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Who's the Odd Man Out in Liverpool's Defense?

Defensive solidity was a main priority for Liverpool this summer, and the signing of Dejan Lovren along with the imminent arrival of at least one more fullback creates uncertainty as to who will be included in the first-choice defensive setup at the start of the season.

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

If the signings of Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno go through, that will give Liverpool three defenders signed this summer. Add Emre Can in the mix and it's four, and the returns of Jose Enrique and Martin Kelly from injury and Jack Robinson, Sebastian Coates, and Tiago Ilori from loan and all of a sudden there's nine defenders available that weren't for much of last season. They join Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, Glen Johnson, and Jon Flanagan to give Brendan Rodgers plenty of decisions to make in Liverpool's defensive.

Some of the decisions will be easy enough, with sales, loans or minutes in domestic cup competition outlined as part of the plan for the younger or second- and third-choice defenders. But at the very top--Premier League and Champions League starting spots--it's not quite clear what Rodgers will do. That leaves uncertainty and the potential for frustration as Liverpool's back line once again is tasked with developing cohesion and consistency on the fly.

Deservedly or not, Glen Johnson seems penciled in to start on the right, with Flanagan still recovering from a knee injury, Kelly still off the pace, and Manquillo barely tested at the senior level. The young Spaniard may very well turn out to be a bargain for Liverpool, but he's not the quick-fix many are looking for. Moreno likely offers that on the left, however, where Jose Enrique has slowly begun to work his way back to match fitness and Jack Robinson, while impressive in preseason, isn't quite ready for a regular starting spot.

Moreno's potential arrival won't happen in a vacuum, though, and his transition to the Premier League and different style of play could come with a few bumps along the way. He and Enrique are a good duo to have over the course of a season as long as they remain fit, and potential cover is available in the form of Flanagan, Robinson, and, if needed, Johnson. At present--and again, if Moreno is signed--the right side of Liverpool's defense is set to be the focus of far more hand-wringing than the left.

Questions about who starts in central defense will take most of the attention, and deservedly so. Daniel Agger's future seemingly hangs in the balance after an exit from the preseason tour and little news about his treatment, while Dejan Lovren's signing apparently signals the arrival of the vocal leader Rodgers has desired for since Jamie Carragher and his ceaseless howling retired at the end of the 2012-2013 season.

What happens with Agger is messy enough, but there's also the fates of Skrtel and Sakho to consider. The former featured most consistently under Rodgers last season and won his manager's affections back, but the latter has emerged over the course of the past six months as one of the more promising and commanding central defenders in Europe. With Lovren set to walk into a starting role and his preferred role--or at least the one in which he's featured most regularly--on the left side, Liverpool's manager is up against some tough decisions on a short timeline.

Based on talent and potential, it looks as though a partnership between Lovren and Sakho is one worth accommodating, but comments from Rodgers appear to indicate that the Croatian could continue on the left. That would mean both Agger and Sakho are left out in favor of the new-boy and Skrtel, a prospect that doesn't sit very well. Skrtel is a very fine defender in his own right, though not necessarily one who should be crowding out the likes of Sakho, Agger, or Lovren on a regular basis.

All conjecture and concerns at this point, and it completely ignores how the manager decides to handle those on the fringes and in the academy, with Coates in particular having a standout preseason. Whatever ends up happening, let's hope it takes place quickly and effectively, and that at the end of this season we're reviewing a much-improved defensive performance regardless of who's involved.

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