So just what have Liverpool bought with their reported £16 million? There's been talk and wonder and supposition, but little in the way of concrete information on the player that Mamadou Sakho is. It's high time to fix that.
Former Club: Paris Saint-Germain | Position: Center Back
Age: 23 (born 2/13/1990) | Height: 6’2" (187cm) | Preferred Foot: Left
Last Season: Ligue 1 27 appearances (24 starts), 2 goals; Champions League 3 appearances (2 starts)
Strengths: Sakho is a big and imposing center back who can hang with the most powerful strikers in the world. He's also got the pace to play in a high line without being exposed by pacier strikers. His awareness has also generally been quite excellent over the last few years, both in terms of where to position himself and keeping an eye on vulnerabilities in his midfield and where runs are coming at him from.
Sakho is also very good with the ball at his feet. Passing statistics really only tell you so much at this point in the sport's statistical revolution, but they certainly tell you one thing about Sakho: he's one of the best passing defenders in Europe
Possibly the most valuable thing that Sakho brings, however, is a stoutness on set pieces. He rarely loses his mark, and when he does he's nimble enough moving through the scrum to make up for it. He also functions well as the "roamer" on defense, staying in space to pick up a loose runner or an attacker who slips his marker. Given Liverpool's myriad of set-piece issues for seemingly the last thousand years, those skills will come in handy.
Weaknesses: Remember that awareness of issues in the midfield that I talked about earlier? Sakho can be a little too willing to step up and try to fix them himself. When he does it at the wrong time, it lets runners in behind him and then Bad Things Happen. When he's paired with someone else who also tends to step up with relative frequency, like Daniel Agger, that can cause a lot of problems unless they get extra discipline drilled in to them to pick their spots much more wisely.
Interestingly enough, given Sakho's quality defending set pieces, he's actually not that great attacking them. He can certainly get up and get his head on the ball, but he seems to have issues directing it in a useful manner on a regular basis. He also seems to have issues picking out the right place to run to to make his attack.
Other Thoughts: Speaking of Agger, that brings me to another point: both Sakho and his expected primary partner are left footed, which has given a number of people pause over making the two Liverpool's primary defensive pairing. Putting a defender on the opposite side of the pitch as his stronger foot can often lead to issues with proper positioning and facing when facing down an attacker. That said, both Agger and Sakho are smart enough and talented enough defenders to figure out how to work together, and Sakho's not nearly as useless with his right foot as most left-footed defenders are.
Summation: Sakho is already an excellent defender who should have a just-about nailed on starting position for Rodgers. He also fits what Rodgers likes to do tactically, and his skillset should help some of the club's weaknesses. This is the club's biggest signing of the window, and does a lot to assuage a previously tenuous defensive situation, especially as he can cover left back in a pinch as well. The transfer wasn't cheap, but it also wasn't a bank-breaker, and it's hard not to grade this with anything but top marks.