright in his assessments and, like Neville, he has maintained an admirable neutrality for the most part. Unsurprisingly, his thoughts on Liverpool Football Club have been the most scrutinised with fans and foes alike looking to see if the Anfield legend will betray some secrets from the vault. Thus far, apart from an ability to be wonderfully dismissive of some of his former colleagues, the World Cup veteran has revealed little of import. It was interesting to hear his thoughts on the return of Luis Suarez, however. Carragher is nothing if not a practical man, and his take on the reintroduction of the Uruguayan was as clear as crystal - he simply has to play but it definitely creates one of those cliched pleasant headaches for Brendan Rodgers.
"Luis Suarez will have to play, he's a world class player," insisted Carragher. "It will be interesting to see whether he [Rodgers] puts Suarez or Sturridge into a wide position. I think he tried that a bit last year, and it didn't work for me. It's all about getting Philippe Coutinho in the middle and that's where you'd expect Luis Suarez to play as well, but these are problems that Brendan Rodgers didn't have last season -- selection problems. These are problems that managers say they want. It's something for them to juggle, but these are things he never had to contend with last season."
In a couple of sentences, Carragher has confirmed what many of us suspected -- Brendan Rodgers wants to play Coutinho centrally and the reintroduction of Suarez will change the dynamic on a radical level. It is probably not a coincidence that since being the focal point of the Liverpool attack following the Uruguayan's ban, Daniel Sturridge has been the Premiership's form striker.
This young and talented man, who was not trusted fully at his previous clubs, has been given a chance to blossom in the knowledge that he has a manager's trust and the adoration of the fans of a genuinely huge football club. Brendan Rodgers has said that LFC is "not the type of club for egos" and insisted that neither player will be "the main man." At Liverpool, under his stewardship, the Northern Irishman insists that "players get told where to play." So, how does Carragher see the structure of the attack altering?
"At times, at the end of last season," observed Carragher, "Brendan Rodgers went to a 3-5-2 formation and he's been thinking of Sturridge and Suarez because he's played one of them wide. I don't think either of them are really comfortable in that number ten role, because if you are that you've got to put a defensive shift in. At times, if you're playing a good side, one of them is going to have to drop on a holding midfield player. I think that's something to watch as the season goes on. Does he go with a front two? He normally likes to have three in his midfield, so I don't think it's as easy as throwing the two of them up front."
These cogitations are nothing that well-informed fans haven't already been kicking around amongst themselves, but even that level of observation puts the telly newbie miles ahead of his rivals. As the season rolls on it would no doubt be a bittersweet experience for Carragher to document a sustained Liverpool challenge, given the disappointments of his last few campaigns as a player. Liverpool fans and aficionados of sharp analysis will join me in looking forward to his efforts, regardless. If he manages to sneak in a few more digs at Neville in their edgily amusing, if somewhat forced bonhomie, so much the better.