Anfield welcomed Jürgen Klopp as Liverpool manager on Thursday, and for those who were present, the atmosphere was considerably more fitting of one of Europe's grandest stadiums. However, the faithful who gathered for the 48-year-old's first Liverpool game at home repeatedly saluted the majestic Mamadou Sakho.
One of the most vexatious aspects of fandom is the lazy generalisations some fans and supposed analysts apply to players that only serve to reveal a painful lack of awareness of the player in question. Mamadou Sakho is tall, muscular in a lean but solid sense, dark-skinned, born in France to sub-Saharan African parents, and appears ungainly on the ball. Sakho must, therefore, be uncomfortable in possession and a defensive liability like Djimi Traoré.
The reality presents an alternative analysis of a defender who has been first-choice for France under the defensively and tactically demanding Didier Deschamps, who was a superb defensive midfielder in his playing days. Mamadou Sakho is Liverpool's best central defender by some distance. Kolo Touré, Dejan Lovren, and Martin Škrtel are some distance behind the Frenchman when it comes to passing the ball.
Many of the most popular and well-known statistic sites do not record the quality of a player's first touch, his awareness of defensive space, leadership, attitude, and suitability for progressive tactical systems—areas that former Paris-Saint Germain defender excels in. Thankfully, important statistics such as interceptions, pass completion, percentage of forward passes, and the like can be recorded. Does Sakho routinely impress in these aspects? But of course.
It's refreshing to find out that Klopp is fully aware of the importance of the 25-year-old Parisian after the Europa League clash with Rubin Kazan.
I can’t say anything about this (failing to start earlier in the year). Maybe he was not fit or things like this. But I can understand why they shouted his name. Mama was really spectacular defending and good playing football. But he was not 100% better than the other players, so you see the game was not too bad. They tried.
Klopp didn't want to comment on lack of game time during Rodgers' time in charge earlier in the season and cleverly refrained from placing Sakho too high above the rest of a group at a time when building confidence and cohesion within the squad is essential. It's a relief to see that Klopp can appraise a player's talent instead of engaging in a maddening experiment where whatever Dejan Lovren represents is preferred to a defensively astute Liverpool soldier.
There's no doubt that injuries have been a problem for Sakho at Liverpool, but his importance to the team is similar to that of Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho, and Daniel Sturridge. When they're fit, they play. What they bring to the team in terms of ability and attitude is unquestioned. For those who doubt Sakho, watch him live. If that's not possible, follow him closely on television with your eyes preferably open.