After confirming that Liverpool supporters would get a chance to see Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino for the first time on Sunday afternoon at Swindon, Brendan Rodgers addressed the other biggest talking point of the preseason--his central defensive pairing. After reports earlier in the preseason that Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho were first choice, Rodgers has started Dejan Lovren alongside the Slovakian in each of the last three matches.
That Lovren was along for the Helsinki trip rather than Sakho only furthered speculation that the Croatian would be given another chance in the first eleven next weekend, but Rodgers noted that he is yet to make up his mind as to who will be joining Martin Skrtel as first-choice:
"It's not something I've totally decided upon yet. I'll sit down with the staff and we'll look at it next week. The key is getting consistency in that area of the field. Your two centre-halves are critical. They are the tactical decision makers in the game. That balance is important for us this season. We had too many defensive changes last year and that's not something that I like. Hopefully this season we'll be more consistent as a back four."
Rodgers is not describing Dejan Lovren there in any sense, or at least the Lovren that's featured since the Dortmund friendly last August. There does not appear to be any tactical decision-making present, little sense of positioning, poor execution, and nothing resembling consistency or balance. He's looked comfortable in friendlies because they're friendlies and the opposition has generally been poor, but once the pressure is turned up, the Dejan Lovren known to Liverpool supporters has fallen to pieces. Bluster and gusto can only get one so far.
By contrast, Mamadou Sakho continues to unsettle those who focus only on the superficial, and in truth the lone genuine pockmark on his vita--particularly compared with Lovren--is his injury record. In every category other than fitness Sakho has been proven superior, and Rodgers' choice to start the season should be an easy one.
There's still the sense that the manager is unconvinced by Sakho, however, which looks worse for Rodgers than it does the 25-year-old. Given the evidence available--not hopes that Lovren will come good or the idea that he looks like he should be better than he is--Rodgers' decision should be an easy one, and Liverpool should feature Sakho alongside Martin Skrtel to start the season away to Stoke City.