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"Strong" Sakho the Standout in Liverpool's Defense

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It's taken a longer time than most would have hoped, but Saturday's performance against West Ham confirmed that Liverpool's 24-year-old central defender is the man to lead the club forward.

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Brendan Rodgers is a frustrating manager to support. He is, depending on the day, progressive, stubborn, arrogant, supportive, flexible, rigid, transparent, and closed-off. He makes decisions that appear to halt improvements and ones that prove to be two steps ahead, often meaning his Liverpool tenure has been marked by wonderful successes and spectacular failures.

A particular point of contention for the last year and a half has been the treatment of Mamadou Sakho, who has been one of the better central defenders in the squad since arriving. Fitness issues limited his playing time last season, with Rodgers relying on who was fit between him and Daniel Agger to dictate who partnered Martin Skrtel, and this season it looked as though the big-money move for Dejan Lovren could have--and nearly did in the first Merseyside derby of the season--pushed Sakho out of the squad completely.

But Lovren's poor form and a string of excellent performances have allowed Sakho a consistent run as part of a three-man Liverpool back line, and the former PSG captain has emerged as the standout. After this afternoon's win, Rodgers was as effusive in his praise of the French international as he's ever been, noting the 24-year-old's dominance over a physical West Ham attacking unit:

"Again, defensively, when they had to deal with the pressure - I thought Sakho was outstanding today, really aggressive and strong, with Martin Skrtel, both of them were very good. And Simon Mignolet coming and dealing with things in the box, because there were a lot of aerial duels that you have got to deal with."

That he might make you nervous at times isn't his fault. It's yours. Nothing about the player other than his slightly unusual distribution style suggests that he's out of control, and the numbers back it up. He is England's best in the passing game among defenders and has become increasingly, offensively confident in the challenge, edging him ever closer to one of the better comprehensive central defenders the league has to offer. Those who pay attention every few weeks or so with a superficial viewing might disagree, but their opinion matters little.

Leaving behind Rodgers' confusing evaluation of the player, it's hard to see anyone other than Sakho as the frontrunner to lead Liverpool's defense forward. Martin Skrtel will be done in a season or two, a move to central midfield for Emre Can beckons, and Lovren is yet to prove that he's the vocal, commanding leader Rodgers purchased this summer. Sakho has, however, and based on Saturday's evidence there's little reason to look elsewhere.